There is no denying that the Marvel Universe is vast. It seems since the beginning of gaming there have been a countless amount of games based on these fan-favorite heroes. It will also come as a surprise that up until now Iron Man has only had his name in the spotlight once before (that title was Iron Man X/O Manowar for the PSOne) and the results were not positive. Now with Marvel’s Bruce Wayne equivalent making his big-screen debut Sega and developer Secret Level decided it was time to resurrect the interactive career of Tony Stark with Iron Man for Xbox 360 and PS3. The results are a mixed bag of solid action mixed in with a few bumps in the road along the way.
Much like other movie licensed games Iron Man follows the general plot line from the movie, tosses in some comic book fan service and attempt to deliver a complete package for fans of both. This can be both a blessing and atrocity if not balanced correctly. For the most part Secret Level does a nice job of combining the two, but fans of the movie alone will likely wonder where all of this extra fodder is coming from. What this does mean though is that fans of the actual comic book will get a chance to lock horns with some of Iron Man’s better villains including Titanium Man and Madame Masque. While the fan service is appreciated, it does detract from the movie plotline too frequently, which could be viewed as a good thing considering the pedigree of most tie-in games.
As you can imagine the premise of the game is straight action on both land and air. The one man versus many mechanic has been tried before and most often failed, but with the expansive environments and solid visuals Iron Man actually pulls it off. Everything and the kitchen sink is thrown at Tony Stark including soldiers, tanks, jet planes and plenty of missiles. The developers have designed a combat system that allows the player to engage combat either in mid-flight, while hovering or on the ground if you so choose, which is also where some of the issues arise. Tossing in three entirely different mechanics into the game comes at a cost of quirky controls that take a few levels to get used to.
The first level of the game has you donning the tin-can suit (Tony’s first suit constructed while he was imprisoned) and has you lighting up enemies with the attached flame thrower. This first level is entirely on foot and works well outside of the atrocious frame rate issues. The second level introduces you to flight mechanics, which after mowing down soldiers on foot takes some adjusting to. You can gently tug the left trigger to hover above the ground and pull it all the way in to hover to maximum height. This is easily the best way to target enemies thanks to the sporadic camera, but as luck would have it the enemies are quite skilled at nailing immobile targets.
Here is where flight comes into play, and becomes yet another item to manage (just wait I haven’t even gotten to combat controls yet). Tapping and holding the left bumper turns on the afterburner and holding down the A button can increase your speed for a short distance. When in flight the dodgy camera quickly becomes an issue and trying to target enemies and maintain steady control becomes a game in and of itself. It took me several missions and thrusts into the side of mountains before I became totally in control and even still I have my bouts of crashing into objects.
If all of this sounds daunting, just wait, there is more. Once you gain a handle on movement you then have to accustom yourself to the combat, which again handles on three different levels. Ground combat is by far the easiest, albeit least effective. The right trigger and bumper are used for Iron Man’s blaster and beams while the B button (circle on PS3) is used for grappling and melee attacks. The X and Y buttons (again square and triangle on PS3) are used for missiles and countermeasures and if all of that isn’t enough to cause your brain to meltdown you can also divert power systems by tapping the d-pad in different directions. This allows you to fly faster, take more damage or even inflict more damage.
The bottom line is that trying to micro-manage all of these things in the heat of the extremely intense battles the game throws at you is borderline insane. There is literally too much to do and often times you will forget that you can even do some of the aforementioned things and stick to spamming the blaster buttons, which in turn is usually instant death on any difficulty higher than easy. Fans of twitch-based shooters will likely become frustrated early on in the game, but if you can manage to stick with it and learn all of the intricacies of the combat and flight controls, there are some rewarding experiences to be found within.
Intricate combat aside Iron Man does do some things exceptionally well. One of those is level design. Not only are the levels highly detailed with lots of onscreen action, they are massive in size with little to no draw distance. Each area also feels distinct and gives off an open-world vibe, even if it is a limited one. There are a number of objectives on each level and choosing which ones to focus on and in which order can spice up the game play, not to mention earn you some Achievements in the 360 version. Iron Man and his cast of villains also look great sporting some great animations and a nice level of detail. The generic enemies on the other hand are a sore sight most of the time. Whenever you decide to drop to the ground for some hand-to-hand action the visuals are downright embarrassing.
As I mentioned earlier the biggest culprit however is the sporadic camera system. On default it moves entirely too fast making targeting essentially impossible without the built in lock-on feature. Tone it down and it becomes too slow for the speedy combat. Finding the balance will likely take some serious tweaking and even when you finally settle on a speed there will still be times you find yourself cursing at it. Sounds are surprisingly excellent thanks to the cast Sega manage to sign on for the project. Robert Downey Jr. reprises his role as everyone’s favorite drunken tin-can and Terrance Howard even shows up to voice his character James Rhodes. The rest of the voices are decent and the story won’t put you to sleep like most tie-in games.
Iron Man is a surprisingly deep game with some rough edges. If you can manage to get a grip on the controls and combat you will quickly grow to enjoy what the game has to offer. It also helps if you are a huge fan of the movie or comic book series as the game plays to both camps nicely. While there are plenty of things the game will do to frustrate you, it is one of the better licensed games to come along and certainly recommended if you meet any of my aforementioned criteria. Iron Man will not set the gaming world on fire, but it will also not insult anyone looking for a solid action title featuring one of the Summer’s biggest action heroes.