Monday, 27 February 2012

Dear Jimmy Reviews Iron Man (PS3)

Dear Jimmy Reviews...

If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m kinda a comic fan-boy. That can sometimes make me more forgiving than I probably should be with Comic book tie-ins when it comes to games. Take ‘Web Of Shadows’ for instance. Despite the fact that most fights are basically me abusing the hell out of the web-zip attack, the way the street crimes are so boring you’ll very quickly ignore them, and even the quick time events that appear outta nowhere with no warning are all mitigated by my enjoyment of the web-slinging, and the feeling that I’m fucking Spider-man.( By which I mean to say that I am Spider-man and I am so excited about this I used an expletive. As opposed to implying that Peter Parker and I am having carnal relations.)

So if web-slinging is entertaining, then surely soaring around at mach-whatever in the Iron Man armour must be the most amazing thing ever, right? The answer is a resounding ‘kinda?'

First you have to deal with the generic training sequences in the first two missions, that come between you and actually flying the armour. Especially since the first sees you stuck with the MK I armour. Y’know, this piece of shit:

Whoops, wrong piece of shit, I meant:

Understandably I was suitably unimpressed, since it had the response and sensitivity of my garden shed. Foolishly assuming the problem was the armour, rather than the game, I stuck with it, hoping when I got to wear the real Iron Man armour it’d handle a little better. That turned out to be half true, since the Mk II armour, instead, handled like a shed full of propane after somebody threw a lit match in there. You see it turns out that in the real world strapping a pair of rockets onto a suit of armour makes it somewhat difficult to control. No shit, Mister super genius inventor Stark? Really?!

The upshot of this is that you go from one extreme to the other: Up until you upgrade the thrusters, so much as breathing on the left control stick with the afterburners activated results in you veering hopelessly off course, usually into the side of the nearest mountain. And if you’re foolish enough to actually try and turn internally you have a turning circle of round about Africa. Thus making the agility thrusters my first upgrade priority.

I will give the game credit that the upgrade system works fairly well, actually. There’re five elements to the armour; Core Systems, Repulsors, Power Systems, Auxiliary Weapons and Mobility Enhancements. These ‘slots’ have various modules that can be assigned, for example the agility thrusters offer greater control, whereas the pulse thrusters are all about speed.

These enhancements are spread across three levels, and rather than buying each enhancement individually your performance is rewarded with ‘Assets’ (because calling them points would totally shatter the fourth wall, I guess) based on time taken/enemies destroyed E.T.C.

The assets can then be spent to unlock each level of your choice of slot, and two or three new enhancements along with it. Before each mission you get to tweak the armour with your choice of combination based on your unlocked enhancements. This sounds over simple in theory, but in practice allows you to customise the armour to suit your play style without making it overly complicated, and works a hell of a lot better than you’d probably imagine. But then again, saying this game handles the upgrade system well is about the same as buying a burned out wreck of a car, with no wheels, and saying the radio gets excellent reception. For a start, who the hell listens to the radio nowadays?!
Congratulations Game...Your menus don't suck! (...I guess)

Just as twitchy and overeager as the boosters is the auto level. If you try and fly up, the second you relax your thumb on the stick… Fuck, the second your brain sends the impulse to your thumb to begin relaxing, the auto level kicks in and ‘helpfully’ levels off the camera, totally fucking with your perception and sense of direction. It even has the audacity to do this during what would otherwise be freaking awesome loop-the-loops. I get whiplash just watching it, so I can only imagine how poor Tony Stark feels inside the fuckin’ thing. I can only assume he’s dead.

The weapons set-up, on the other hand, actually works pretty well; with the shoulder buttons triggering the repulsors and charging the uni-beam, while a quick press of the triangle or square buttons launch your weapon or defensive measure of choice, respectively. Again, simple but effective, and another of the few things the game does right.
I have to admit, as well, that the game looks stunning, and the environments, as cut and pasted as they may be, are huge open spaces, in fact it’s very rare that you’ll see the ‘leaving combat zone’ messages that plague similar games. I remember the ‘Armoured Core’ series as being notoriously bad, having miles and miles of open scenery, but only letting you use about two square feet of it for actual game play, and instantly failing the mission if you went two feet and an inch in one particular direction.

