Version tested PlayStation 3
There's a decent game lurking somewhere in Marvel's superhero, Iron Man. Maybe it's even a brilliant game. Sure, those palm-mounted laser cannons mean that he's going to enter most battles with his hands up, looking like he's dead set on capitulating, but he can fly, he can blast stuff into pieces, and he's made of bright, shining Metroid metal. Best of all, Iron Man's both weighty and lithe, capable of dropping out of the sky and busting open paving slabs before dancing out of the way of tracer fire and barrel-rolling into the distance.
Iron Man 2 will show you isolated moments of the character's potential, but not that many. SEGA Studios San Francisco, the team that made Tony Stark's latest movie tie-in, has already been closed down following the game's completion, and you can almost sense that external crisis intruding into the safe world of this blockbuster license. There's been a clear effort to make Iron Man work, but there's a lingering air of misery to proceedings, too: a feeling that the developers knew that it was P45s rather than DLC lurking beyond that last milestone.
In many ways, Iron Man 2 is an admirable endeavour. As ever, it has its fair share of indicators that it was rushed to meet a movie release date - there's plenty of texture pop-in, enemy animations are basic, and collision detection leaves gaps between melee attacks that Evel Knievel might have liked to try jumping - but there's a lot of effort on display, too. The story, kicking off after the end of the film by the looks of it, isn't that bad; missions show a willingness to mix up your objectives from time to time; and there's a generous upgrade system available in between levels.
SEGA's got the basics of the character right, too. Iron Man juggles ranged and melee combat relatively smoothly and there's total freedom as to whether you float through levels on your jets or run around on foot. While the control mappings for flight are a bit of a muddle, that's not the developer's fault. With weapons hogging the triggers and targeting lodged on the bumpers, there's nowhere else for your pitch control to hang out other than the face buttons, really. It's a little bit awful at first, and never becomes truly comfortable, but as with that rock climber who got his arm stuck between two boulders and had to, like, cut it off with his penknife before he starved to death, it's hard to see what else Studios San Francisco could have done given the circumstances.
Besides, a far bigger problem is that, beyond the basics of character control, the whole thing is faintly drab. Environments are large but blandly decorated and filled with nasty textures, muddlesome menus take too much of the pleasure out of deciding whether to spend your upgrade points on researching new weapons or learning additional combos, and combat, while never frustrating, lacks the necessary weight and connection to make it genuinely enjoyable.
No weight: that's a problem when you're making a game about a man who likes to dress in metal. Iron Man and War Machine (you can almost always choose which character to play before each mission, and deciding whether you want a basis in energy bolts or machine guns and rockets is one of the game's more entertaining choices) may look the part, but they waft around like they're made of cardboard.