I… am… Iron Man… for ten minutes or so. After watching Robert Downey Jr swoop around the big screen for over a decade, who wouldn’t want to step into the iconic red and gold armour to take flight in an Iron Man VR game? When the upcoming experience was being demoed on the show floor at EGX London 2019, we couldn’t resist having a go.
Preparing to play the demo took a fair bit of suiting up in a real-life: we donned a PSVR headset and a pair of over-ear headphones, as well as picking up a PSVR controller in each hand. The demo then began with some simple checks, ensuring that we were standing in the right place for the optimum experience, and then we were ready to rock.
The demo proper kicks off by establishing the game’s most simple controls: in order to fly forwards, you need to hold the PSVR controllers downwards and point them out slightly behind you, whilst also pressing the triggers on the backs of the controllers. If you think of the way that Downey Jnr holds his arms when Tony Stark is in flight, you’ve got a decent picture in your mind of what this in-game flight mechanic is trying to convey. Flying in a straight line is easy to get to grips with, but turning and spinning takes a bit more getting used to. It feels great when you get it right, though.
As we fly forwards, over a mass of water, the title card appears. And soon after that, it becomes precisely clear where we are meant to be: Tony Stark’s Malibu mansion appears in the distance, looking just like it does in the movies. This game isn’t explicitly being touted as a Marvel Cinematic Universe spinoff, but it’s clearly happy to reference those recognisable touchpoints that the films made famous. The characters that talk to you in the demo, Pepper Potts and FRIDAY, fully back up that MCU-inspired feeling.
Although it is established that Pepper is home, Tony isn’t quite ready to head in just yet. First, he’s going to do some Iron Man training to test out his latest upgrades. This, essentially, gives us a thinly veiled excuse to learn the rest of the controls. The next thing we learn is that, as well as using the triggers and motion controls to manoeuvre your way around the screen, you can press the big button on the front of each controller to fire repulsor blasts.
Various targets appear around the lake area to test your repulsor skills. It was a bit awkward to spin around in the demo room – there were cables attached to the headset, meaning that I started tangling myself up after a few rotations – but there is still something euphoric about being in Iron Man’s helmet as you see and hear the repulsor blasts firing from his palms. Physically, pointing a controller and pressing a button doesn’t feel exactly the same as firing a blast intuitively from the palm of your hand, but these attacks feel cool to deploy nonetheless.
The punch-based attacks, which another set of targets taught us about, feel a little bit less epic. You have to press either X or Circle while swinging your arm to try land a punch, and it feels a bit clunky compared to the more natural repulsor mechanics. But hey, having a fistfight within a suit of armour can’t be easy in real life either. It’s nice to have a variety of attacks on offer, and we imagine that switching from repulsors to traditional punches will start to feel natural with a bit more practice.
We were taught one more trick: double-tapping on the trigger gives you a speed boost while flying, which is another thing to considering when you’re zipping around in the air. To test all our abilities, a virtual assault course appeared then appeared on the screen: you have to speed through one sort of target, zap another sort of target and punch another sort of target. In truth, using all these different controls and also manoeuvering ourselves around felt quite tricky. This is a lot to get to grips within ten minutes, and we found ourselves smashing into cliffs more often than we were smoothly hitting our targets.
But when we managed to get a flow going, we started to feel less like Tony fumbling in his garage at the start of the first Iron Man film and a bit more like the iconic Avenger that saved the MCU on multiple occasions. It’s clear that there is a learning curve here, but the rewards for overcoming the early struggles could be significant. The feeling that you’re actually Iron Man is something worth chasing and practising for.
We didn’t face any proper villains in this tutorial, but working through Tony’s virtual training system was a good way to get accustomed to the controls. We’ll need to work on our hand-eye coordination and multitasking skills before tackling the main game, but we look forward to soaring back in and giving this game a proper go.
Developed by Camouflaj and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, Iron Man VR will launch exclusively on PlayStation VR on 28 February 2020.