For gamers with more than a few years of experience under their belts, the movie tie-in game is always the butt of jokes. With an accelerated and truncated programming schedule, the gameplay experience has always suffered in an attempt to get the game to market in time for the theatrical release of the associated film. Some games don't even have the heart to put in good controls, graphics or sound, helping to generalize the notion that most movie tie-ins range from mediocre to terrible, with a few select titles bucking the trend. Two years ago, Sega and Sega Studios San Francisco, then known as Secret Level Games, released the Iron Man game at the same time as the movie. While the movie was great, the same could not be said for the video game, which had a myriad of problems such as average graphics and uninspiring gameplay. With this year's sequel, both publisher and developer have been once again tasked with making a game that would hopefully be thought of as a quality title among other movie games like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, GoldenEye and X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 only reinforces the ideals from the first game while making a few mistakes of its own.
Unlike other movie tie-in games, the plot isn't directly associated with the movie's plot. In fact, the story can be treated as a sequel of sorts, and it happens to be written by Matt Fraction, one of the authors of the current comic. Despite that pedigree, the story is a bit more cut-and-dried than you would expect. A break-in at the Stark data archives has resulted in a chunk of data being stolen regarding JARVIS, Tony Stark's butler and self-aware AI program. Fearing that the data could be dangerous in the wrong hands, both Iron Man and War Machine, along with the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D., go out to find the company responsible for the data theft. They soon discover that the theft is not only linked to a paramilitary Russian separatist group but also a former employee of Stark Industries who's determined to build the ultimate weapon by fusing man and machine. As all superheroes are destined to do, your job is to stop them before the stolen data powers up weapons and destroys the world.
With the exception of a few missions, Iron Man 2 lets you choose between using Iron Man or War Machine, and while the descriptions and weapon layouts may differ, they both play in the same manner. Each hero has four different weapons at his disposal that can be used in just about any situation or swapped out for two other weapons. Iron Man is the only one with the unibeam and repulsor blasts while War Machine has the Gatling gun, but both of them have access to shotguns, laser cannons and other explosive ordnance. Aside from projectiles, both heroes have the ability to deflect missiles and deal melee damage to everything from tanks to helicopters to flying robots. At the end of each level, the player's performance (based on objects destroyed and the amount of damage taken) is translated into points, which can then be used to research different gun upgrades, modifications and ammunition types. The level performance also determines if a new suit from the comic series is unlocked, though the suit selection will only apply to Iron Man and not War Machine.
The game suffers from a myriad of problems, both technical and non-technical, that become apparent after the very first level. For starters, the concept of being invincible is taken a bit too far this time around. With all of that firepower at your hands and the ability to deflect missiles with a simple button push, the game never feels difficult unless you're trying to play for certain Achievements or Trophies. Even then, death isn't something you'll experience until toward the end of the game on a normal difficulty level or almost all of the time on the hardest difficulty level.
Given Iron Man's background, the upgrade system is an excellent idea, but you never feel like you should use it because the default weaponry is good enough to kill everyone but the final boss. Even then, the upgrades don't feel like they're making much of a difference to your weaponry. Because of the somewhat-broken upgrade system, the combat never feels engaging despite the game's overall shift to more outdoor fighting. Combat only begins to feel personal when engaging in melee attacks, but that gets downplayed thanks to the camera system.
Generally speaking, the camera for the game seems to be broken. Melee combat always shifts to the side to get a better angle on the hits, but it tends to push the hero and enemy off to the side instead of making them the focus. Objects will cause the heroes to be hidden away, so the energy meter provided by enemy lock-on is the only way you'll know that any damage is being done. The camera also causes plenty of combat issues in certain areas simply because it refuses to go at an angle or perspective that will be beneficial for the player. The Tesla reactor escape is a good example of where the camera is so bad that you'll end up crashing on every set piece, while the camera for the exterior Ultimo fight makes it difficult to determine how far you are from Ultimo himself. More development time would have helped with some of these issues, but as it stands, the whole product still feels like a rushed one.
The biggest crime committed by Iron Man 2 is its length. There are only eight chapters in the campaign, and the average time for the game is between three to four hours. You have the option to play the campaign levels again with the different suits or characters, but the changes range from insignificant (only a few lines of dialogue change between playing as War Machine instead of Iron Man) to purely cosmetic (choosing between the various unlocked Iron Man suits). With no other modes available, the game quickly loses its charm after the end credits roll, so only Achievement and Trophy hunters will bother to give the game a second glance at that point.
There seems to be a bit more care taken into the game's sounds this time around. The score goes for a mix between licensed instrumental metal and pieces mimicking the film score, and it works rather well considering both the source material and the amount of destruction doled out in the game. To that end, the effects come out great. Metal clanging on metal sounds clean while the expected explosions come out loudly. There are issues with the effects, though, namely that some effects don't play at times or that there isn't a sound effect to let you know that you've died on the field. As for voices, the actors did a good job. Both Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson come through with great performances while the other actors certainly hold their own, especially the sound-alike actor for Iron Man, who does a great impression of Robert Downey, Jr. With all of the game's issues, it's good to know that sound isn't one of them.
The graphics have improved since the last title, but not by much. The character animations look fine, though there are hints of clipping that can still be seen, especially on Black Widow's hair. The texture work for the characters also varies wildly. The War Machine and Iron Man armors have a nice sheen to them, but the damage decals look low-resolution in comparison, and the faces suffer from the same fate. Tony Stark and Nick Fury's faces look fine, but Don Cheadle's face looks stretched out, making his lip animations appear off, and the Russian general's face goes through that same criticism. Enemy textures tend to be blurry when viewed up close and are only clear after being on camera for a short while. Ultimo is a perfect example of this happening, especially during the cut scenes that you have with him during the battle. General popping of textures and objects is something that plagues the outdoor environments more than the indoor ones. In short, it does look better than what was offered in the first game, but it also isn't the vast improvement for which gamers were hoping.
The controls aren't necessarily broken, but they aren't perfect by any means. Your triggers fire the weaponry on your hands, arms or shoulders. The LB performs a thrust dodge while double-tapping it puts you in flight mode. The RB toggles enemy lock-on while the X button performs melee attacks and the B button initiates melee counterattacks. Finally, the Y and A buttons control hovering ascent and decent, respectively. The issue is with the dodge button since it is mapped to the same button as flight. Often during boss battles or sorties with many enemies, multiple dodges will make the hero fly instead, and since flying is better done in open spaces rather than confined rooms, combat can become complicated. Using lock-on will make you stay focused on your intended enemy, but movement of the right analog stick makes the lock-on break away from one target and move to another one. The camera issues mentioned earlier only complicate things since it will jump between targets so often that the player has a tougher time correcting the game.
Iron Man 2 is another example of how a movie tie-in game can go horribly wrong. It isn't a very technically sound game, as issues with the controls and graphics make it apparent that the title lacks some polish. Very few of the missions end up being fun, and few of the upgrades earned along the way seem to alter the game in any way, shape or form. The overall length hurts the title severely, as it is one of the shortest retail titles in recent memory, making it an easy candidate for rental-only status. Even then, that recommendation should only be given to die-hard Iron Man fans or Achievement/Trophy hunters. Everyone else will come away very unsatisfied with the finished product.
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