Heavy Is the Burden of the Suit
What a flawed game. Iron Man 2 is a promising title, and it definitely has its moments… but oh, the flaws.
The gameplay controls of Iron Man 2 are very similar to PSP’s Resistance: Retribution, in that the thumbpad moves your character, the face buttons move the targeting reticle, the L and R buttons fire weapons, and there’s an auto lock-on that makes up for the imprecise nature of controlling a targeting reticle with four imprecise buttons.
Unfortunately, that’s all the two games have in common. Resistance: Retribution was challenging and had a huge variety of enemies that required a constant change in tactics, whereas Iron Man 2 has only a few enemy types, all of whom were absent from class on the day they taught basic combat tactics at Henchman University. The D-pad switches weapons and engages an area scanner, but if anyone can manage to use the D-pad for melee attacks without swinging and missing every time, I would have to see it to believe it.
Walking at anything faster than a snail’s pace is a problem, too. I can understand the need to make the Iron Man suit feel heavy and ponderous, but the developers missed out on the fact that the Iron Man suit also augments the wearer’s strength and speed – you should be able to outpace the world’s fastest runners, rather than be forced to check your email and compose grocery lists in between getting from one end of the room to the other. Fortunately, you can hover and cover ground much faster, but the hover ability drains energy from your reserves, and only recharges over time. Do yourself a favor and upgrade your energy efficiency and recharge abilities to the max before you upgrade anything else.
But this walking and hovering thing is kind of a big deal, because you’re going to be constantly hovering from one place to another and flicking your attention back and forth from your energy reserve to the action in front of you – walk, hover, walk, hover, over and over. Which is a strange gameplay mechanic for two reasons, the first being that there are flying stages in which it seems that the Iron Man suit can fly for hundreds of miles without a problem but can’t get to the end of a hallway without coasting on fumes and then crashing into a heap, and the second reason being that it’s just a strange and Puritanical way of designing a game. It reminds me of that old Wolverine game for the NES, where you couldn’t use Wolverine’s claws without draining his life meter, which is pretty much the opposite of the Wolverine character we know and love. “We can’t just let the players hover in the Iron Man suit all they want,” goes the reasoning. “The players might have too much fun!” Instead of limiting Iron Man in order to give the appearance of challenging gameplay, they should have made the Iron Man suits hyper-kinetically fast and viciously powerful, and then present equally dangerous foes in order to pose a challenge, rather than present a horde of weak foes and then limit the armor in order to balance out the already-flawed gameplay.
It is fun to upgrade the various sets of Iron Man armor. You can even play as War Machine, though it’s kind of sad that all of the suits play very, very similarly. Still, the upgrade system does allow for some customization, as you can choose which new weapons to unlock, whether to focus on offense or defense, and so on. You can even reload old stages and try out a different suit or tactic… though I’m not sure why anyone would want to! A taut, gripping story could have helped to hold up the weak gameplay and simple level design, but once the game has been played once, there is little in the narrative to help support a second playthrough. Heck, there’s barely enough in the narrative to even support a single playthrough. The story itself is like one of those filler stories from the comics in which a mad villain hatches a plot, launches an attack, is tracked down by Stark and pals, and is then stomped down. Which is strange, considering that there are plenty of amazing Iron Man stories available (seeing as the Iron Man 2 game is already completely different from the Iron Man 2 movie).
For instance, there was, not too long ago, a pretty amazing Marvel universe Civil War storyline. In it, Tony Stark headed up the controversial Superhuman Registration Act, in which all the heroes had to choose whether to go along with the establishment’s tyrannical new laws in the name of peace, or rebel and risk disorder or even death at the hands of former friends. Just imagine a game where you play as Tony Stark trying to protect the world through an oppressive Superhuman Registration Act, and you end up fighting Wolverine who is in open rebellion, and Captain America is switching sides left and right, and even the Hulk shows up in there somewhere – now that would be a game much more memorable than “villain XYZ is attacking us, but we’ve tracked him down, so let’s go beat the crap out of him and then call it a day.”
The graphics are… adequate. All of the suits look very cool and distinct from one another, but the 3D worlds are all very plain. They don’t look bad, or even drab, but they certainly aren’t very engaging. They don’t capture the imagination the way a world inhabited by superheroes should.
The music is, by far, the best part of Iron Man 2. The thing is, none of the songs are particularly memorable, or even “good” in the sense that you should own the soundtrack. But the developers knocked the soundtrack out of the park by actually using… heavy metal music. And it’s great, because if you’re making a game about violent combat between powerful beings wearing suits of armor, what could be better than a metal soundtrack? Keep in mind, none of the songs are very complex, they run on pretty tight loops, but the riffs going on in each of those short loops is great for a combat-heavy action game.
Heavy metal is played in video games far too infrequently, and I’m sure the truth of why a heavy metal sound was used in Iron Man 2 has more to do with the fact that Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” song was used at the end of the first movie, plus the Iron Man suit is made out of metal, thus heavy metal may have been chosen as a sort of audio pun rather than the fact that, for an action game, nothing in this world could sound more appropriate than metal. I’ve been gaming for over two decades now, and I’m still waiting for the action game that perfectly fuses brutal gameplay with a heavy metal soundtrack. There have been a few close calls, but that game still has not been made…
So I guess, in the meantime, we’re stuck with Iron Man 2.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
Nice-looking Iron Man armor contrasts with uninspired locations and flat movie-still character portraits. 3.4 Control
Intuitive controls clash with hackneyed game mechanics, like limited hover ability, awkward melee attacks, and the inability to run. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Intense, if simple, heavy metal soundtrack, plus Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle reprise their roles from the recent film. The voice actor for Tony Stark is no Robert Downey Jr., but he makes for an adequate stand-in. 2.5 Play Value
Check this out if you’re a diehard fan of Iron Man or all things Marvel. Otherwise, pass. 2.9 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.