Iron Man 2
Publisher: Sega Studios San Diego
Release Date: 05/04/2010
Summer. Marvel. Movie tie-in. If anyone is still reading, you should know by now that I’m talking about Iron Man 2. The first game was so bad that it gave bleeding ulcers to a full two-thirds of the people who played it. Now, after more time in development and a host of people saying that the sequel features improvements, we dive into Iron Man 2 to see if it is an actual upgrade or ready for the scrap heap.
I was surprised to find a very loose association between Iron Man 2 and the movie it is based on. My first thought was that game studios are starting to catch on to the fact that slavishly following the movie script doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes the best results come when you branch out into an original story. We saw that in Batman: Arkham Asylum, but don’t see it used to as much effect here. Instead of dogmatically following the movie, we are shown a new type of nano-technology that will power and control armored suits in the Iron Man universe. While it is technically pico-tech, I’d like to go out on a tangent here and say I’m sick of seeing nanites in video games. They’re becoming almost as common as World War II games.
The story is co-written by Matt Fraction, who is currently doing a pretty decent job with Marvel’s X-Men and Iron Man titles. However, it was also adapted to the gaming world by the Sega team, so you have a lot of times where things just stop making sense. When you meet up with the Black Widow, Iron Man says a line about her father showing up right as the Crimson Dynamo boss fight starts. As far as I can tell, General Shatalov has never been linked to Natasha.
Other little things like that pop out during the course of the game, and much of the story is really constructed to set the pace for battle after battle, with no real pacing or plot. There is a lot of spectacle that you get to play through, culminating in one of the largest final-boss battles I’ve ever seen, but so much of it is without substance. There aren’t any modes aside from the campaign, which is horribly disappointing. One of the main selling points of this game is that it features both Iron Man and War Machine, but you are constantly forced to choose one over the other. Some cooperative multiplayer would go a long, long way to making this title better.
I’m not sure I can really call this a current-generation game, at least based on the graphics. While the game is in motion, things look fine, but a little flat. Explosions don’t really pop the way they should, and some of the weapons are more sprites than effect. The character models are generally flat and boring, most of the clothes look plastered or painted on, and don’t show any lighting. Seeing as how the reactor core in Tony Stark’s chest glows constantly, whether he is in the suit or not, this is a huge flaw. Facial animations don’t animate much more than flapping lips. When in the suits, up close shots almost show pixelation, not the smooth, metallic sheen that you want. The faces are all recognizable as the characters, but they look like last-gen renders taken from the comic books.
The most disappointing thing about the graphics though is the occasional burst of brilliance that does shine through. When there are a bunch of things moving-such as S.H.I.E.L.D. helicopters carrying APC’s while drone copters and suits fire up at them while you run escort-the amount of action looks good, smooth, and fast. The Advanced Idea Mechanics suits with transparent face plates look really cool and fit the game so well. The enemy suits and mechs all look like a great cross between anime and comic books, and it works. The scale of the game stays as big as the first with wide open vistas and mostly large playing areas, but it adds more destruction to the buildings and the landscape. You could, in theory, go crazy with the destroying of factories, sheds, and barracks, at least if they behaved and fell down. I feel like a guard post had three times the health of a giant mech. If I drain my armor to fire off the mother of all uni-beam attacks, I should damn well do more than scratch the paint. Also, the wreckage disappears in a hurry. The downside of that is the utter lack of debris or smoking hulks once you get done smashing things. If I wreck something, I want it to stay wrecked and stick around, not flash and disappear.
When your sound team gets to play around with some of the best actors working today, you end up with some very good voice acting. Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson lend their voices to this game, and the Robert Downey Jr. sound-alike that voices Iron Man/Tony Stark is very close to the actual source. The voice acting is, rather obviously, a high point. Much of the enjoyment of playing this game comes from listening to the interchanges between the main characters. I was actually reminded of the Fantastic Four movies. They weren’t great films by any stretch, but everyone who saw them agreed that the rivalry between the Thing and the Human Torch were great.
