Another childhood dream, destroyed.
I assume that you all know the drill when it comes to movie-based games, so I’ll skip the soapbox and get right down to the scathing remarks and tasteless jokes. Before that happens, though, I have an announcement to make: Thanks to Iron Man, I have surpassed a historical milestone in my life as a gamer. For the first time ever, I hurled a controller in sheer disgust.
Actually, it was more like a soft lob to the safety of my couch, but you need to understand something. I’m the guy who goes on seething tirades when friends carelessly imprint my games with their greasy fingers. That gentle toss was the equivalent to ripping out the disc, dousing it with gasoline, lighting it on fire, dumping the ashes onto my hefty business in the toilet, and flushing the whole concoction down the tubes.
Here’s the story, in case you haven’t been out to see the more worthy cinematic namesake of this fiasco. Tony Stark was your average, happy-go-lucky weapons designer until he was kidnapped by his own customers. Struck by the realization that his armaments aren’t making the world a better place, he decides to fight back. With the help of his Mark III battle armor, he’s on a mission to right his wrongs and obliterate the criminal empires of his former clients. In short, Iron Man is supposed to be our chance to don the red and yellow armor and blow shit up.
I was primed to hit the skies in heated dogfights and storm the battlefields to the crescendoing orchestra of exploding tanks. Instead, I spent most of my time hovering in place and firing down on equally stationary targets. Except for the screaming jets flying overhead and the end-level bosses, everyone is content holding their ground in a perpetual and literal last stand. I can make exceptions for the legions of turrets that litter every roof and hilltop, but what about the infantries and tanks? Even the agile gunships do nothing more than hold their positions a few meters above the ground.
I suppose that's a valid battle plan when every barrel, magazine, and missile pod is loaded with heat-seeking firepower. No matter where you are, avoiding enemy fire is utterly futile. You would have an easier time playing dodgeball in the Chuck E. Cheese's ball pit. When flying through the air, every machine gun nails you with pinpoint accuracy. When hiding out between buildings or down in the valleys, missiles rain down one after another. Iron Man can grab missiles out of the air and throw them back, but moves like that mean squat when bogeys hit three at a time.
The best way to survive is by hovering slowly over the terrain and blasting away as your lock-on blips from target to target. Though you won’t know what you’re hitting half the time, you’ll still get shot to hell, but at least you’ll have a fighting chance. Then again, caution won’t always be an option. One fabulously ill-designed mission pits you against a massive airship and rows of turrets loaded with airburst rounds. The only way to avoid getting hit is through dumb luck, and the fact that you start about twenty seconds out of firing range certainly doesn’t help the situation. It took me five attempts to simply reach the ship, and that was only the first of seven steps in bringing it down, with no mid-mission checkpoints.
As unavoidable as the merciless poundings are, Iron Man might be less painful if it didn’t feature the worst control scheme in recent memory. On the ground, it’s a typical two-stick layout for movement and aiming. It switches over to one stick when flying, and then back again when hovering in place. It’s pointlessly disorienting and causes dozens of headfirst crashes. Maybe Secret Level doesn’t want us to fly. After all, the camera can barely keep up even though the Mark III has all the maneuverability of a 747.
One of the better concepts to make an appearance in Iron Man is an upgrade system that allows you to customize the performance of the Mark III armor. Swapping out weaponry, trading speed for agility, and improving power outputs are a few modifications at your disposal. But as you might expect by now, the upgrade system has the balance of a one-legged drunkard.
The main problem is power management. Every system of the Mark III consumes rechargeable power, and the benefits of upgrades don’t always match the costs. Adding the Gatling upgrade turns the Repulsor, Iron Man’s standard weapon, into a weak rapid-fire shooter and quickly drains your power levels to zero, leaving you a sitting duck until they recharge. By contrast, the stronger Meson Repulsor is slower and can be fired non-stop without worry. I could detail issues with every system of the Mark III, but the Unibeam sums them up nicely. The Unibeam – a massive blast from his chest – is supposed to be Iron Man’s strongest weapon, but it takes two seconds of motionless charging, depletes all power, and still fails to kill as efficiently as the Repulsor.
I’m sure that there’s a fanboy or two out there still holding on to a shred of hope. You probably even heard about the unlockable suits of armor, like the Extremis and Hulkbuster models. What you need to understand is that getting the additional armor sets pays off like the finale of an Alka-Seltzer enema. You’ll have to run through the Army of One mode, which is nothing more than the same levels rehashed with scoreboards and time limits. Even then, you can’t even customize the new armors or use them in upcoming missions. All you can do is play the same old missions over and over again, and it doesn’t get better the second time through.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a fan of the movie, comics, or action games in general. Iron Man has little to offer but the pain of aneurysm-inducing frustration and disgust for the greedy underbelly of our lifestyle. If there is one truly good thing that I can say about Iron Man, it’s that Robert Downey Jr. did one hell of a bang-up job behind the microphone. He’s a stellar actor who can shed a ray of light on the most dismal situation, and I thank him for helping me pull through.