Nothing says branded dog turd like a movie tie-in. Happy Meals are the pinnacle of this mountain of muck, but videogames are a close second. The concept of Iron Man – a man in a jet-propelled suit of armour that’s packed with fearsome weapons, a flying gun with arms, is prime videogame chowder. But concepts and reality are a million miles apart in Iron Man 2.
Let us first address the issue of jet propulsion. If you did indeed have rocket packs in the soles of your feet and the palms of you hands, flying about would be one of the most exciting things in your life. Air doughnuts wouldn’t just be possible, they’d be de rigueur, your signature move, the one you pulled off just before hitting mach 5 and disappearing over the Earth’s curvature. Yet in this game, flying is about as exciting as a walk to the corner shop in the rain. You can’t even fly upside down, which doesn’t matter all that much except when you reach the 500 foot tall end level boss and spot a weakness on the sole of his foot that can only really be hit with a missile if you’re lying on your back as he’s about to stamp on you. Well, it could be a weakness but you’ll never know because you’ll never be able to hit it and to defeat the thing you don’t even need to.
Okay, so cool stuff like air balletics and boy racer flash don’t come into the flying equation, which means there’s only one thing left – speed. Surely, you’d think, they’d be able to conjure a sense of missile like speed into Iron Man’s flight? You’d be entirely wrong, of course – not wrong to have that thought, just wrong about any sense of speed. Switching from gentle hovering to full-blown MIG speeds gives you the impression that you’ve just shuffled onto a Routemaster bus while it’s ambling along at 3mph in rush hour traffic. In essence, flying in Iron Man 2 is a total let down.
The only other cool thing about the Iron Man concept is the idea that as Tony Stark – the man behind the iron mask – you’re encased in a suit that is positively bristling with state of the art weaponry. At your disposal are lasers, missile launchers, rockets, blasters, shotguns, repulsors and a chest mounted uni-beam. You can’t take them all out with you, of course, but when you can mix and match these to the point where you’re loaded up with six different weapons you’re clearly armed to the teeth with enough firepower to bring down small governments. Which, when you think about it just a little bit, sounds like gun fights in Iron Man 2 are wild, violent, megadeath inducing extravaganzas. They’re not, mind, but you know they should be. Combat in Iron Man 2 feels a lot more like some mad Japanese blast ’em up, only without all the insane weapon’s upgrades and eye-boggling explosions. In fact, the whole game is like a mix of Afterburner and a crazy blaster with all of the good bits removed.
And that’s essentially what Iron Man 2 is, one great big blast ’em up from start to finish. One of the moans the first Iron Man encouraged in gamers was that it was just a bit too hard. However, this time round it’s as if the developers couldn’t make their minds up whether they wanted to make another game that was excruciatingly difficult to finish or not and so made do with one that seems like it’s very difficult to complete right up to the moment when you do finish it. That moment is accompanied not by a fist pumping, lung bursting ‘yes,’ but by an almost inaudible ‘is that it.’ Each level begins with you tinkering with your weapons load out and suit specifics. This in itself is a confusing affair as you first have to navigate one menu to invent everything, then another to customise each weapon, then another to choose a suit and then another to assign each weapon to your iron casket. Getting used to this takes some time, and by the time your completely comfortable with this navigating the game is over.
You can spend as much time messing about with your set up as you will actually playing the game, yet all this mucking about with weapons and ammo doesn’t seem to make a blind bit of difference to the game. Apart from the pulse ammo, noticeable purely because it comes out blue from whatever weapon you attach it to, there are no visible changes. It’s quite possible that upgrading weapons means you can take down enemies quicker, but we’ll be damned if we noticed. Half the time it feels as if the developers took a short cut around the difficulty problem by making the control layout a thoroughly irritating affair. There are fourteen different buttons to click, all of which can be used in a fight, yet that doesn’t really matter too much or make a lot of difference because you can get by with just six. Jeez, Iron Man has a once in every level invincibility mode but we didn’t need it at all…
The story follows the end of the movie, and is essentially your typical ‘get the baddie and kill him’ affair, but we bet no one who plays this will remember what the plot was two weeks after they’ve given it back to the store. Much like the level design. Levels come and go without any of them leaving any impression – they might just as well made one level that replicated itself every five minutes and lasted six hours and you’d not be able to tell much difference between that and what you’ve got here. Escort a bunch of helicopters through a valley (meaning fly around shooting things), escort a spider-like tank (fly around shooting things), defend an air-craft carrier (hover around shooting things), save one of your spies (fly, hover and run around shooting things), defeat the big boss man (fly around, shooting one thing) – doesn’t sound all that exciting, does it? There is only one moment, very early on, where you don’t need to shoot things, on a level where you need to escape from a building that’s due to be blown to smithereens. This one is nicked whole-heartedly from an old Star Wars arcade game in which you needed to get the Millennium Falcon out of the Death Star before it blows up. That arcade game was a lot of fun 20 years ago, but this total rip off is notable only because it’s different to the rest of the game.
Graphically, well, it’s neither here nor there. You won’t find yourself hovering in the sky marvelling at the sheer beauty of the landscape, but neither will you scoff, because you just won’t notice he landscape. The AI isn’t worth mentioning because nothing ever happens to give the bots a suitable frontal lobe challenge
The best thing about Iron Man 2 are the cut scenes, where some competent writing and voice acting makes the game seem like it just might be worth ploughing through, even though it isn’t. Honestly, it’s such a lacklustre experience that words fail us. Can you really see yourself playing a game where the cut scenes (complete with terrible face mapping) are more enjoyable than the actual game?