Review: Iron Man (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Iron Man
Genre: Action
Developer: Secret Level
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 05/02/08


Yeah yeah, I’m late. I had to wait for a rental copy to come in, because judging by the review scores this has been getting, I wasn’t about to pay $60 for it.

Anyway, “good” and “bad” are terms that are thrown about with much force and weight behind them, depending on the person. This presidential candidate is “good”, that one is “bad”. This force of people is “good”, that one is “bad”. You know what I mean; it’s all a matter of opinions which are shaped by personal preference and perspective; someone who has a taste for a certain type of game might think it better than someone who does not and is exposed to the same thing. It’s all relative.

That said: from all indications, Iron Man as a film property is “good”… Iron Man as a game is, well… not. However, and this is the thing, it’s by no means “bad”. No, really. I know, I know, you’ve seen the word applied to it, and hey, different strokes and all that, but let’s get one thing out of the way: Iron Man is flawed in many respects, it’s not the best game on the planet, but if you’re looking for something vaguely amusing to play around with featuring lots of explosions and a comic book superhero attached, it’s somewhere between Spider-Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 on the sliding scale of movie-based video games (with Spider-Man 2 representing “not bad” and Spider-Man 3 representing “disappointing waste of time that everyone involved should be ashamed of”). It’s cute for what it is, amusing enough all in all… it’s just not “good”, and it’s just not worth $60.

The story of the game is pretty much the same as every other video game based on a superhero movie to date; you’re given the basic introduction to the character, some story elements from the movie (enough to let you know what’s going on, but not enough to prevent you from spending cash to see the film), and a bunch of characters from the hero’s rogues gallery pop up to give you something to do for the rest of the game. In this case, amidst the plot of the film we get a bunch of assaults on Maggia and AIM locations, in addition to a few other assaults on the Ten Rings terrorist group (which, I’m guessing, is something of a reference to Iron Man villain Mandarin, but who knows). As the story goes, it’s fairly bare-bones all in all; we can infer why Tony becomes Iron Man, we can deduce why the various people in the game betray Tony or want him dead, but nothing is really tied together in any sort of satisfactory fashion. You get the gist of the story, but no actual character development beyond “I have to go blow up my own weapons/save Pepper/help the US Military/whatever”. If you’re a fan of Iron Man, the various bits of his history that pop up here and there are probably cute in the same way that Shocker popping up in a Spider-Man game would be for a fan of his, but beyond that, the plot really only exists to tie one event to the next. That said, spoiling the film would PROBABLY be a bad idea, all in all, so this was most likely the best they could do with what they were given… so, it’s not TOO bad all in all. It gets the job done, but nothing beyond that… though it really doesn’t need to do anything else, frankly.

Visually, Iron Man more style than substance; special effects are top notch, Iron Man and the various enemies that aren’t human soldiers he faces often look and animate reasonably well, and flying around looks pretty sweet. However, regular human soldiers look plain and non-descript (which, in comparison to Iron Man, they are, but still) and the environments, while clean and expansive, are often dull. Aurally, Iron Man fares a little better; the music is the expected “dramatic heroic music”, and works well enough without being fantastic per say, the effects are all top-notch, and while only Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard (Tony Stark and James Rhodes, respectively) lend their voice talents to the game, most of the voice acting otherwise is quite solid overall.

The simplest way to describe the gameplay is to say that, essentially, it’s one part third-person shooter and one part arcade-style flying action. After the initial tutorial mission (which only allows you to run around), the rest of the game plays a lot like you’d expect an Iron Man game to play… which is to say, a lot like you’d expect any game where the titular character can fly to play. There are a lot of control mechanics to Iron Man; aside from the usual “left stick moves right stick aims” design everything uses these days, Iron Man can also hover and fly around as needed (which is usually what you’ll be doing with him). Holding the left trigger prompts Iron Man to increase altitude while hovering, but holding it about halfway in or so prompts him to stop rising and simply hover in place; while in a few occasions the overly long trigger response on the 360 controllers might be annoying for some games, in Iron Man they’re pretty damn useful as hovering works out pretty well. You can also send Iron Man into actual flight mode at the press of a button; this basically converts his controls into something akin to a jet plane, which allows him to traverse locations quickly at the cost of maneuverability. Whether hovering, standing around, or flying, you can dodge around at the press of a button, which works as one would expect (hovering and standing result in a simple sideways or directional dash, while in flight you perform barrel rolls and such). While flying, Iron Man can also use his afterburners to propel him forward at greater speed at the expense of further mobility (and energy, which we’ll get into later).

