Whenever a movie-to-game licence comes along that you care about, you hope and pray that whoever is handling it will buck the trend by actually making a proper go of it. Iron Man actually looked to be it. Aside from the exciting premise of playing as one of Marvel comics more interesting superhero es and flying around in a super powerful mechanised suit, the game's nifty visuals and the promise of plenty of fan-service meant early indications were very promising. Alas, all this promise ends up horribly crushed, like an iron-clad superhero in a metal compactor.
Taking the role of Iron Man, the alter-ego of wealthy industrialist Tony Stark, the player is forced to endure several levels which totally bastardise the film's plot. The developers, Secret Level, have tried to pass this off as the old chestnut of 'expanding on the film' with new enemies and scenarios. As usual, it ends up being little more than a poorly strung together, and generally uninteresting, mess. Some of the cutscenes are laughably bad, with the characters having only a passing resemblance to their on screen counterparts. Jeff Bridgesí character, Obadiah Stane, comes in for particularly rough treatment, as it seems they were actually unable to render his beard and decided to leave it out...
At least Bridges and blubbering Oscar-clutcher Gwyneth Paltrow had the good sense to stay well clear of the game; whereas, Robert Downey Jnr. and Terrance Howard must have missed the small print and ended up contractually bound to do the voice work for their respective roles. Itís the only possible explanation for both of them sounding bored beyond belief; to the point where it would probably have been better to just cut them loose and get a sound-a-like. At least then the characters might have had a bit of life about them. The only deadpan, monotone voice actually in keeping with the film role is that of Jarvis, Tony Starkís robot servant - but even thatís done by someone else.
The game begins with Starkís escape from captivity at the hands of the terrorists known as the Ten Rings, in the Mark I suit which he cobbled together. This serves as the introduction, and gives the first indication that things are also horribly amiss with the gameplay. Because of the rudimentary nature of the suit, there is no flight option at this point, so the player must engage in clunky ground-based combat. Despite being encased in a heavy metal suit, Iron Man seems to glide across the surface of the desert with no real weight, and walking like heís messed his metallic pants.
Badly animated enemy soldiers pour into the level and combat is little more than hitting or holding a button to carry out an unconvincing melee or grapple, while weapons fire at this early stage is limited to a short-range flame-thrower. The suit also contains missiles, which can be fired before having to wait a short period of time for them to recharge.
In rapid succession the player gains the upgraded Mark II and Mark III suits, and, while the missile system remains, the flame thrower is replaced with Iron Manís trademark 'Repulsors' (energy weapons built into the palms of his suit). He also gains access to the powerful 'Unibeam' blast, which shoots from his chest-plate (even if charging it up is actually too laborious to even bother).
These upgraded outfits also allow Iron Man to fly, and here the game 's awful controls really start to take hold. Twitchy at best, small movements in any direction are converted into huge sweeping motions so anything other than flying in a straight line ends up in Iron Man veering about like heís back on the sauce, and invariably finishes with him bouncing off the floor, buildings or anything else nearby. Evading missiles or dodging enemy fire is a scenario best described as jabbing at the controls and simply hoping for the best. The reliance on the shoulder buttons to take flight whilst using the triggers to hover is a button layout awkward enough to cramp your hands at first, but any seasoned games-player with the time or inclination should be able to adapt to it. Learning to switch between hovering and flying is a necessity, since the lack of an effective lock-on system makes in-flight combat more luck than judgement, and the easier option is to just stay in one spot and fire as quickly as possible.
The advanced suits feature a power allocation system which helps with this, although it is intended to be more multi-purpose. The idea is that the player can re-route the suit 's power to the thrusters, repulsors or life-support as needed, but the best bet is just to stick it on repulsors and hope that it allows you to kill others before they kill you. As missions progress, funds are awarded for completing objectives, and these can be used to upgrade the suit's abilities, making it easier to smash aimlessly into things, or so that you only have to hover and hold down the fire button for a shorter period of time (meaning you can get to the end of the game that much quicker). Unfortunately, the mission structures are confusing, extremely repetitive and some optional objectives downright impossible, unless you are replaying them later on with upgraded suits.
Although, what really boils the blood, is how unplayable the game is on anything other than Easy. On Normal or Hard, for those who can stomach getting three or four levels in, it starts to throw so much anti-air fire at you that it literally only takes seconds to blow you out of the sky. Having Iron Man skate along the ground doesnít solve this problem either, as some levels donít allow you to touch down and even when grounded you can still get shot to shreds. While perseverance and a cool head are usually the key when playing a difficult game, the fact that even when using the unlockable special suits it is still virtually impossible to progress, suggests either that Secret Level didnít bother to play-test and balance the game, or that youíve deeply upset them by having the sheer audacity to buy their game; they want to make you suffer.
Given that the game offers zero satisfaction, thereís no incentive for struggling through it on the higher difficulties, unless youíre really desperate for Achievement Points. In which case, most score-whores would probably give up and find a Disney movie tie-in, which doles the points out like sweeties, rather than subjecting themselves to what is the digital equivalent of water-boarding.
Iron Man is a mess, an utter travesty and a total waste of anyoneís money, no matter how little they spend on it. The controls make it too awkward for kids who loved the film, Iron Man fans will hate it since it defecates all over their beloved character, and any self-respecting gamer will probably just pass it up on the basis that itís the usual movie tie-in dross. Secret Level have actually managed to create a game that appeals to no one, and for that dubious honour they should at least be given some credit.