If anything, Iron Man has the opposite problem of being too ambitious with it’s field of play. There’s so much space, and most of it is open, and therefore visible at one time. This actually leads to the game experiences slow down on a regular basis. I thought slow down was a thing of the past. Fuck, the last game I experienced it on was Sonic 2!

Not only that but the environments are so huge, and the enemies so small, that most times they’re all but invisible. The only real clue you get that they’re there is a lock-on cursor appearing around them, if you’re lucky, or your being shot down in a horrific blaze following a barrage of gun fire and missiles shooting you out of the air, seemingly from nowhere, if you aren’t. And you won’t be.

Once you get to the stage where you can start customising the armour, and once you get used to the reality that the armour handles like a retarded eel in a grease factory, and if you tell yourself that it’s not slow down, it’s bullet time, which instantly makes everything 275% cooler, missions three through five are kind of entertaining, in their own right. While not exactly innovative they remind me of the old ‘S.T.R.I.K.E’ games, both with the simple customisation elements and the game play itself.
They’re a decent enough brain dead distraction. but then there’s a reason the S.T.R.I.K.E games were only about six missions. This game begins to wear out it’s welcome (which was on a par with Kanye West’s arrival at Taylor Swift's birthday party, to begin with) by making you endure thirteen.

Before long, you realise that each and every mission consists of flying to the orange dots on your map, destroying them, then moving on to the next set of orange dots. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum. If that makes it sound repetitive, then I’m actually a better writer than all the hate mail suggests, because my god is this game repetitive!
Sure there’s also yellow dots that represent the optional ‘hero’ objectives, to try and spice things up, or, more likely, as a feeble excuse to rave about ‘open ended game play’, but pretty soon, you’ll decide to screw that noise, because you will suddenly hit the learning curve of the game, which is as sharp as my similes.

Out of nowhere you’ll wind up playing ‘find the missile’ (Hint: the answer is abso-fucking-lutely always ‘up Iron Man’s ass’). The second you get within twenty miles of the hero objectives your radar will resemble ADD Monkey’s last sugar rush based mis-adventure with a red bingo marker. Oh, sure you can choose a chaff countermeasure in the armour set-up when you’ve unlocked it, but this basically means that you only get hit by 974,764 missiles instead of 974,768. It’s the equivalent of trying to put out the Hemel Hampstead fire using nothing but shot glasses of paint stripper.

Apparently sombody saw this cover and thought 'Video game gold!'

Said missiles are annoying as all hell, as enemy units suddenly seem to have a range of sixty light years, and fire what I can only assume are small nukes, based on the damage they inflict. So go ahead, maggia, nuke the west Coast. I’m a billionaire, I’ll just buy a new west coast. Russia’s going nuclear due to a meltdown? Sucks to be them!  Civilian warehouses being attacked by guerrilla forces? Darwin says leave them to it. I’m not wasting any of my lives for you guys.

That’s right, this game also uses an old school lives system, to go with the old school game play. Four lives, no messing, and, more frustratingly, no checkpoints. So when you fuck up and die, because you were too grossly incompetent to dodge ninety seven separate missile attacks at the same time, you have to do the entire level again. Far as the game’s concerned it’s your own faulty you inept chimp. 

