Iron Man 2 (PlayStation 3) review
"It's difficult to feel the rush of adrenaline that should come from flight when you're cruising down bland, confined corridors with junk that probably is supposed to look like something futuristic but really just looks like a bunch of blobs and squares. Even the outdoor environments lack that certain something special. They're not quite draped in fog, yet somehow the effect is the same. There are no beautiful vistas and there's no polish. Every surface is dull and lifeless. The most a person could maybe say in the game's defense is that some of the machines are pretty big, but there's not much to them."
Iron Man 2 could have been a good game. Like so many license-based titles, though, it fell short of the mark. That's not remarkable. What's remarkable is that it fell as short as it did and as thoroughly as it did. There are disappointing games and then, further down the figurative scale, there are bad ones. Iron Man 2 takes 'bad' and runs it into the ground.
The game takes place sometime after the recent movie of the same name. It makes no real effort to emulate any of the scenes from the feature film, which is probably for the best since half of the vocal talent (including Robert Downey, Jr. himself) that was in place for the big-screen presentation skipped town when it came time for the game. Samuel Jackson and Don Cheadle do their best, though, bless 'em.
Essentially, what you get is the story of Tony Stark rising from the floor in his laboratory, which has come under attack as a militant group looks to steal the plans from Stark's archives to create a super weapon modeled after Jarvis. For those who don't recall, Jarvis is the helpful computer that Stark relies upon when he tries to do intelligent things that don't involve sports cars, women and exploding fireballs. You could say that Jarvis is the brains of the organization, if only because he doesn't consume copious amounts of alcohol. That makes the theft of his essence a very dangerous thing. Tony Stark rises from the laboratory floor where he has been thrown by an explosion of some sort and from there you'll spend the rest of an extremely brief game trying to foil the thieves, failing and then kicking their butts anyway because, after all, you are Iron Man.
The plot isn't actually all bad. It could fill a nice hour-long slot on television quite nicely, even. However, the integrity of the plot is the game's somewhat dubious highlight. Even with that being the case, there are issues. Some of the twists barely even have time to make sense before the player is expected to accept them and to jump into another mission. The character models that mouth the dialog that moves things along look like they were created with the PlayStation 2 in mind. You've seen better presentation in pretty much any game you played for that system... ever.
Those bad visuals extend well beyond the cutscenes and their effect on the overall game is palpable. It's difficult to feel the rush of adrenaline that should come from flight when you're cruising down bland, confined corridors with junk that probably is supposed to look like something futuristic but really just looks like a bunch of blobs and squares. Even the outdoor environments lack that certain something special. They're not quite draped in fog, yet somehow the effect is the same. There are no beautiful vistas and there's no polish. Every surface is dull and lifeless. The most a person could maybe say in the game's defense is that some of the machines are pretty big, but there's not much to them. Recent Wii releases such as Monster Hunter Tri have proven that even the weakest of the current hardware is capable of far better than what you'll see in Iron Man 2. A scene where Iron Man flies through the air along the side of a floating battleship had the potential to look great and to serve as a memorable highlight, except that Panzer Dragoon Orta did it one or two better on the original Xbox.
A lack of visual polish might be excused if there were at least a variety of character models that would have kept the artists busy, but there really aren't. There are perhaps eight or ten different enemy types in the game and you'll find yourself fighting them repeatedly. One of the most memorable, the Armiger tank that looks like a tarantula, will be battled several times over the course of the game. Mech suits pop up frequently, as well, and flying turrets that look like almonds. Menacing almonds.
Battling such enemies was never going to be a thrill. Some fun still could have been salvaged from the whole business if there were a variety of weapons to throw at any of the threats in the game, however. Of course, that's the sort of thing that you would expect from a good game. Here, the most you'll find are different varieties of heat-seeking missile. You can switch between machine guns and beams and lasers and bursts of flame, but they all amount to the same general thing. Not only that, but they're a pain in the butt to even purchase.
As you work through the eight missions that make up the overall Iron Man 2 game, you'll receive points at the end of each successful mission. Your score could range from hundreds of thousands of points in the early stages to millions by the time you're going up against the enemies that are likely to put up a fight. With those points, you can eventually gain new gear for your suit, but first you have to invent it--which requires trips to one of the most confusing sets of menus ever to appear in an action game--and then you have to fabricate it (another menu) and assign it to your suit (yet another menu). Sometimes, it's hard to be sure what will go with what suit or why an item is worth having. Occasionally, all you're paying for is an upgrade to something that you already have and maybe you won't even be able to equip it in the next mission. There's no way to really know ahead of time.
The missions themselves, by the way, feel more like a chore than anything that you'd probably want to spend money to experience. They involve cruising around bland environments and blasting apart wave after wave of enemies. As you progress, you can take damage to your shields and maybe things will get bad enough that your life meter is affected. Then you pass a checkpoint. If you die after that, you continue from the checkpoint with the diminished resources that you had at the point when you activated the checkpoint in question. The net effect is that checkpoints almost work against you. What's the point of even having them if you can reach one with a thin sliver of life and then every time you try to proceed from there, you're in critical position with no possible way to refill your life?
Flight in this game isn't anywhere near the fun that it should have been, either. The left analog stick controls movement speed and the right one steers both your chosen character and the camera. It's possible to move up or down on a vertical line with some of the face buttons, and to target with the shoulder buttons and to fire missiles with the 'L2' and 'R2' buttons but there's no button that you can press to make everything feel natural. Particularly in the early stages--say, the first half of the game--your fingers will feel as if someone replaced them with pretzels. It's difficult to believe that the people responsible for the control scheme put any time into playing this mess of a game.
Despite the reasonable level of difficulty that the parade of questionable design choices make possible, Iron Man 2 won't keep you busy for long. Most players should have little difficulty playing through the game in four or five hours on a first attempt. After that, it's possible to play some--though not all--missions as the other one of the two characters available to you. So if you cleared a stage once as Iron Man, for example, you might enjoy going back through it as War Machine. Then again, you might enjoy having someone rip your fingernails from your fleshy fingertips while yodeling. Anything is possible, in theory.
Speaking of possibilities, there's a slim possibility that true fans of the films and comics will wring some enjoyment from Iron Man 2 on PlayStation 3. It's just as likely that they'll feel as if they have been betrayed by this game's developers, by SEGA and by the universe in general. Sometimes a game review can end with a half-hearted recommendation to "pick it up when the price drops." This is one of those cases where someone should pay you to play it. Add it to your collection only if you're into that sort of thing.
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 20, 2010)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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