Review: Iron Phoenix (XB)

Game: Iron Phoenix
System: Microsoft XBox
Genre: Online Action/Combat
Developer: InterServ International
Publisher: Sega
Release: 3/22/05

Lucard was 100% correct when he made the infamous quote “Bad Sammy-controlled-Sega of evil!” Ever since the takeover, Sega games have dropped in quality by quite a lot. And this is after a few releases that were a bit shaky in and of themselves. One look at Virtua Quest will tell you exactly that.

So imagine my surprise when Sammy’s new multi-player game Iron Phoenix came out, and there was Sega’s name on the box. Something didn’t seem right here, but I popped the game in anyway to see what I was in for.

And boy, was I in for it…


STORY

“Legend states that long ago, a meteor fall out of the sky. The meteor itself created an impact that resembled a phoenix rising from the ashes. For days, no one tread to the site of the impact, for fear that whatever power rest there would do them in. Eventually, a blacksmith finally gathered the courage to trek to the site, and found the meteor, which shattered into nine pieces. It was said that these pieces possessed unworldly powers, and would bring victory to those who possessed them. He took the meteor back to his shop, and started work on making weapons of it. Rumors spread to wandering territories of this happening, and these places wanted these new weapons of power for themselves.

“Eventually, the blacksmith created nine mystical weapons from the meteor. Swords, spears, daggers, and even a giant hammer were the result of his labor. But he met his demise soon after completing the last weapon. A thief came and murdered him, stealing all the weapons in the process. The weapons of the “Iron Phoenix” eventually found their way to warring nations, and great battles were fought with them. It was said that great power would be bestowed on the one who gathered all nine weapons. And so, the wars between the nations raged on…”

I was surprised when I turned on the game and heard this tale. It was quite a good story, and got me pretty pumped. I was going to be dropped right into the midst of action/adventure hack’n slash on a quest to collect nine weapons of immense power! Right?

Um…right?

Er…

No. Instead all I was treated to was a poor training mode and only the option to fight in death matches online and off. Wow. Here was an excellent story, even containing cinematics of legends behind each of the nine weapons, only to unceremoniously drop me into an entirely different game where the story didn’t matter. At all.

So long story short, the story in and of itself is awesome. The game that follows it is entirely different and a letdown of epic proportions.

Story: 8/10


GRAPHICS

This was the first area of the game that told me I was in for a rude awakening if I thought something positive would come from such a good back-story. On the whole, the graphics are certainly not XBox quality. I’d rank them more around what the Dreamcast could do. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this title was in the works for it long ago, pulled, put on the XBox, and retooled. The environments are interesting, and there are some creative arenas to fight in, but the textures are merely average. Nothing new or exciting here.

The character models are extremely pitiful. To begin with, there are no facial animations of any sort. This only counts in Training Mode when people are speaking, of course, but its just another corner the developers cut when making this game. The body animates fairly well, but not without its fair share of clipping and choppy movements. Character design is also average and generic.


The game’s top frame rate is 60 FPS. Since this game is played online, I will say that the frame rate DOES NOT DROP as the result of going online. That’s the good news. The bad news? The game’s frame rate DOES drop at any point, online or off, where there are more than three characters on the screen. Considering the game supports up to 16 players all performing moves of super-destructive power, you’d think the developers would be able to compensate for the sheer amount of action on screen at once. No such luck, I’m afraid. When there are more then three players on screen at once, all performing special moves, the frame rate drops sharply. Gather over ten players, and the game CRAWLS with excitement! Camera angles are also horrible. Even if you managed to lock on to an opponent and attack, the camera feels the unnecessary to move in awkward directions, and even BREAK OFF THE LOCK MANY TIMES, confusing you even more during battle. It’s so infuriating.

Graphics: 4/10


SOUND

The next area that told me something was amiss with this game. Voices are nearly nonexistent, outside of the grunts and groans of the various fighters, and the kind voice of the old sensei that tells his students the stories of the Iron Phoenix. In fact, he’s the only bright spot out of this whole category. It’s a pleasure to listen to him, as his stories are full of mystery and excitement. The voices of his two pupils sound forced and without passion. And the voices of all the other bit players are all but forgettable.

The music is also forgettable, as you hardly pay attention to it during each battle. In fact, while playing offline, I noticed the music cut out several times during a few fights. I’m not sure whether this is the result of the game or my XBox, but I tested some other XBox titles I owned, and the problem did not reoccur. It just feels unfinished.