I suddenly understand why Tony Stark turned to drink. I was only Iron Man for about thirty minutes before I cracked open the Jack Daniels. Oh, and remember that uni-beam attack I mentioned? Fuck that! You won’t be getting chance to charge that any time soon. And the missile grappling technique you learn in the training level? No. Fucking. Way. As cool as it looks in the screenshots, you will never use it in the actual game. The visual cues don’t match the hit detection, so you end up just randomly tapping the grapple button and hoping for the best, since the actual point when you can grab a missile seems to be when it is in a neighbouring time zone. It’s far too clumsy to control where you throw it, and that’s only if, by some fluke, you actually grab one. But you won’t. Because there will be a batch of missiles equal to the total armoury of most small countries headed your way at the same time. In fact I’m fairly certain it would be easier to catch a missile and throw it back at whoever shot it in real life, than it is in the game. And that includes the whole ‘building a high tech flying suit of armour from scratch’ thing.

Sure the logical response is to drop down and take them out at ground level, thus negating the threat of S.A.M.s, but c’mon! Fuck Logic! Who wants to buy an Iron Man game that just to run around and use hit and run tactics like any other first person shooter? That’s like buying an X-Men game and having to attend seminars on Human/mutant co-existence. Or a Spider-man game that consists solely of delivering pizzas, taking pictures for the daily bugle, and worrying about Aunt May. Or an Aquaman game.  The real appeal of this game is the idea of flying through the air, and taking part in the mid-air dog fights that it promises. Well, I’ve got some bad news:

90% of the time hovering above everything and tapping the repulsors and occasionally strafing to avoid in-coming missiles is a cheap-ass strategy that works against pretty much everything. Even helicopters, which mysteriously refuse to climb any higher to pursue you. I guess even middle eastern terrorist cells have to worry about rising fuel prices, and their carbon foot print.

Sure, there’re jets to try and engage in dog fights with, and sure, unlike the choppers those pilots aren’t afraid of heights. But they just tend to use cheap hit-and-run tactics, making said dog fights pretty mush impossible, since the only way to keep up with them is to use the afterburners, and  you can’t fire your weapons while the afterburners are active. Leaving you in something of a catch twenty two, which is usually resolved by either chasing them down, hovering as you take a few pot shots at them, and them chasing them down again, or using my preferred method of just ignoring them altogether, save to shout a string of profanities when they drop yet another barrage of weapons on you out of the blue, in the middle of an all ready overpowered fire fight..

I guess you think the last hope for the aerial combat must be the boss fights, then, right? They could be pretty cool, right? Like an awesome mid-air duel? A sky-based combat that almost flows as gracefully as a ballet? Right Lex Luthor from Superman returns…?

Yep, turns out there’s a reason the S.T.R.I.K.E games didn’t have boss battles. Most of them involve a two step strategy, as suggested by Tony Benedict in Ocean’s Eleven: “Run and Hide”

See, if you try to take on these ridiculously overpowered bosses the way they’re meant to be… Or at least the way every Iron Man comic ever would have you believe they’re meant to be, then they’ll wipe the floor with you. Some even have cheap one hit kills. Y’know just to really save time! In fact a quick scan of a few FAQ’s and Walkthroughs to find a strategy where you die less than twice left me more empty handed than Paris Hilton at a dignity sale.

So instead of engaging in exciting dog fights you will find yourself camping like a Frenchman on ‘Call Of Duty’ and taking pot shots to whittle down their armour for what feels like the best part of a week. The whole fight becomes nothing but an arduous chore faster than a speeding afterburner. Having said that that they’re actually something of a crap shoot (yet another element of the game that’s crap, I guess) since there’s no consistency. For example the first Titanium Man battle is insanely tough, especially since he uses the dick move of having a rechargeable life bar, whereas the second time around I can only surmise his suit of armour was actually created through the use of origami, based on the way I tore through it and completed the mission in a matter of minutes.

All of these elements come together to very quickly negate any fanboy buzz that the game may offer, no matter how many 9.8 CCG graded copies of ‘Tales Of Suspense Issue 39’ you may have collected from your ‘fortress of solitude’ in your mother’s basement. The game very quickly goes from a fleeting memory of old school enjoyment to arduous chore faster than a speeding bullet, and it’s not long before you find yourself just going through the motions.