Conversely, the actual sound effects in the game are the most basic, bland, and boring sounds heard in this generation of games. I’m not sure how it was decided, but when Iron Man or War Machine punches a robot, the sound is “clunk.”Â Not clang, not bang, but clunk. I’m not an expert on the guy, but I’m pretty sure I’d remember the issue where Iron Man dipped his fists in rubber. It doesn’t get any better if you’re punching walls, doors, or anything else. The weapon sound effects make me feel like they were lifted from just about any generic shooter game. Both the Iron Man and War Machine suits have similar layouts early on, so the blaster for Iron Man sounds just like the shotgun for War Machine, and frankly the shotgun from Doom sounds better than either. Other weapons have similar problems. Everything sounds weak, and most of it gets drowned out by the generic metal soundtrack.
Control and Gameplay
The first Iron Man game was marred by a desire to do too much at once. The idea was good, the execution was very bad. Did the second game improve on that? Well…maybe a little. There is still a huge emphasis based on flight. Iron Man doesn’t jump, he either hovers on his repulsor-thrusters or he faces forward and flies at a pretty fast rate. The controls for the flight mode feel like you are trying to control a bottle rocket instead of a high tech suit of armor. You have very shallow pitch controls, and pulling back too far on the left stick means you slam to a halt and hover. The game engine makes it very easy to perform barrel rolls left and right, but turns are better accomplished by stopping, rotating, and flying again. The lack of jumping means that if you are running around and end up stuck against a low barrier, instead of hopping or vaulting over it, you have to hover up and then back down again.
When it comes to combat, each suit is outfitted with two fighting styles and four ranged weapons, with two on each side of the suit. The ranged weapons take ammo or energy, and the suits will reload over time once they are depleted. However, there is no way to manually reload. Say you are using a shotgun on War Machine, with five shots. You fire three of them, and that takes down an enemy. You now have to either fire the other two into the air to trigger a reload, switch weapons, or wait until someone else shows up. Unless you plan every fight in advance, it means that you are eventually going to end up waiting for the ammo bar to fill back up. What about the close combat? Don’t bother trying to do much. Each style has the same pattern of X,X,X,X,X,B for the combos, but most enemies fall down after three or four strikes, and the ones that are powerful enough to take it don’t really get bothered by the final tap. If the enemy drones do get inside your range, they will start hitting you with a combo. Don’t panic if you get punched, you can tap B to put up a shield that slows things down and knocks them back, leaving them open for a retaliatory strike.
Do you ever feel like a steel-plated badass? The answer to that is: occasionally. There are a few missions where you fight A.I.M. goons or soldiers, and punching them sends them flying. The problem is that they move at just about the same speed you do when on the ground, so they can retreat just as fast as you advance. You can dash into them with a shoulder button, but doing that does enough damage to kill them anyway, so what’s the point of going closer? To help the targeting, you have a lock-on system. It helps, but only if you have a weapon capable of taking down the enemies with consistency. War Machine’s minigun does a nice job on the hover-drones you’re constantly facing, but Iron Man’s repulsors require multiple hits. During the time you’re shooting, the enemies are attacking you from every possible angle, and with better accuracy and typically a better rate of fire. Finally, despite a large amount of suits, most of them don’t do anything different enough to matter. If I could say “okay, this mission is going to be a slug-fest, let’s load up the powerful Mark I suit,”Â then it would fine. Aside from War Machine’s slightly different weapons layout, the suit differences are almost entirely cosmetic.
Control/Gameplay: Below Average
There is a wonderful amount of things for you to unlock and upgrade in this game. The first problem is that the way that you go about unlocking and upgrading them is by playing the game. The second problem is the sheer cost of the upgrades. Upgrades are purchased with field research data points, and you earn these points by defeating enemies and keeping your armor undamaged. As you play though, you’ll quickly notice that there is no way to track how much you’ve earned. There’s no way to gauge how many more things you need to destroy to earn that next upgrade, no scale of “five points for a trooper, ten points for an android…”Â that you can find. If there was that type of progression, I could at least know what to focus on. Most missions end up giving you a decent amount of points, in the neighbourhood of a few hundred thousand. The top upgrades cost millions. This means you are either playing for perfect in every mission or saving, saving, saving those points. There is no fun in that, and the cost progression is completely flawed.
