Ah, winter. The time of year for pulling on your gloves and heading down to the local cinema to hoover up a box of popcorn and check out the latest action blockbuster of the American summer schedule. When it comes to popcorn flicks, you can't get any bigger than the Marvel superhero movies that have been making the rounds in the last few years. With no new Fantastic 4 or Spiderman release on the schedule this year, the biggest popcorn flick of the moment is turning out to be Iron Man, and like many of the modern big budget blockbusters, the film's release is wonderfully tied into a simultaneous release of the videogame to maximise Iron Man's exposure.
Like many gamers, we at PALGN are quite skeptical of the movie tie-in videogame, and let's be honest, we've often been burned before! But, as many times as we've sat down with one of these titles and cringed, we've always come back for more. Are we masochists? Or just dreadfully naive? Either way, the film tie-in seems like a genre that is not going to die quite yet, no matter how bad it is. While many of these games are absolutely terrible, there are a handful that do jump out and surprise us because they aren't entirely crap. While they may not be the next Halo or GTA, they serve their purpose as popcorn for the thumbs, in that they are full of action, explosions and flashy tricks that they keep you entertained for a few hours while you simply mow your way through the game on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Unfortunately, while Iron Man begins to look like a simple game to fill up an afternoon, it quickly descends into 'entirely crap' territory and will leave you frustrated to the point that you'll be ready to hurl your controller through the television set - but more on that later.
If you haven't seen the film already, don't worry; because the Iron Man videogame glosses over most of the film's plot, instead choosing to present a storyline that is a watered down version of the events in the silver screen version, while also drawing from the comic universe with the inclusion of characters such as Whiplash and Titanium Man. Iron Man casts you in the role of Tony Stark, who after a life changing incident has created the alter ego of Iron Man in an effort to stop the evil terrorists from buying up his state of the art weaponry and you'd really need to be in Iron Man to take on the large forces that the game throws at you, with thirteen missions filled with soldiers, tanks, howitzers and enough missiles to turn the Earth into a giant ball of Swiss cheese.
The first thing gamers are going to notice when they get into the game is the awfully clumsy control scheme, which takes some getting used to. Holding the left trigger in fully will let you make Iron Man vertically rise into the atmosphere - until he reaches an invisible ceiling and starts to sway from side to side like Tony Stark after he's downed a few Martinis. With the left trigger pressed in lightly, Iron Man will steadily hover in one place, making it easy to get a fix on your target, while the left thumbstick is used to move Iron Man in any direction.
While the hovering and ground controls are simple enough to navigate, the atrocious flight controls turn Iron Man's major draw card into a major drawback as players are forced to continuously hold onto the left bumper - which is a rather uncomfortable button to hold for extended periods of time - and steer with the left thumbstick while tapping the face buttons to pull off a variety of melee and weapon attacks. This flight system could easily have been tweaked to make players merely tap the bumper to turn flying controls on and off rather than forcing players to repeatedly press cramp inducing controls over and over.
If the controls weren't frustrating enough for you, the gameplay is sure to send you into a frenzy. If there is one thing that the game does well, it is that it's fantastic at making sure that the cool superhero factor is completely lost at sea - as most people will never enjoy their time as Iron Man throughout thirteen horrifying levels of repetitive boredom.
Instead of being a free-roaming romp - ala the Spiderman games - gamers are forced into a horrible formulaic adventure which is scripted into something like this: watch crap cut-scene, watch mission briefing, configure your suit, load into level, watch orange objectives pop up on screen, approach said objectives, destroy objectives, watch in horror as more objectives pop up on screen, beat those objectives as well; and eventually by the grace of God, the level will end. Lather, rinse and repeat...
Still, for all of its flaws, Iron Man has a few good points. On your quest to vanquish the evildoers looking to snap up the best tech that Stark Industries has to offer, you'll thankfully have access to all of Tony's high tech toys for yourself. Before you tackle your foes head on, you'll be given the chance to tinker with the configuration of Iron Man's suit - with options covering everything from health regeneration, weapons to mobility enhancements.
During this process, you'll get to decide options such as whether you want to get more power out of your primary weapon or a blistering rate of fire to tackle the endless hordes of enemies. Whatever you choose, you'll need to earn money by completing objectives to unlock further technological improvements down the track. This all comes into play during the missions as in-game, you can click around on your D-pad and distribute the power from your heart to make one aspect of Iron Man more powerful than the rest. If you want to outrun the cluster of incoming missiles, you can reroute the power to your thrusters and kick your speed into overdrive. By rerouting your other systems, you can change the power of your punches, how lethal your repulsors and missiles are as well as quickly regenerating your health in battle.
In an effort to keep the game and movie closely tied together, cut-scenes featuring the likenesses of the movie actors have been used to fill in the story between missions, with both Robert Downey, Jr. and Terrance Howard also reprising their roles as Tony Stark and Jim Rhodes for their character's voices. Unfortunately, even these two stars can't drag this one out of the tar pit as their voice work sounds dreadfully uninspired and their cut-scene counterparts aren't as detailed as they could be - aside from the amusing boob job that computer generated Gwyneth Paltrow has been subjected to. But overall, movie fans should be happy at the fact that the game has gone to the effort to provide some continuity between itself and the film.
Overall, Iron Man provides gamers with a repetitive button mashing experience that isn't helped by the ultra difficult final levels of the title. At the end of the day, you'd want to send Iron Man to the scrap heap (or bargain bin) where it belongs.