Sound: 3/10


CONTROLS/GAMEPLAY

Behold! The icing on the cake! Or the nail in the coffin. Whichever you prefer.

To begin with, there are only four modes you can take advantage of: online battling, offline battling, System Link battling, and training. No, there is NO “Story Mode”, even though the game sports quite an incredible one. In fact, the only place that has ANY even REMOTE semblance of a story lies in Training Mode, and that’s only to cover our battle techniques. This is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game. But fear not, there are quite a few more disappointing aspects that give the first one a run for its money!

First are the characters. Where as there are back-stories for every weapon constructed from the Iron Phoenix on this disc, you’ll be hard pressed to find ANY back-stories for any of the characters you can select. (Perhaps in the instruction book, but that might be a stretch.) Each character has their own stats, such as speed and attack, but the real focus lies in the weapons. Each character can hold any of the nine weapons, and each comes with its own moves. This is one of the features the game promotes the most, but again, it’s misleading. The moves may be different, yes, but the combinations to perform them are all the same. If you master one weapon, you master them all. The same goes with pretty much each character as well. Some may be slower of faster than others, but outside of the cosmetic differences, it doesn’t matter who you use.

The controls are mediocre, to say the least. You are given quite a number of basic maneuvers to perform, such as wall running and chi attacks, but many of the moves are hard to pull off. There’s a jump maneuver called “cloud walking” where you have to jump while your character is sliding to a stop after dashing forward a ways. Not only is this move nearly impossible to do, but also I’ve seen NO situation where I’ve ever had to use it. The same goes for wall attacking, dart throwing, and object interactions. All you need to do is find some opponents and start wailing on them with either the X or Y button. And even then, you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a lot of attacks at first. The Training Mode doesn’t even give you an adequate “practice battle” where you can learn how to perform actions in combat outside of one at a time.


The in-game battles themselves are incredibly difficult to navigate. First, you’re usually spawned in a location so far away from any sort of battling that you’ll have to trek for about 20-30 seconds to find a target. (This can really hurt you in timed stages.) An inserting yourself into a battle already in progress can be cumbersome. Unless you open up with one of your ultra-deadly super attacks, your opponents will most likely unleash one of their own, pretty much killing you without you even doing anything. Thus sending you 3,000 miles away from that battle to another respawn point, and you’ll have to trek ALL THE WAY BACK to where you got killed, where there’s an 85% chance you’ll get killed again immediately. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The game offers several modes of fighting, but there isn’t too much variety here. There’s Death Match, where it’s every man for himself in a timed battle to the death. Next there’s Team Death Match, which is exactly the same, only with teams. Then we have VIP, where two teams fight it out, but one side wins when the opponent’s leader is killed. This is an interesting twist, I’ll give you that. The next mode, Giant, is my personal favorite. One character becomes a big honkin’ giant, while everyone else gangs up on him. This mode is actually pretty cool, as being a giant with a big-ass sword, mowing down your opponents one by one, can be a fairly therapeutic experience. Finally, there’s the Cage Match mode, where up to 16 players can enter a room, but they are all matched randomly 1-on-1. When the fight ends, players wait for the next available fight. It’s interesting, but boring in the long run. Why spend 30 seconds on a fight, only to wait 90 seconds to fight again?

And outside of some mode customization, that’s all you get. There are only five modes, with three of them being somewhat similar in execution. And half the time, you’ll be getting tossed around like a rag doll against either computer AI, or people on Live who are better than you. And if you ARE good, the game will throw some horrible camera angles your way to mess you up! That’s not my idea of a good time.

Controls/Gameplay: 4/10


REPLAY VALUE

This game is made to be mainly an online game, with no dedicated one-player mode. So in order for such a game to be replayable, it needs to excel in many key areas. It needs to have combat that’s easy to do, and worth more in the long run outside of bragging rights and such. Unfortunately, Iron Phoenix fails to meet these basic expectations.

You have a battle system that somewhat broken, a camera that is VERY broken, a control scheme that is unpolished, graphics that are dated, characters that are as bland as they come, weapons that act the same when you are told they are different, and no dedicated single-player experience to tie all of this together.

I’d rather play Winnie The Pooh’s Rumbly Tumbly Adventure than this game right now. At least it has a STORY MODE.

