Comic book games, like the movies these graphic novels have birthed, are in the midst of a continued renaissance. Where comic games once suffered on weaker consoles (the less said about Spider-Man vs. Carnage the better), the technology has advanced to the levels required to bring gamers the true flights of fancy their superhero fantasies require. And that’s the key to delivering a quality title – developers need to put players in the role of their favorite heroes. This is the formula that propelled the latter Spider-Man titles to their lofty heights and it’s what made Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction such a smashing success. The game should key in on the mythos that has enchanted readers for so long; a mission that Iron Man now finds before him.
Iron Man is based on the Marvel comic and the hit film of the same name. The John Favreau directed vehicle hit the stratosphere earlier this summer movie season, largely buoyed by its faithful take on the subject and absolutely spot-on casting of Robert Downey Jr. as the flamboyant weapon’s dealer, Tony Stark. It helps that the film played fast and loose, with some genuine comedic elements layered throughout the propulsive action scenes, that worked to give the film cross-demographic appeal.
Where the film largely plays as an extended origin tale, the game eschews most of this detail and wisely places the player in control of Iron Man right from the beginning. Following a brief prologue level where the player learns the kinks of Iron Man’s original design (echoing the Afghanistan-based escape sequence from the film), the player is then granted control of most of Iron Man’s tools including his coveted flight ability. What follows is a loose interpretation of the film that in the tradition of other movie-based comic properties, adds in a number of subplots not seen in the film including some villains ripped from Marvel’s extended universe.
The game itself plays as a combination of a 3rd person action shooter when on land and an action flight simulator whenever Iron Man takes to the sky. At any point during a mission, the player is free to drop to ground level or engage the boosters and rocket through the air as you take on the varied arsenals employed by your enemies. The action takes place over a number of diverse environments – from the Middle East to Los Angeles to Siberia and beyond.
The gameplay is largely combat-oriented with players tasked with utilizing Iron Man’s extensive weaponry to take on a variety of foot soldiers, tanks, warships as well as some super villain boss battles – culminating in a battle royale against the Iron Monger, as seen in the film. Players can route power in their suit to meet various needs – shifting focus to Weapons, Thrust, or Defensive measures as the situation calls for it. Your primary mission, which usually involves destroying a set number of military/enemy targets will often be accompanied by secondary Hero Missions, which often call upon the player to find a non-violent approach to a situation (for example – fending off friendly jets through non-combative means). Success in the Hero Missions will reap experience points that correlate to cash that can be spent on increasing Iron Man’s capabilities, thus boosting his defenses or purchasing new armaments. You’ll need to continually upgrade the suit as the later levels really pour on the enemies and offer a number of timed sequences where the player will need to take down a target as quickly as possible, thus requiring the biggest payload for your buck.
While the player is free to confront the enemy on land at any point, the large number of air-based weaponry make it a difficult endeavor, meaning most players will likely keep to the skies. With the ability to execute barrel rolls, launch countermeasures, lock a targeting reticule on a number of land and air based targets and dog fight jets and gunships – Iron Man often feels like a close cousin to the Namco’s Ace Combat series. The catch being that at any point, you can hurtle your frame to the ground and not suffer a catastrophic crash.
The main campaign will take players roughly 6 – 8 hours to blast through depending upon difficulty level. Even at the Normal setting, the game throws a ton of hardware at you, meaning there is a suitable challenge for even the most hardcore flight jockeys. As you play through the game, short side missions (One Man Army missions) will unlock. These mini-missions can be selected from the main menu and task the player with destroying a set number of targets within a certain time frame. By successfully completing the One Man Army missions, players can unlock a number of classic suits from Iron Man’s rich history. A number of the game’s Achievement Points are centered on beating these missions, so they add some good replay value to the game.
So, you’ve read the comic books. You’ve seen the movie. Does the game shine or has it tarnished Iron Man’s sterling reputation?
While the film features some truly breathtaking eye candy (at time it’s hard to discern what is CGI and what is a practical effect), the game reveals some chinks in the armor. While our hero looks great in the game’s many cut scenes, once the action switches to your control, the graphics take a big hit. The XBox 360 is approaching it’s 3rd Anniversary and the graphics on display here look very close to those launch titles that were ported from the original XBox. When on foot (especially while traipsing through some of the urban canyons), Iron Man bears a close resemblance to the old MechAssault games from the original XBox. While Iron Man fights in some pretty expansive environments (usually over desert or mountainous regions), the graphics are pretty stale featuring an endless sea of brown or green or white mountains to indicate the climate change. Landmarks will pop up in the form of enemy installations that must be attacked but they all look the same – just cut and pasted from one location to the next. Occasionally, the game will throw a unique level at you (the airborne Flying Fortress assault mixes things up nicely by having Iron Man attack a massive warship over a brilliant blue sea) but these levels are few and far between. While the WOW factor is abundant in the early goings, as you first take Iron Man to the skies and begin soaring through a cityscape, the appeal quickly diminishes once the repetitive nature of the environs settles in. Enemy vehicles look fine for the most part but in true flight combat tradition, you never really get to close to them and often end up blasting away at colored circles on your HUD until they explode. The best facet of the graphics is the weapons’ effects, which often showcase some brilliant explosions dotting the sky. Of course, this is a tough game and Iron Man will often find himself dodging a barrage of ammunition so it’s difficult to ever stop and admire the view.
