|Iron Man 2|
|Platforms||Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, DS, PSP|
|Genre||Lackluster movie game sequel|
|Buy from Amazon|
Sequels. Comic franchises converted to video games. Movie tie-ins.
Studios closing their doors. Needless to say, there are a lot of
barriers that can narrow the odds of producing a high quality title. It
would seem that Iron Man 2 was forced to hurdle all of them. As I
mentioned in my recent First Hour review of Iron Man 2, its predecessor
was critically panned. But did it deserve it? Or did it fall prey to
the echo chamber of hate that often befalls licensed products and spin
offs? The truth is, Iron Man had it’s problems. From unwieldy controls
to frame rate issues, it seemed like it stumbled each time it would
just get up to speed. But it had moments of fun, high intensity super
hero action that carried one through to each subsequent mission. Going
into a sequel, one assumes that Sega Studios San Francisco, the
developer behind both titles would make an effort to improve the
failings of the original while trying to maintain those things they got
right the first time. The question is, did they pull it off?
After sitting in on the developer conference call for Iron Man 2, I was hopeful that things were looking good. They talked about a dedication to listening to fans, and to implementing those lessons they learned from user feedback on the first game. They talked about simplified controls, vast levels, destructible environments and deep customization. They touted a boss that is “bigger than any boss in any game ever”. And War Machine. War Machine sounded like a perfect addition to the Iron Man gaming universe. Yes, it sounded like it had really come together. And so I eagerly anticipated my review copy, thinking back to the flawed but fun experience I had with the first game.
In the sequel, we catch up with Tony Stark discussing what
it means to be Iron Man. In Tony’s sardonic way, we basically get the
idea that even though he may seem incredible; he’s just making it up as
he goes. With someone as brilliant as Tony Stark, that’s probably not a
bad thing. Then things get interrupted as there is an attack on the
Stark archives, the secret informational repository for the company. We
learn that some very important data has been stolen and Tony has to get
it back. In the process of doing so, Tony is aided by James Rhodes, AKA
War Machine, as well as members of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Black Widow.
In classic comic book fashion, the information that is stolen is used against our hero and the game culminates in much the same way the first movie did, where Tony must destroy a twisted version of technology he created. You’re probably thinking this is becoming a theme for the modern Iron Man and you’d be right. Both movies and both games essentially boil down to the same formula. Tony creates something awesome. That something falls into the wrong hands. The bad guys twist it into something evil and then Tony has to destroy what is essentially just a perversion of his own creation. It’s actually a pretty workable formula and speaks to the age old mythology of Pandora’s box, the good and evil that always tend to go hand in hand.
I will mention that I’ve not yet seen the movie; however the developers commented that the game doesn’t replicate the story of the movie.
So, to the gameplay. Iron Man 2 is a third person action game. Most of the time is spent in the air, flying and shooting at both air and ground based targets. Appropriately, the majority of levels are designed to be played as a flight sim, such that running on the ground is possible but not functional. The remaining levels are a combination of indoor third person action and exterior flight. In both cases, there are lots of things to do, and by things “to do”, I mean things to blow up. You get the option to play as Iron Man or War Machine. You get to choose which hero you want to control at the beginning of each level. However, depending on the story arc, some levels require you to be one or the other.
At the beginning of each level, you start in Tony’s lab. You have several options to choose from but all are essentially leading to the same thing: upgrading your components and outfitting your suits (several classic and modern suits can be unlocked by performing well on certain missions). These take the form of Research, Fabrication, and Suit Customization. Throughout the course of each level, you’ll earn research points. These points are used to upgrade the quality or featureset of your gear. For example, War Machine has a shoulder mounted mini-gun. Over the course of the game, you can upgrade the damage it does, the firing rate, the recycle time, and the type of projectile it fires. This is true of most all the weapons in the game and this is actually one of the high points in the design. As you progress, you will definitely notice that you get more powerful if you spend your points wisely.
The traditional part of the game is divided into 8 levels. They are pretty standard stuff. You’ll take part in an escort mission, a rescue, a seek and destroy and a few more. And the final level, in a moment of brilliance, necessitates playing as both Iron Man and War Machine. As the level progresses, you’ll switch who you control as the two heroes tag team the final boss. It’s well done and a very enjoyable way to almost co-op a level solo, if that makes any sense.
What was awesome: I definitely think playing as
War Machine was a highlight. Not to disparage Iron Man, but, in my
opinion, they made a big mistake in the design department with the Iron
Man character. In the first game, Iron Man’s pulse weapon in his palms
were fully automatic. Hold the right trigger down and you’re good to
go. For some bizarre reason, they changed that in this game, such that
you have to constantly mash the trigger if you want to fire rapidly
(however this enables them to include a useless charged shot that does
more damage if you hold the trigger down momentarily). This is tedious
and makes Iron Man a bit of a chore. On the other hand, War Machines
right trigger weapon is a very effective mini-gun. And guess what, it’s
fully automatic. The rest of the weapons they use are the same. So now,
you have an Iron Man game where Iron Man takes the back seat in
playability. Also, the final boss is pretty awesome but I’ll not give
any spoilers. I will talk about some problems with it later though.
