One of my favourite things about being a games journalist is putting together a scathing review of a bad game. You can be rude under the justification of critique, make use of fantastically derogatory vocabulary, and generally go to town with the insults. In light of this, you'd probably expect me to jump at the chance of reviewing Iron Man 2, which by all accounts is an awful game. The thing is, however, I love Iron Man, I love Tony Stark, and I love Robert Downey Jr. (who sits proudly at the top of my 'go gay for' list). It's due to these facts that I take no pride whatsoever in the review that follows.
Mere minutes in, it's clear that Iron Man 2 is going to be a complete train wreck of a video game. The character models are creepy (and could do with a lot more polys), textures are popping in left right and centre, and the frame-rate is less than fantastic. Poor collision detection means you'll often find Iron Man hovering halfway through a wall or ceiling, a problem that we really shouldn't have to deal with these days. It looks and feels distinctly last-gen.
The game spans eight levels, with a variety of destructible environments that play host to the action. Refreshingly, Iron Man 2: The Videogame doesn't mirror the narrative of the film, and offers a brand new story penned by The Invincible Iron Man comic writer, Matt Fraction. Fans of the comics might be pleased to find that Crimson Dynamo and Ultimo appear in boss-battle form, alongside numerous other foes who have signed up to make Iron Man's adventure as difficult as possible. With his enemies looking to use his own technologies against him, Tony Stark's mission seems decidedly one-sided. Thankfully, he's not alone, and James Rupert Rhodes - more commonly known as War Machine - is on hand to lend some much needed support.
Players can choose to start each level with either of the two suited heroes, although differences between the pair are fairly superficial. War Machine has different weaponry to Iron Man, including that machine gun resting ominously on his shoulder. His unique skill is different too, and grants improved firepower as opposed to Iron Man's invincibility. Frustratingly for fans of War Machine, he only sports one suit to play with through the game with, whilst Iron Man has a respectable nine. That's ten suits in total, maths fans.
Voice acting is fairly hit and miss, but competent for the most part. Mr. Downey Jr. is unfortunately nowhere to be seen (well, heard), but Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Don Cheadle (War Machine) both provide some solid voice work. Other characters aren't quite so lucky, including Natasha Romanov (Black Widow), who sounds so disinterested in the action unfolding around her that it's at times quite comical. Still, dodgy voiceovers are something we've come to expect from the video game medium, and so it doesn't really bother me all too much to find Iron Man 2 suffering from the same problems. I'm not so sympathetic when it comes to gameplay, however.
Combat is the driving force behind the experience, which is to say you'll rarely do anything else other than shoot the crap out of things. Dispatching the game's mechanical monstrosities is a constant struggle, with a camera that jumps about the screen like a six year old with attention deficit disorder. A semi-successful lock-on system attempts to keep it in place, but get too close to the action and it'll wander off elsewhere, leaving you staring at a wall, skyline or something equally as helpful. This problem is mainly restricted to indoor environments, but there are plenty of other problems to ruin outdoor sections too.
To be fair to the combat system itself, Iron Man has an impressive range of technologies to take advantage of, allowing players to tackle their foes in a variety of interesting ways. Repulsors in either hand act as your primary weapons, which can be fired with a quick pull of the right-trigger. The left-trigger is reserved for secondary weapons, which are either missiles or blasters depending on which you have selected.
If you feel like getting up close and personal with your adversaries, a melee approach might be more preferable - but this leaves you open to the aforementioned camera issues. Hand-to-hand combat feels incredibly lacklustre, missing that weighty feel that most action games give to their melee moves. In Arkham Asylum, for example, you can really feel the power behind each punch as Batman takes down the Joker's goons. In comparison Iron Man never feels like he's doing much damage, and melee combat feels highly dissatisfying as a result.
Despite the diversity, combat quickly becomes a mindless blur of button bashing. All you really need to do to see yourself through the 5-6 hour campaign is to hold down the right-trigger and fire off a few missiles every now and again for good measure. It's all very repetitive and uninvolving, with little variety to mission procedure. Boss battles attempt to make things a little more interesting, but if you've completed God of War 3 any time recently, these set pieces will pale in comparison, both in terms of scale and execution. Perhaps that's an unfair comparison, but in an industry that's constantly seeking to better itself, Iron Man 2 hasn't even attempted to step up to the competition.
There are other little things that annoyed me too, like how unlocking computerised doors or security terminals requires a tedious hammering of the B button. It's just so uninspiring. Given that Stark is a master of technologies, it would have been nice to see a little hacking mini-game - like those in Mass Effect 2, for example. The menus of the research and development screens are confusing to navigate, and equipping weapons and ammunition is needlessly complicated.
A saving grace comes in the form of the game's 'fly anywhere, anytime' mechanic, which handles pretty well in the grand scheme of things. While hovering, double tapping the left bumper will activate flight mode, and Iron Man's speed will increases tenfold as he tears through the sky with the camera shaking convincingly behind him. If you didn't have to stop to take out helicopters every five seconds, simply exploring the game's more expansive environments could be quite good fun - not that there are any items or secrets to be found through doing so. Still, the flying aspects of the game are certainly one its stronger assets.
In addition to all the airborne antics, SEGA have welded some role-playing mechanics onto the game, allowing players to customise their suit and weapon load-outs to their tastes. Using cash earned from defeating enemies, you can research new ammunition types, weapons and modular enhancements which can then be fitted to a suit of your choice. If you complete a mission well enough, you'll be rewarded with a new suit, ranging from the original Iron Man suit that Stark uses to escape imprisonment in the first film, through to the Ultimate Iron Man costume from the comics.
Considering how well polished Stark keeps his suits, it would have been nice if SEGA treated their game with the same courtesy. For a 2010 video game, Iron Man 2 has a distinct lack of finesse. It's a shame really, because as a character Iron Man offers some interesting gameplay mechanics. Perhaps a more open world experience would have suited the license better than the archaic mission-based one on offer here. I'd like to think that the future has a decent game in store for Stark and co, but Iron Man 2: The Videogame certainly isn't it.
It's with these concluding words that I'd normally say something along the lines of 'one for the fans only', but even they should steer clear of this one. If you're an Iron Man or Marvel enthusiast, this game will only tarnish your view of an otherwise respectable universe. Iron Man 2 looks bad, plays worse, and is a frustrating mess from start to finish. Sorry Marvel, but this is another one for the scrap heap.