Two years after Iron Man hit cinema screens and made Tony Stark into a household name, ol’ Shellhead finally gets his second solo outing on a console in the game tie-in to the sequel.
On paper, it looks fairly good. It’s not an adaptation, so you won’t find yourself bumbling through hastily-adapted movie set-pieces and unfinished cut scenes, like those that accompanied the Wolverine tie-in game.
Furthermore, the story of the game (which sequelises the movie) is written by Matt Fraction, current scribe of Invincible Iron Man, and more of Marvel’s top comics besides. And, most importantly, the people who made it have openly acknowledged how terrible the first Iron Man game was. You could be forgiven some optimism.
Regrettably, your optimism will not be rewarded. Iron Man 2 isn’t quite as bad as its predecessor, but it has a fair stab at plumbing those depths.
Ordinarily, I don’t care too much about a game’s technical capabilities, but Iron Man 2 shoves it right in your face from the start. Low res textures, simplistic models (worse than its predecessor, in fact!), a rubbish draw distance. It would be just about acceptable as a PlayStation 2 game, but on the Xbox 360? Really?
The controls have mercifully been overhauled since the first game, but with them come a host of new problems. Switching between flight and hover modes, for example, is nigh impossible to pull off without simply waggling the sticks and hoping it works. Elsewhere, the floating camera evokes nostalgic feelings of 1997, when no-one was sure how to do them, and you’ll frequently find yourself trapped on scenery or unable to find your bearings because the camera won’t co-operate.
Fighting outdoors is quite fun, especially with the ability to shift and configure weaponry on the fly – but fighting in an enclosed space is barely tolerable.
The plot, which involves Stark’s rivals trying to kidnap and replicate his AI, Jarvis, is fairly good until the final act when things get a bit too videogamey. Despite a credible hand behind it, the cut scenes and voice acting undermine what should have been a safe bet.
The character models range from passable (Stark and Rhodey) to wonky (Black Widow) to unrecognisable (Potts), with a similar quality to the voice actors. Cheadle and Jackson dutifully reprise their roles. Eric Loomis’ Robert Downey Jr. impression is so good that you almost forget it’s not the man himself – though the less said about Gwyneth Paltrow’s “soundalike” the better.
Although it tries its best to switch up the mission objectives, the majority of the game will involve players performing the same repetitious act of target, shoot, target, shoot, with little variation. It’s not helped by the ubiquitous “armiger” minibosses, which turn up on just about every stage in some form, requiring the same yawn-inducing routine to defeat as they ineffectually lumber around in a doomed attempt to shoot you.
The actual boss fights, when they come along, are themselves unrewarding – spotting the solution is easy, but executing it is tediously difficult, filled with interruptions and with your intentions often foiled by the game’s unresponsiveness.
There are a few things to like about Iron Man 2 – the unlockable armours are great to play with, and while the armour configurations may be ludicrously over-complicated for a game this shallow, it is fun to play with weapon combinations to fit your own preferences, which in my case meant cutting swathes through the enemy with War Machine’s dual miniguns. (You have to make your own fun.)
The campaign, for all its sins, doesn’t outstay its welcome. In fact, unless you’re a glutton for punishment you’ll complete the game long before you get bored of it. Whether that’s a flaw or not depends on how much you paid for it, and whether you consider 5-6 hours an adequate amount of time for that cost.
Ultimately, the best praise you can give Iron Man 2 is that at least it’s better than the one that came before it. In the world of comic/movie tie-ins, it’s slightly below par, although it plays better than it looks – but in a post-Arkham Asylum world, it’s so far behind the curve for superhero games that you can’t help being disappointed.
Iron Man 2 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.