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Marvel's Iron Man VR

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Camouflaj
Release Date: July 3, 2020

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PS VR Review - 'Marvel's Iron Man VR'

by Andreas Salmen on July 7, 2020 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

In Marvel's Iron Man VR you play as the genius inventor Tony Stark, and confront ghosts from his past—powerful forces who seek to ruin him and everything he stands for.

Buy Marvel's Iron Man VR

It's been a decent year for PS VR. After a surprise release of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners and several other announcements, PSVR is slowly but surely receiving a few much-needed ports and new announcements to flesh out its library before the PS5 hits the market. One of the most anticipated titles of the bunch is Marvel's Iron Man VR, a fully licensed adventure in the shoes of Tony Stark. Given the official PlayStation support, expectations are high, especially after a demo showed off some highly enjoyable flight action. Now that we have access to the full game, we are happy to report that the full experience turned out well, even though it isn't ambitious or creative enough to be the standout title that many had hoped for.

While Iron Man VR is fully licensed by Marvel, it has no connection to the cinematic universe and instead crafts its own Iron Man story. We take control of Tony Stark shortly after his decision to lay down his weapons business to embrace full-time superhero duties as Iron Man.

The title quickly kicks into high gear as your private jet is attacked by your former war drones under the command of the antagonist, Ghost. The surprise attack defeats Tony and sends Pepper Potts to the hospital, so Tony tries to find out why he was attacked and how to stop the aggressor with the help of his two holographic companions, Friday and Gunsmith. It's a decent story that is told with several in-game cut scenes that look relatively polished and well animated.

The story moves the game along and keeps you moderately interested in what's going on, which is more than we can say about the narrative in most VR experiences. What holds it back is cheesy dialogue that is heavy on exposition to describe what's going on. You can rarely interact within the story segments, and it's disappointing to be a quiet listener who stands awkwardly in a corner while waiting for the conversation to end. I would have loved more interaction because these sections can get monotonous when all you can do is listen. That's an issue that the game grapples with in many aspects, though.

Iron Man VR lets you play as Iron Man or Tony Stark in different segments of the experience. While Iron Man obviously does all of the heavy lifting in combat, Tony can walk around his mansion, improve his gear, or choose the next objective. Unfortunately, you cannot quite roam around the mansion as you please. Iron Man VR only allows you to teleport to certain interaction points. While that isn't necessarily wrong, there's a lack of interactable objects in the environment, so it's rather pointless to walk around. There is a fun hoop minigame and training equipment, but otherwise, there isn't much to do except upgrading your suite and picking up a few random books. There are tablets with podcasts to listen to between missions, but overall, I was rather let down by the limited options to interact and engage with the environment when the player is in Tony's shoes.

Thankfully, that improves once we suit up. When playing as Iron Man, we can fly freely in open-ended levels while fending off attacking combat drones. While it took me a little while to get used to the controls and gameplay, it was almost second nature after an hour or two. We can freely move both of our arms (Move controllers are required to play) and use the triggers to control our thrusters. Pointing our palms in different directions moves us around. Pointing down lets us move up, and pointing them to our back will propel us forward, and so on. Activating our thrusters twice in quick succession gives us a boost to quickly dodge into any direction.

We wouldn't be Iron Man if we couldn't protect ourselves. Each hand has space for two weapons: a blaster embedded in the palm and an auxiliary weapon in the wrist. The game recognizes whether we have our palms raised or lowered, and it activates the blaster or embedded weapon accordingly. Switching weapons is a matter of movement, and it works remarkably well. After a few test runs, we could fly around at top speed and switch and fire weapons with relative ease, even though we sometimes confused a few inputs due to the unique control scheme. We also have a rocket punch and a ground pound for extra melee damage that comes in handy for certain enemies and attack patterns.

The issue is that Iron Man VR rarely does anything interesting with its fun controls or great premise. The 12 chapters we played through were largely the same: a horde shooter where we take down waves of foes. There are some refreshing moments, such as boss fights, but they are too rare to leave a lasting impression. Combat plays well, and it's fun to swirl around in the sky and dodge incoming attacks from drones.

