Iron Man 2 is a largely joyless experience. A few decent ideas and good pacing are overwhelmingly undermined by stodgy controls, an awful camera, and non-existent scripting. It does nothing to shatter the stereotype of a bad movie tie-in video game.
- Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson
- Good pacing and variety
- Clunky interface and awful camera
- Half-baked combat and awkward controls
- Exceptionally short
Iron Man 2 is a lost game. It has the unfortunate distinction of being both tied to a movie release and having been released a month after its developer SEGA Studio USA was officially closed. There’s a sad story in there somewhere, but one that probably won’t ever be told. In its place we have Iron Man 2, the studio’s final game, a work of decent ambition and fumbling execution.
It’ll Be Different This Time, I Promise
The first notably shocking fact you need to know is just how short Iron Man 2 is. The game is -- generously -- five hours long. It offers nine missions, and that’s counting the game’s brief tutorial, and a couple of boss fights as self-contained levels. If there were any resources saved by not chasing multiplayer or co-op missions, they can’t have been reinvested in the single player mode.
That’s a shame because there are a lot of gameplay ideas in Iron Man 2 that could have worked quite well. Iron Man is a character with rockets on his feet, laser beams in his hands, and missiles mounted on his shoulders. He might well have been created for the express purpose of appearing in a video game. The most basic mechanic is his ability to fly whenever and wherever. You can tap a button to fly upwards, while another will bring you back to earth again. Double tapping a shoulder button sends you rocketing forward in free flight. It’s a good system that puts you in control of Iron Man’s most distinctive feature, but levels don’t do anything to highlight the mechanic.
Levels are either constrictive laboratory hallways or open-air valleys with no obstacles to avoid nor environmental markers to indicate relative speed. Here Iron Man can feel almost like a 747. He may be traveling quickly, but if there aren’t any immediate reference points, the speed is arbitrary. There are a couple of neat moments built around flight. In one scenario, Iron Man escapes from an exploding laboratory through a narrow shaft with pipes and collapsing walls on all sides. In another area, he descends through a cylinder riddled with moving laser beams. It’s moments like these that add immediate drama to the mechanic, but they’re few and far between.
Say Hello to My Little War Machine
The combat system is, likewise, well-conceived but joylessly executed. Iron Man’s attack powers are split between his left and right hands. You can assign two different weapon types to each side and change them on the fly by pressing the d-pad. Combat is built around a rough lock-on mechanic. In theory, it works like it would in most games: when locked onto an enemy, a translucent blue circle surrounds them and a green health meter is intertwined. The problem is that it’s impossible to hit a moving target with standard attacks, which renders it fairly useless, since lock-on mechanisms are designed to hit non-stationary enemies.
Going into free-aim doesn’t help matters much either since you lose the crucial visual feedback of the enemy health bar -- the only real way you have of telling whether or not you’re doing damage. Things also get discombobulating in open areas when your view is tethered to a single mobile enemy. It’s quite easy to come out of a confrontation with one enemy and have to reorient the camera, check the radar, backtrack a few seconds, and pick up the fight against enemies who were patiently waiting for you to finish with their friend. This gives combat an awkward start-stop quality that, when combined with the broad sweeping gestures of the lock-on camera, makes it more of a chore than a thrill. The frustration only compounds in indoor environments where the camera constantly runs into walls, hangs on corners, and pans up at angles that leave Iron Man completely off-screen for seconds at a time.
The game’s presentation is, likewise, a muddle. Every bit of vital information is conveyed in translucent blue, which makes it difficult to keep tabs on your energy shields, whether or not your missile has finished recharging, and which one of the grey clumps in the distance is the enemy you’re locked on to. If you’re going to set a game in against a blue-sky backdrop, there are better choices for HUD color than translucent blue. There’s a weapon and suit upgrade system between missions, but this is just as unclear and inelegant to navigate. You’ll use data points to unlock new kinds of ammo perks and suit powers, but these upgrades have to then be assigned to specific slots in each individual suit (you can choose at the start of each mission which of Iron Man’s suits you’d like to use). Given that you can have up to four slotted weapons in each suit, and each weapon can be given multiple perks, the process of tracking what’s been upgraded and what hasn’t is befuddling.
Iron Man 2 aims for all the right things, it just never really reaches them. The story, a totally separate yarn from the movie plot, is pithy and matches the sarcastic mirth of the movies. Robert Downey Jr.’s vocal talents are missed, but it’s great to have Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson play their parts. There’s also an appreciable attention to pacing, moving you from wide open escort mission to boss fight, to corridor crawl, to a tense flight escape sequence.
Like Fun Without the Fun
While Iron Man 2 might gets the variety down, it never really masters any of its individual mechanics. Flying feels muted in open areas, and totally disorienting in indoor environments. Combat is a dull process of being whipped around by the camera until your enemy stands still long enough to absorb attacks. The visuals are a boggy mess of indistinct earth tones and pointless variations on gray and black. After five hours, you’ll have seen everything the game has to offer. It’s not completely broken and it has some nice ideas, but Iron Man 2 is a game that, for all of its movement and momentum, simply never arrives.