What I liked: I like some aspects of the new control scheme, but hated others. Not having to hold a button to fly or hover is an improvement. Also, the in between levels is more gratifying as you decide how to spend your money on upgrades. In the first game, this element was pretty basic and in the sequel they’ve fleshed it out a bit more, giving you greater customization options. Lastly, they get a big thumbs up for skipable cutscenes.
What I didn't like: A couple of the levels are very generic. I mentioned in my first hour review, that you have to escort some helicopters through a canyon. I swear I’ve played this level in 30 other games. And in every game, I’m forced not to get too far ahead. It makes no sense. Please, developers, throw this level out of your notebooks. Never again.
I mentioned some control improvements, but I would actually say they’ve hurt the controls more than they’ve helped. Having to mash the trigger for rapid fire simply makes no sense to me. And there are so many buttons to manage in flight, it’s almost impossible to do it fluidly. Forcing you to switch weapons with the same thumb you use to steer is a horrible idea. If you try to switch weapons while steering, you run into things. Even on the final boss I was literally battling the controls. I’m a pretty patient guy and I recognize that some complex actions require complex controls, but this game was consistently baffling. In one level, you’re tasked with trapping an enemy in a room and then flipping a switch to destroy it. You have to quickly move from place to place, lure it to a certain position, disable it, then get to the next room and throw the switch. It’s a wonderful little section and a great idea for a battle. Just thinking about playing the level with solid controls gets me excited. Unfortunately, it’s almost completely ruined by clumsy controls and a spastic camera. I even replayed the level after beating the game and was still bumping into walls and struggling to juggle the controls. This reaches a fever pitch in the final boss battle as you’re forced to attack and retreat in quick succession, while simultaneously dodging several forms of attack. The final boss battle could have actually been an amazing experience if I weren’t so frustrated with the controls, the ENTIRE time. Keep in mind, this is the final boss, I’ve had hours of gameplay to get the hang of it.
The controls are simply not intuitive when used in combination. As challenging as the first game's controls were, at least they made sense as you get further in the game. It’s like the developers were so intent on “fixing” the original control elements that they didn’t take into account that each fix they implemented didn’t work well with the others. The graphics actually look worse that the first game. Why? But I’ll discuss that more in the graphics section below
This game is incredibly short. I would say MAYBE 4 hours of gameplay. Because I’m a nerd about the pre-mission upgrades, I probably burned an hour or two looking at what I could do and thinking about how to proceed, adding a couple of hours, up to 6 but the game is over before you know it. I read a lot of reviews and people complain a lot about some games being too short, but I’ve honestly never had a problem with it before. I always assumed that I’m just a slow, methodical gamer who takes his time. Even so, I felt like this game was over before it started.
This is by far the biggest disappointment for me. The first Iron Man game was nothing if not promising. I had a lot of fun and quietly hoped for an improved sequel. No such luck. I found the level design to be generic and uninspired. Yes, there were several banner moments, and the boss battles had huge potential, but they were totally hindered by the crummy control scheme making it almost impossible to feel like the badass that is Iron Man. I continuously felt like the Iron Man from the first few scenes in the first movie, where Tony smashed into the ceiling and the floor and the robotic fire extinguisher keeps going off.
Fun Factor: 4
This is where the first game stood out. The levels were big. Alternate “hero” objectives and timed objectives made for increased replay value and rewarded skills at the controls. In the sequel, constant frustration at the controls overshadows even the more glowing set pieces and boss battles.
Graphics and Sound: 6
Both were very average. As I mentioned, the graphics were not as impressive as the first game. A couple of things stand out. First, the levels are much smaller in scope. In the first game, there were points where you could fly uninterrupted, at boosted speed for 20 seconds just to move to another section of the level. In this game, they’ve completely removed the ability to boost (at least as far as I could tell) and the levels rarely take more than about 5 seconds of flight to traverse, except for two long narrow levels that you basically just hover through them. The voice acting by Samuel Jackson and Don Cheadle is good, however, the cutscenes are poorly done and hinder the top notch voice talent. The sound effects are not bad. The explosions sound good and the flight sounds are what you’d expect.
The story feels like it could have been pulled directly from a three part Iron Man comic. To me, that’s a good thing. But it also felt abridged, and like the usage of S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t properly exploited, I definitely like the idea of someone bold enough to go after Iron Man right where it hurts the most.
I often talk about expectations. Perhaps that’s key here. I went into the original game with zero expectations and came out pleasantly surprised. In this case, while I wouldn’t say I had high expectations, I was certainly hopeful of the outcome. When that didn’t come to pass, I think my disappointment felt deeper that it would have otherwise.
Final Thoughts: Go back to the first paragraph of this review. Then realize this game has to hurdle every one of those barriers and then some. Then ask yourself what the likelihood is that I’m being overcritical of this game. If anyone knows me, they know that I’m the guy who can find the diamond in the rough. I can find the positive is most any game. And there’s no question, that Iron Man 2 has some shiny bits here and there. Unfortunately, you’ll have to slog through 4 hours of frustrations to find them. It pains me to say this, but I can only recommend this game for the most die hard Iron Man fans. It’s way too short for a full priced release. Uninspired level design and frustrating controls make it a burden to even finish the four hour campaign. As a fan of the developer, it saddens me to see them go out on this game.