Developer: Artificial Mind
Release Date: May 6, 2008
I've been disappointed before, but maybe nothing on this magnitude. Having just watched "Iron Man" on the big screen, I was genuinely pumped to play this game and get the chance to feel the raw, unadulterated power of that suit at my fingertips. Somewhere between the repetitive, uninspiring gameplay and the abysmal presentation, my excitement turned to the kind of frustration that makes me want to punt small, defenseless animals. You'll be glad to know I spared my cat and wrote this review instead.
Iron Man for PC is loosely based on Marvel's box office hit, which follows the story of weapons genius Tony Stark, who creates the ultimate weapon in a high-tech battle suit. The game takes liberties with the plot and throws in some characters and villains you won't see in the film, but sadly, it has all the dramatic impact of a soggy firecracker. Even with Robert Downey, Jr., and others lending their vocal talents to the game, the poorly structured cut scenes and FMVs are not just confusing to anyone who hasn't watched the movie, but they also fail to make you connect with and care for any of the characters. The poorly timed lip-synching made me feel like I was watching a badly dubbed foreign movie and the blurry, low-resolution graphics gave me a headache.
The game's problems start with its graphics, which look like they might have been pulled straight from the PS2 version. Don't come here expecting close reproductions of the awesome cinematic action you just saw on the big screen. Don't even expect the sort of next-gen treatment to which PS3 and Xbox 360 owners were treated. Dull colors, blocky textures, giant rectangular shadows, a lack of any sort of lighting finesse and crude models make everything look at least five years old, and it's a slap in the face for PC gamers who are used to being able to one-up the console owners. The choppy, stilted animation makes some retro titles look sophisticated by contrast. Bland and overly simple assets are used and reused all over levels, and the weapon effects are laughable at best. To make matters worse, you can't change any graphics options except for the resolution and brightness. Many of Iron Man's shortcomings and failures in the visuals department could be overlooked or forgiven on an older or less powerful console system such as the PS2, PSP or even the Wii. But with the unlimited processing power of today's PCs, it's baffling why they chose to aim so low.
Each mission starts with you being able to choose your suit, and new and better ones become available as gameplay progresses. You can upgrade your weapons and suit with all kinds of fancy add-ons, such as EMP rockets that briefly disable mechanical foes or pulse rifles that have better damage, range and speed. The more you use a weapon in battle, the faster it will upgrade. The attention to detail on high-tech weapons is a good fit for the Iron Man universe.
Controlling Iron Man on his missions is similar to a standard first-person shooter, with the WASD keys and mouse controlling movement, camera pans and weapon firing. But being Iron Man is all about being a human jet, and flying is accomplished by pressing and holding the space bar to hover and increase height. The Shift key adds a dash of speed, while Alt turns on your afterburners for real speed. Sadly, while flying at top speed looks and feels pretty cool, many levels restrict your movement, thereby reining in what could have been most fun about being Iron Man. Just as you jet off toward the stratosphere, you'll be asked if you're lost, told not to leave the boundaries, or run into a pesky mountainside that blocks your passage. What's more, while you're on full jets, you can't fire any weapons, meaning it's just a fancy way of getting from A to B, and you'll spend far more gameplay time just gliding around shooting and feeling less like a superhero and more like a super loser. Add this to the weapons largely feeling weak and underpowered, and the game really fails to capture the awesome sense of speed, strength and control of the man in the iron suit.
There is a system for rerouting your limited power supplies to different abilities by pressing keys 1 through 4. If you're under heavy fire and need more protection, you can shift the power to your suit's armor to take less damage. Aside from an unattractive and confusing HUD element, you don't get a proper sense that this power rerouting actually has any effect on gameplay. Another kick in the teeth to PC gamers is that there is no way of remapping keys to suit your preferences. There are a total of two control schemes to choose from, which wouldn't be so bad if there weren't terrible control decisions, like mapping the 180-degree spin to the Backspace key.
Although there are three difficulty levels, Iron Man is never particularly challenging on any of them. Most enemies act as if there was no time implement, any form of AI, and they often don't move and tend to drop like wingless flies. The only real threat comes from the boss-type characters. If your armor is brought down to zero, you'll enter a confusing minigame where you must press the corresponding arrow in time with the on-screen prompts, and this apparently has something to do with restarting your heart. If you fail this, you'll lose one of three backup power cells. This minigame also pops up when you fly up to a helicopter or tank, and a series of timed button spams will let you rip the turrets off tanks or rend the tail section from a helicopter, which, due to the crude animations, is cooler if you close your eyes and just imagine Iron Man doing it instead.
Unimaginative linear level design means you'll often do the same thing over and over, gliding through different but equally uninspiring settings, and experiencing frustration and boredom in just about equal measures. The title's one redeeming feature is the "Iron Man" song by Black Sabbath that plays in the first level as you escape from your cave prison. To be fair, the music is not bad at all, with a lot of tracks sounding like they came straight from the movie. On the other hand, sound effects are dismal. Enemy gunfire sounds like a monkey experiencing muscular spasms while playing the bongos and explosions; when they work, they sound out of context and flimsy.
I could go on and on, but if I haven't convinced you by now not to waste your time and money, you could be a masochist or a die-hard fan boy. Iron Man for the PC is another casualty in the sad and lengthy history of failed movie-game tie-ins. It has very few redeeming qualities and certainly nothing good enough to justify you even considering buying it. If you absolutely have to play an Iron Man game, I strongly recommend you check out the PS3 or Xbox 360 versions before you throw your money into this pit of fun-less oblivion.
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