Reviewed: July 12, 2010
Released: May 4, 2010
Iron Man is one character that has certainly come to his own with the help of a highly successful movie franchise helmed by indie icon actor/director Jon Favreau. Joining Favreau is a veritable who’s-who of top shelf acting talent including Robert Downey Jr. as the wealthy, talented, and ever-so-humble (not!) protagonist Tony Stark, and Gwyneth Paltrow as Stark’s personal assistant Pepper Potts. |
The series’ first film in 2008 served to introduce much of the world to this very interesting Tony Stark character and his high tech Iron Man suit. The 2010 sequel upped the ante with a whole new stable of enemies and allies. Yet while the premise of a near-indestructible high speed robotic flying suit might sound like prime material for the world of gaming, the quality of the accompanying movie console video game releases have been a far cry from that of the films. Case in point is Iron Man 2 for the PSP, which succeeds in delivering an entertaining cinematic experience, but ultimately ends up missing the boat when it comes to gameplay.
Iron Man 2 could easily be mistaken as the newest iteration in the Japan’s clunky, button-mashing Gundam series – there is simply too much in common to not notice the similarities. Pilots dressed in high-tech battle suits, engaging in hand-to-hand battle either in-flight or on the ground; hacking and slashing with melee weapons, and lobbing fireballs at one another from the palms of their robotic hands – it definitely feels like déjà vu.
But where this simple formula has worked wonders before (Hideo Kojima’s Zone of the Enders series comes to mind), Iron Man 2’s Achilles heel comes in the form of the PSP’s rudimentary button layout – mimicking dual analog control by using the face buttons as directional pointers. As we all know by now, face button control is far less fluid and responsive than a proper second analog stick, and the overall experience is overly clunky and awkward.
I probably sound like a broken record, but here is another example of a title that would have benefited greatly by having a second analog stick on the PSP. Sadly, Sony seems content ignoring the fans when it comes to their hardware – taking the Apple approach to design, by telling gamers what they want rather than listening.
Visually, Iron Man 2 is a mixed bag. The cinematic cutscenes and storyboarding are actually quite impressive, and the character modeling is really solid – but the level design is basic and underwhelming, and a tad too muddy to really make out any detail. Granted, this lack of detail has little bearing on the gameplay, which is about a cookie cutter as a game can be: enter a room, clear out the enemies, flip a switch opening the next door, and repeat the process. It is a tried-and-true formula sure enough, but one that is getting a bit outdated in this age of gaming.
The silver lining with Iron Man 2 is definitely the audio presentation – particularly the voice acting that is used through the game. You would think it would be old hat by now, but I am still pleasantly surprised to hear voice acting on handheld games. And though the PSP title might not feature the likes of Robert Downey Jr. or Gwyneth Paltrow, the sound-alike actors do a fine job of capturing their essence. Bonus points go to the developer who got Samuel L. Jackson to lend his voice to the game, which always puts a smile on my face.
While I cannot claim to be a fan of metal, Iron Man 2’s metal-laden soundtrack fits well with the theme and really adds a sense of excitement to the proceedings. It’s only too bad the music does not always match with the proceedings. Too often, the music would amp things up just as the action was winding down. It is a forgivable error, but one that could easily be accounted for with better planning.
Fans of the movie may or may not be pleased to hear that Iron Man 2 – the game – does not follow the storyline of Iron Man 2 – the movie. Neither does it serve as a side story to fill in holes, nor does it follow a parallel storyline. It may borrow characters and elements of the Iron Man 2 movie, but otherwise it exists pretty much on its own – as if it were a Tony Stark training simulator rather than a movie tie-in.
Overall, Iron Man 2 shows promise, but ultimately comes off as an underdeveloped attempt to cash in on the film. Clunky controls and outdated gameplay make Iron Man 2 seem more like an exercise in tedium than the visceral enjoyment that spending a few hours in Tony Stark’s suit should be.