The flight and such is very neat, of course, but most of the game is based around combat, which is also generally responsive. Iron Man comes equipped with four types of attacks; his repulsors (basically energy guns), a secondary weapon (missiles or grenades, usually), melee attacks (punchy-grabby), and the ever-so-impressive Unibeam (a giant laser beam that fires from his chest and wrecks things heavily). Generally, each type of attack is useful in certain situations; melee attacks are useful against tanks and such, as they tend to leave you exposed to enemy attacks, but can be used to rip the tops off of heavily armored vehicles, while repulsors tend to work better on mobile weaponry as you can hit things more readily, and so on. Anything besides melee attacks drains from your reactor energy, which is measured by a little bar on the left side of the screen (think Armored Core); as you do various things, be it flying around, shooting things, or charging the Unibeam up to fire, it drains off energy from this meter. Now, this meter DOES recharge on its own after time, and thank God for that, because reactor energy also keeps Tony alive; at the bottom of the screen there is a meter showing Tony’s health, and as you take damage, it depletes… when it hits zero, the suit goes into power failure, though this can be prevented by not taking damage, which will slowly replenish the suit so long as you have power. Now, if you bottom out the power gauge, you can’t fire your weapons or replenish health, so managing the power meter is a must, which is generally not TOO hard, though it can become a problem in heavy firefights later in the game.

Of course, this being a video game based on a dude in flying armor, it’s worth noting that the game goes above and beyond those simple descriptions in a few ways. First off, you can focus the power of the suit in one of four ways; towards Life Regeneration, which will increase the possibility of not dying; towards Thrusters, which provides extra power to flight; towards Melee, which makes punching and grappling more powerful; and, of course, towards the projectile weapons systems, which makes shooting deal more damage. Each has its uses, but most of the time you’ll probably leave the boost on life support, because it’s the most useful of the bunch. Between missions you earn cash based on how you perform (IE how many enemies you blow up, how much time you take, if you accomplish side objectives, the usual) which can be dumped into upgrading the Mark III suit with various different power ups in five categories (Thrusters, Repulsor Beam, Secondary Weapons, Reactor Power, and Core Unit), each with its own strengths and weaknesses. This is a good thing, as the enemy forces are also consistently upgrading in power and number, and though in many cases you’ll be fighting the typical planes/tanks/jets that one would expect to be called against such a force, as the game progresses you’ll be taking on armored flying troopers, submarines, attack drones, and in one stage a giant flying fortress, which might bring back fond memories of After Burner if nothing else.

There are also unlockable “One Man Army” missions that unlock after completing the associated regular missions in game, which basically task you with obliterating 80 of a specific type of enemy force. Completing these missions unlocks other Iron Man suits from the comic books, including the Hulkbuster (what do you think it does, I mean really) and some classic designs. Xbox 360 owners also get the Silver Centurion suit as a console exclusive, as opposed to the Ultimate Iron Man suit of the PS3 version, which is an improvement in that at least this version doesn’t look like some sort of deformed alien monstrosity, if nothing else. You heard me. Oh, yes, and having an Iron Man save game on your hard drive will also allow you access to the Hulkbuster skin in the game based on The Incredible Hulk, which comes out, depending on when this goes live and when you read it, sometime around now.

That all said, Iron Man is the video gaming equivalent of Verne Troyer; it’s entertaining for a bit, but it’s short, not nearly as enjoyable if you’re not a fan, and really stops being amusing as soon as it gets drunk and pees in the corner.

