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.
When they're knocked out of the sky, there's no hint of impact, and when they switch from hovering to rocketing through the clouds you'll struggle to feel any real sense of movement. Missiles and lasers chew through your robotic adversaries with no bite, and melee combat doesn't carry any sense of force at all. I've rarely had so little fun punching helicopters to pieces, and punching helicopters to pieces is something I can almost always count on to cheer me up.
There are a few good ideas - in theory, there's plenty of entertainment to be had juggling weapon recharges, switching combat stances, and unlocking new suits to wear - but there's no energy to the game's battlefields, no exciting variations in the enemies you're facing, and, before you know it, the missions have descended into irritating waypoint trudges. Regardless of whether you're searching the area, escorting SHIELD choppers on attack runs or destroying Tesla Cores, all you're ever really up to is following a tiny little yellow box on your HUD and looking for the way out.
Oddly enough, it's only during the cut-scenes that you'll get hints that the developers had any fun at all with this one. Iron Man 2's story may not have changed my life in too many ways - not the way, say, Outpost Kaloki X did - but it's told with plenty of chirpy exchanges of witticisms and the odd decent performance. It captures the pleasant glibness of the comics and movies, if not their sense of spectacle.
In all fairness, however, I should probably add that the human characters are so strangely modelled they look like the kind of mechanical horrors concocted to entertain desensitised French avante gardistes of the early 20th century after the laudanum had worn off. Tony Stark is closer to Mitsuhirato, the sinister Japanese villain from Tintin book The Blue Lotus, than he is to Robert Downey Jr; Pepper Potts has taken a terminal trip through the jowlinator and emerges resembling the kind of woman who might, one day, turn up married to Prince Andrew; and Black Widow looks like Amy Winehouse and delivers lines in a manner that suggests she whiled away her time in the green room by striking her forehead repeatedly against a sink.
But those are entertaining slips, really. Iron Man 2's ultimate crime is that it simply never makes you feel like you're a lithe metal wrecking ball, saving the world with one impromptu plan after the other. There's no room for tactics in between the waypoints and there are no opportunities for rogue moments of excitement as you take out each new arrangement of weightless foes. SEGA's just about fulfilled its brief - pick up Iron Man 2 and you'll probably get all the way through it - but there's not much pleasure to it, and the lingering sensation is of having seen the work of a defeated development team who were never given a proper chance to do anything interesting.
So, yes, there's definitely a decent game lurking somewhere in Iron Man, but we haven't seen it yet. This one isn't a disaster, but it can be a rather bleak experience.
5 / 10