While Iron Man allows the player to drop to ground level and engage the enemy, the majority of the time, players will be flying the unfriendly skies. To that end, this really plays like a flight combat game and the game never lets you forget it by throwing a full army’s worth of advanced weaponry at you. This is pure combat from beginning to end with no puzzle or exploration elements employed. From the level start-up screen, the player will be given their Primary and Hero Objectives and then you are set out to blow the hell out of everything. This can be fun in a primal way although it does get repetitive about halfway through the game. The Hero missions (which unlock a majority of the Achievements) usually mix things up by requiring the player to either take down a special target in a set time or protect some innocent civilians) but the difficulty feels ratcheted up around these special events and they often lead to controller tossing frustration especially for those people who need to get every last Achievement. Once you get past the fairly high learning curve in controlling all of Iron Man’s abilities, the game can be quite fun in short bursts. Of course, the never-ending barrage of enemies can conspire to rob you of that fun. Like the recent Spider-Man titles, whose best feature was the ability to swing through the canyons of New York and do whatever a spider can, there is some entertainment to be mined in taking Iron Man to the air and soaring through the levels. Of course, that’s best when you get a moment of peace but too often the game doesn’t let up enough to grant the player freedom to explore. Instead, you are shuttled from one objective to the next without much room to breathe.
This is probably the area where many gamers will just quit on the game. While there is a fairly high difficulty level with the number of enemies thrown at you, the situation is compounded by a very complex control scheme. Even with all of the face buttons on the 360 controller, the game still employs several buttons for dual use – in a bid to give the player control over every facet of Iron Man. In fact, it begins to approach the complexity of more realistic flight simulators. During combat or flight, players will need to fire primary weapons, deploy secondary weapons, launch countermeasures, execute barrel rolls, grapple airborne adversaries, dodge incoming attacks, divert power to various systems, kick start afterburners, hover in place, and execute special moves – all of which is mapped to different buttons, some context sensitive. It becomes a lot to keep track of and when you find yourself with two gunships ahead of you, anti-aircraft fire all around and several heat seeking missiles on your tail while trying to target a ground base laser system within 60 seconds of it firing on a nuclear reactor it can become quite difficult executing the finger gymnastics required to hit all the right buttons at the right time. While it’s commendable that the developers sought to give players the full Iron Man experience, it’s doubtful that anyone outside of the most dedicated will ever exploit his true potential.
I found the film’s score to be forgettable (your standard disposable action-flick bombast) and while the game doesn’t feature Han Zimmer’s original soundtrack, it is equally run-of-the-mill. Usually in a licensed game, I like to hear the film’s score as I feel that brings the film to life but here we have a no-win situation. The music in the game is just your average action game tempo. Most players will be singing their own chorus of cuss words to bother much with the accompaniment anyway.
Iron Man features a lot of combat and the various weapons effects and explosions all sound nice and deep, with the larger blasts giving your surround system a workout. On the voice front, stars Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard lend their pipes to the roles of Tony Stark/Iron Man and Rhodey respectively but they’re delivery lacks punch. I was especially disappointed with Downey as his quirky performance in the film really propelled it beyond the normal superhero fare. The problem is with the script. The game’s narrative tries to weave events from the film with an enhanced plot involving more supervillains (example – the Maggia, AIM) but it just comes off as disjointed. Therefore Downey’s dialogue falls into two categories; boring exposition or insipid one-liners. Downey has a way with words but as Harrison Ford once said to George Lucas: “You can write this stuff, but you can’t say it.” Thus, their performance come off as listless and bored which is a shameful waste of the charisma that Downey brings to the role.
This is one of those games where the developers throw a ton of enemies at the player (all with bee-lines to your exact position) to mask any semblance of an advanced AI. Enemies appear and there’s really no need to hunt them as the second you enter their zone, they’ll come flying to you. A couple of the boss battles involve face-to-face melee attacks but I found it easier to employ a hit-and-run attack on them to continue. The same goes with some of the assaults on heavily defended installations. As Iron Man’s health recharges when not under fire, I would hide behind a rock, pop out and take a few shots and then retreat until my health was restored. As long as the player doesn’t trip the ‘zone’ alerting the AI to attack, you can do this all day until you have everyone taking care of. Of course, this tactic won’t work on the timed missions.
The early levels do a decent job of easing the player into combat which is a necessity as the controls will take forever to learn. In fact, having played through the game and most of the optional One Man Army missions, I still don’t think I ever mastered or even deployed the Countermeasures. That said, the difficulty raises quickly once you hit the midpoint of the game and several of the missions (especially those where you are charged with escorting or protecting someone) can prove to be too difficult, even on the Normal setting. This is due, in large part, to the great number of respawning enemies that the game likes to throw at you. With missiles, lasers and gunfire coming from all targets at once, while the player wrestles with the flight controls on the way to their Primary target, things grow frustrating very quickly. There are no in-missions checkpoints so once Iron Man has expired 4 times, it’s right back to the beginning of the level. This can prove especially frustrating when you make it through a 20-minute mission only to die at the hands of the end level boss and have to do it all over again. I appreciate a good challenging but not when the game is made overly difficult by its controls and cheap design choices.
(There is no Multiplayer Component – Not Rated)
I was a big fan of some of the Spider-Man games and really enjoyed the Iron Man flick so I had hope that this might be a decent tie-in title. Alas, the extreme difficulty of the controls coupled with the cheap AI diminished the game’s enjoyment. The game certainly does a good job of placing you in Iron Man’s boots but the actual suit looks easier to control than the avatar on display here. That said, for those whose brains (and fingers) successfully wrap themselves around the controls, there is a decent challenge here that you will not blast through in one sitting. The optional One Man Army missions add more replay value. It’s a shame that multiplayer is not included as it may have been fun dog fighting fellow enthusiasts with the many suit variants players can unlock. The Iron Man film may be solid but the game is rusted.