Replay Value: 2.5/10


BALANCE

Pretend that you’re a little old lady who cannot walk very far on her own, and you need to cross four lanes of traffic. As luck would have it, there’s a boy scout who will help you do just that! He takes your hand, and leads you across two lanes of the four lanes. Next thing you know, the scout lets go and runs away laughing, calling you names and giving you the finger. And there you are, in the middle of the road, knowing you are going to get squashed like a pancake as soon as the light turns green again. That’s pretty much the learning curve for this game.

Training Mode will only teach you so much. It does teach you how to navigate through stages, as well as the attacks. But as soon as you’re taught these basics, Training Mode comes to an abrupt end. You are NOT taught how to actually FIGHT 1-on-1 with opponents. You are NOT taught what to do when you wish to take on 6 other people in a skirmish to the death. You’re just plunked down into battle with a somewhat limited knowledge of the skills at your disposal, forced to use trial and error when battling others to try and get a foothold on the competition. This just isn’t pretty, folks.

Balance: 3/10


ORIGINALITY

This is being touted as the “first 16-player combat game” on the XBox, and they’re right. There’s no other game on the system (that I know of, anyway) that allows 16 people to fight each other at once in this type of environment. So the game does earn points here. The in-game story, although not even closely tied with the actual game, also has its originality when you can find it. You’d be hard pressed to find full-blown legends for each weapon in a game outside of maybe an RPG.


But everything else? Generic, generic, generic! I’ve seen these types of environments before! The characters are just…there! MAN, what the hell HAPPENED here?

Originality: 5/10


ADDICTIVENESS

Games with online components usually have you coming back for more. I mean, what better way to pass the time than to prove you have a bigger e-penis over 15 other people just by clobbering them with a hammer? Alas, I don’t feel the need to come back with this game. In fact, I felt done with this after the very first time I played it. It was not fun, it was confusing, and I question how whatever higher powers in the sky managed to let this turd slip under their radars and onto store shelves. I’ve got better games to play with my time, thank you.

Addictiveness: 2/10


APPEAL FACTOR

I doubt that many people will see this game and cry out “I must purchase this!” when they stop in their local game store. It’s received zero promotion from what I’ve seen, and there are better games that use Live people will gravitate towards. In fact, I’m sure that the only reason someone might be brave enough to plunk down money for this thing is because of Sega’s name on the box.

Appeal Factor: 3.5/10


MISCELLANEOUS

The good of this category? If you actually DO buy or rent this game, there is already downloadable content in the form of new stages that you can take advantage of. Nice of them to have it out so early as well, I might add.

The bad is worse. Much, much worse.

You see, InterServ International developed this game, and before the Sega-Sammy merger, it looked like Sammy was going to publish it. All previews for the game hint at the fact that this was Sammy’s brainchild to start with. And yet, I see Sega’s name on the box, and Sammy’s logo nowhere to be seen in the game.

This is purely speculation, but its about the lowest move I’ve seen Sammy perform since taking control of Sega as a company.

Basically, it boils down to the fact that Sammy wants this game to sell, but did not think they could sell it beyond a core group of fans. Outside of Guilty Gear, Sammy isn’t that well known a company as Capcom, SqEnix, or others. So they slapped Sega’s name on the box as a cheap trick to sell an extra dozen copies or so. Now Sega has been getting a lot of flack lately for not making quality games by some people, and the Sammy portion of the company apparently feels that Sega can take much more of it. If it succeeds, a sequel would begin immediately with Sammy’s name emblazoned on the box and such. If the game fails, and it will, the Sega side comes out looking like a cheap whore by producing ANOTHER horrible game while the Sammy side comes out looking like a rose who apparently had nothing to do with it.

This is something Sega doesn’t need. It does NOT need a horrible Sammy game on THEIR list of published titles. Yet now they have it, and now people are going to complain about THEM being responsible while Sammy quietly watches from the sidelines. They are USING Sega as a test case for this game.

And if I’m on the wrong track about this, I’m sure there is something very close happening to this explanation. Again, speculation.

Sega, baby, I’m not blaming you this time. Your new pimp is just using you to gain a quick buck. Get out while you still can!

Ugh. I think I’m going to throw up.

Miscellaneous: 1.5/10


THE SCORES

Story: 8/10
Graphics: 4/10
Sound: 3/10
Controls/Gameplay: 4/10
Replay Value: 2.5/10
Balance: 3/10
Originality: 5/10
Addictiveness: 2/10
Appeal Factor: 3.5/10
Miscellaneous: 1.5/10

Overall Score: 36.5/100
FINAL SCORE: 3.5 (BAD)