Okay, that didn’t work the way I intended, but you’re with me this far, let’s keep going.

So, yes, Iron Man is a short game, clocking in at about four hours (and that’s with having to re-try two missions). In theory, the One Man Army missions add some depth to the experience, as do the unlockable suits, but in practice, the unlockable suits are only so entertaining since they can’t be modified and there are only a handful of OMA missions… so unless you want to play the game over again, that’s all you get. Now, if a game is a slam-bang action packed thrill-ride through these four hours, it can be justified that the expense was worth it, so that’s not a huge detraction.

However, Iron Man is not that sort of experience. Now, in fairness, blowing things up is wicked fun, no doubt about it, but with basically only four weapons to use and no real strategy to work around (all you usually have to do is blow up a bunch of targets, so it’s not like you’re going to sit down and plan out your attack or anything), the game generally amounts to pulling the right trigger in-between bits of dodging, firing your secondary weapons, and occasionally busting out the Unibeam. Now, were the game simply that, only done well, it might even be worth a go, but even THEN the game has problems. First, grabbing tanks? Easy. Grabbing planes/helicopters/missiles? A pain in the ass, partly because of the timing, partly because of the fact that you have to be on the same plane of height as the target, and partly because the success of doing this thing is often precluded by seven or eight failures. Also, the Unibeam isn’t as useful as it might be, largely because it has to charge up to be fired, which is a problem when enemies are disrupting your charge with missiles; it’s obviously meant to be a risk/reward weapon, but most of the time it ends up being ignored in favor of the repulsors and secondary weapons, further increasing the tedium of the experience. Now, in fairness, you need only do these things a few times as a mandatory part of the game, but still: they don’t work as well as one might want them to, and as such, this is disappointing. Further, after about the halfway point of the game, the missions become significantly less interesting than they were in the beginning. One mission sees you facing off against an enemy… and being tasked with making him aim at another weapon with his own to destroy the other weapon instead of, you know, FIGHTING HIM, which is, well, BORING. Another mission tasks you with protecting a reactor and a bunch of Tesla Coils (um, what?) and, aside from being annoyingly complex (having to defend several sites at once from destruction while trying to avoid your own demise is, sorry, a bit much), it’s also really little more than you running around shooting down missiles and hoping the enemies don’t blow up too much of your stuff.

Oh, and there was one point where I watched a helicopter bump into a wall for thirty seconds… that was certainly odd. This isn’t a frequent problem, but it’s worth noting, all the same.

If you’re a fan of blowing things up, Iron Man, or Iron Man blowing things up, well, you probably wouldn’t be disappointed if you rented Iron Man; it’s got plenty of Iron Man history and a fair plot wrapped around, yes, Iron Man blowing up lots of stuff. It’s not too complex to play, and it certainly has its moments of charm here and there that make it worth a playthrough (and hey, if you were thinking of picking up The Incredible Hulk, it also nets you free goodies). That said, it’s too short and limited to be anything more than a rental unless you see it somewhere cheap; one playthrough shows you all you need to see (positives and flaws), and that playthrough is quite short to boot. Iron Man certainly isn’t a bad game and it’s amusing enough that it’s worth playing, but it’s not memorable, lengthy, exciting or interesting enough to be worth owning with a $60 price tag, even for the most hardcore fan.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: BAD
Balance: POOR
Originality: ABOVE AVERAGE
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: POOR

Final Score: MEDIOCRE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Iron Man is almost a decent game that lacks enough worthwhile to push it over the edge. It’s generally decent looking and sounding, plays fairly well, pays a lot of attention to its source material, and has a decent amount of unlockable content contained within it that, on its own, makes the game pretty solid. Unfortunately, it’s a very short experience that doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term entertainment, as you’ll see everything there is to see in one playthrough, and between some iffy control issues, some spotty balance problems, and a general lack of depth, make it hard to go back through the game any more than that. Iron Man is certainly a solid rental, but it’s too little of a game to be worth purchasing at anything other than budget price for even the most hardcore of fan.

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