I was very hopeful after watching a few developer commentaries prior to launch. They all said the same thing: We’ve fixed the old issues. Things are better now. They almost all lied. One of the worst things about the first game was the way that every enemy weapon in the hemisphere seemed to track in on you as soon as you crested the horizon. That annoyance is still there, but is at least slightly more manageable. Most missile bursts can be redirected, at least if you notice the tiny flashing B button in the lower center of the screen. You do have both shields and armor to defend yourself, but the shields melt like butter in the sun and the armor doesn’t help much more. There is also very little to differentiate a minor swat and a huge impact. Some boss fights had moments where Iron Man was picked up, crushed, punched, and slammed into the ground. It took a third of my shields. Other levels have laser grids that, with one touch, knocked down my shields and took a third of my armor. There is no consistency or appropriate sense of danger. There are also enemies that attack you with never-miss attacks. Even if you hide behind a wall, the enemies will wait until they can see you and hit you. Even though you are supposed to be the hardest hero around, getting swarmed by small enemies and taken out is an all-too-common occurrence. Iron Man 2 embraces escort and point-defence sections also, and it you’ll be losing these with frequency as well. Fly too far in front of the convoy so that you can destroy the incoming enemies? Mission over. Let one enemy get behind you and the person you’re supposed to be guarding? Mission over.
I feel strangely compelled to give Iron Man 2 credit for the same thing the first game featured. I do like the fact that you can transition rather seamlessly from walking around to flying around, despite the fact that the controls are still bad in places. There are a few moments where you really feel like Iron Man. You can fly around above the action firing at ground forces and then abruptly pull up and slam to the ground. It’s a nice touch, but it is also just about the only original thing to be found here. The game wants you to think that deciding to play as War Machine vs. Iron Man will allow for different strategy or weapons, but it doesn’t. The suits have very few differences, and there is a special power that you can activate once per mission that either makes you invincible (Iron Man) or ramps up your firepower (War Machine). Even the points in the game where you have to hack into a computer terminal or open a door come down to hammering on the B button. As much as I hate to say it, even a quick time event would have been better.
If you love Iron Man, if you love the hybrid universe of the movies that borrows regular Marvel and The Ultimates, you might find something to keep you here. Gear heads that love tinkering might also find something worth looking at with the way you can customize your suits. Aside from those things, this game won’t keep your attention. Last year we had the Wolverine tie-in, and that at least featured great combat. Iron Man 2 is burdened by its combat, not helped.
Games based on comic books are hard enough to get right. Games based on movies based on comics are perhaps even more difficult. The Iron Man character is one of built in complications as well. Here is a man in a suit of armor who is a brilliant scientist to boot. You have a character that should be able to devastate conventional armies, fly like a Gundam suit, create new and effective technology at will, and stand toe to toe with super villains. The sections of the game that could have been fun hacking games like Mass Effect 2 offered are replaced with brute force button mashing. The combat could have featured fun kill or shut-down attacks like the God of War series. Instead, Sega offers the lowest common denominator of a basic, forgettable action game with some random Iron Man skins.
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
I’m going to go back a bit to something I’ve already mentioned. Where in the name of Galactus is the co-op multiplayer? I understand that the prospect of head to head multiplayer would not exactly work, so that is fine. The developers go so far to throw both characters at us but hamstring the game by only allowing one suit to be deployed at a time. There are two separate dialogue tracks recorded for every mission based on whether Jim Rhodes or Tony Stark is the pilot, but that’s just window dressing, not a reason to play around in the game world. Sega took what might have been the perfect co-op game and turned it into a pointless single player slog.
Control and Gameplay: Below Average
Appeal Factor: Mediocre
FINAL SCORE: Poor game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Iron Man 2 is a game that wants to fix a lot of the issues from the first game and entertain fans of the movie with an adapted story arc. Technically, that is what Sega did, but adding a coat of paint to a rusted Pinto doesn’t turn it into a Cadillac. Controls and graphics are slightly better than the first game, but still bad by all measurements. The sound isn’t awful until you get into combat, and some of the character interactions are a lot of fun. Bad controls, a meandering story that seems to have entire segments missing, and an upgrade system that is almost impossible to use will torture fans of what could have been a great Iron Man game. Maybe if Sega hadn’t had to get this out the door the same week as the film released they could have done a better job. Fans of Tony Stark would have more fun playing the Ultimate Alliance series than playing this hunk of tin.