Part of that is due to the fact that we can unlock additional weapons and modifiers to mix up the gameplay, including charge blasters, cluster bombs, shotgun blasts, smart bombs that explode when in proximity, and speed modifiers. Each of these need to be unlocked with research points that we earn for every completed mission or side-quest. This isn't so much an upgrade as it is a preference; you have more ways to match your play style to these weapon mods, but they aren't necessarily better or more useful than the standard arsenal.

You aren't getting any stronger through the six-hour campaign; you are more or less able to beat the game with the same abilities from start to finish, which is a bit of a bummer. Nevertheless, the combat is fun and versatile enough that you will probably switch around your tools to see what works best.

Another area where you won't see much progress is in enemy variety. With the exception of boss fights, there are only six enemy types with their own attack patterns. Some may charge you or have shields that need to be avoided, while others provide shields to other drones or have dangerous attacks. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and exploiting those is usually key to winning any fight. Because the variety is limited, combat doesn't evolve much throughout the campaign. Even though the scenery and scenarios change slightly for every stage, they end up feeling very similar to one another. The game tries to compensate for this by giving you special interactions, like opening a blocked door or disarming a weapon, but these are highly scripted events that are rarely more exciting than standing in front of an object and moving in the indicated direction.

With that in mind, it feels great to play Iron Man VR, even without meaningful ways to progress or radical new ideas. It's fun, it's messy, and it's chaotic. I've tried avoiding the cheesy phrase, "It makes you feel like Iron Man," but truthfully, it does. It goes to great lengths to achieve this through the combat and controls. The initial animation looks and feels great in the head's up display (HUD) before every fight. Speaking of which, there is a large and cluttered HUD. It never got in the way of the gameplay, but it also never felt like I needed it. Since the game doesn't give us any option to modify the HUD, its inclusion feels more cosmetic than useful.

Stages are another area that look good on the surface but don't quite cut it. There are only a handful of locations, and while they look stunning, you'll see a lot of them since missions will send you back to the same areas several times. One or two additional stages would have gone a long way to shake things up. Each area consists of combat and flight challenges for additional points to upgrade your suit. The flight areas are also great for bragging rights, since they are difficult and one of the few areas where it actually makes sense to switch your suit gear.

From a technical standpoint, Iron Man VR holds up very well. It is unmistakably a PS VR title, but it is certainly in the top bracket of the nicer-looking titles. Everything from character models to environments in close proximity look very sharp and detailed, but that naturally fades the further away it gets. There are some standout stages, such as the early Malibu region, which even manages to impress with some muddy visuals in the distance. While infrequent, the frame rate did drop on a few occasions, which is a big no-no for VR titles. The open areas and visual fidelity canoften cause a hit in performance and load times. Despite the frame rate drops, I never experienced any motion sickness issues, and the title offers a few basic comfort controls in terms of blinders and snap or smooth turning.

Load times are the biggest letdown, though. They are frequent, they are everywhere, and they range between 30 seconds to more than a minute. Any location change, no matter how brief, will always trigger a lengthy loading screen that can significantly disrupt the pacing. Sometimes, even teleporting to a location right next to you as Tony Stark can cause the screen to briefly fade to black as it loads the environment. There were instances when it felt like we were spending almost as much time in-game as we did on the intervening loading screens.

I cannot help but feel that, while Marvel's Iron Man VR is better than I feared it may be, it limits itself and prevents itself from being a standout title for the system. The fun combat and movement system are held back by repetitiveness, its story is frequently interrupted by massive load times, and progression is almost nonexistent. When not coated in iron, the world around us is pretty but offers little interaction or incentives to explore on your own. Iron Man VR feels restricted by its game design to be little more than a fun wave shooter, when it could have been much more. It is still a very fun game to play in VR and it's one of their better titles, but it never even scratches the heights that it so clearly aimed for.

Score: 6.8/10

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