On the subject of ‘going through the motions’, let’s look at the cinematics, which actually aren’t very cinematic at all. Sure they may star the original movie cast, but, as if you need telling at this point, don’t get your hopes up. Evidently the entire cast were going through a rough time when they recorded the voice acting for this, since every single one of them sounds like they were on anti-depressants. Hell, maybe they’d just play tested the game they put their name to. Especially terrible seems to be Terance Howard's performance. I know calling any performance especially terrible in these things is like calling Grumpy the 'especially short one' of the seven dwarfs, but still Howard's performance seems laughably bad.

At least they offer some sense of continuity: They look about as good as they sound. Sure, the armour looks beautifuly rendered there, but I get the sense that they spent so long working on that they forgot to get around working on the facial models unitl about five to five on the Friday of the final week of development and ended up just motion capturing some butter they had left lying around and hoped that everybody would be too distracted by the big shiny to notice that the people look like lumps of sentient Plastercine. Sega may as well have used stop frame animation of the Iron Man movie action figures. The end result still would’ve looked better than the actual FMV, and the action figures probably woulda been better actors as well, come to think of it.

The only good points going for the videos are that they’re short, so you don’t have to endure them for too long, and I guess I should give them a little credit for not shoehorning as many characters in as most Marvel tie-ins do. Outside of The Iron Monger the only others introduced are Titanium Man ,Whiplash, and a nod to Madame Mask.

‘But this is Blu-Ray, why not squeeze actually footage from the movie?’ I hear you ask. To which I reply ‘you’re so naive’. If they did that, then that would force them to make the game exclusive to PS3. Then they couldn’t churn out a release on every single console imaginable. This game is like dog shit, both in terms of  it’s being everywhere, and the quality. I wouldn’t be surprised is SEGA have released it on the Mega drive and Dreamcast as well.So now you can make your enemies suffer no matter what console they own.

This image haunts my nightmares!

On top of that they need to stretch the movie out across 13 missions, so they have to pad the story out with some new plot that goes beyond the movie. Well, I say ‘new’, but it’s basically the same as the gameplay: A perpetual sense of déjà vu spread over thirteen missions: Tony destroys various criminal/terrorist warehouses containing weapons derived from Stark tech, and vows to hunt down the mysterious mastermind who is behind them. Gee, game, could it possibly be the same guy that betrayed him in the film? Y’know the one we see plotting in every crappy cut-scene?

Outside of the main game, there are also ‘One man Army’ missions which are basically time-trials to destroy a set number of enemy units, and allow you to unlock alternate armours. Although it’s nice to see more than just the movie suit (like I said before, I do have to concede that they’re beautifully rendered) it’s a little redundant. Firstly they’re only usable in ‘One Man Army’ mode, or previously unlocked missions. Now why in the hell would you relive previous missions by choice?! You don’t see many Vietnam Vets taking a holiday in Saigon, after all. Secondly, this just adds to the feeling of déjà vu, the only difference between this and the main game is that instead of ‘destroy the orange dots’ you’re playing ‘destroy all the dots’. It’s hardly enough to count as a different game mode. It’s like if daredevil changed his costume from scarlet to crimson and Marvel pushed it as ‘a new look’, which actually, knowing Marvel doesn’t sound that ridiculous.

Ironmon: Gotta cath 'em all!

Which leads, quite nicely, into my next point, since, most importantly, looks are about the only difference between the suits. Sure they real off different stats, but at the end of the day the differences between suits are nowhere near as obvious as the differences between customisations. So the suits end up being all work for very little reward. Hey, kinda like the game itself! Sure it looks good. It had potential, and at certain points if you’re drunk/stupid enough there is some retro-fun to be had. Sadly at the end of the day it fails to deliver, and the Iron Man ends up being obsolete.

Worse than:
Nuclear STRIKE


Better than:

The 2007-2008 Writer's Guild Of America Strike

Having the 1960's 'Iron Man' Theme tune stuck in your head all day

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