Version tested: Xbox 360
They say that one of the signs of insanity is to keep repeating the same futile task, expecting the outcome to be different. I'm worried what this says about my mental state as, despite years of experience to the contrary, I still get my hopes up for each new movie tie-in. Especially superhero movie tie-ins. Maybe this will be the one, says the little voice in my head. Maybe this will be a great game and a great use of the character. This time. Maybe.
Iron Man, an abysmally implemented spin-off from the highly enjoyable movie, is just the latest game to crush my na´ve hopes into so much twisted metal.
As always, the story of the game takes the bare bones of the source material and then replaces all those bits where people talk, and develop character and plot, with more shooting and blowing up and shooting. In this case our hero is ultra-rich industrialist Tony Stark, whose capture by Afghan rebels makes him change his mind about using his engineering genius to produce instruments of death. Instead he creates...well, an instrument of death. But this one is a really cool flying mechanical suit, and he uses it to destroy the other instruments of death he made, so it's sort of okay.
Here's where the gameplay comes in. After a perfunctory couple of training levels which rattle through the clunky Mark I suit in Afghanistan and the silver Mark II at Stark Industries, you're off in the familiar red and gold Mark III armour on your crusade to rid the world of the weapons you created. The game uses long-standing Marvel foes A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) and organised crime network Maggia to elongate this process, each of them providing a near endless stream of tanks and helicopters to blow to bits with Stark's arsenal.
To aid in this destructive quest your armour comes equipped with repulsor rays, a secondary explosive weapon, and the powerful chest-mounted unibeam. Meeting certain objectives in each level earns you more money with which to upgrade the different aspects of your armour, although the effects are mostly negligible and the different upgrade abilities only unlock at set points in the game. Isn't Stark supposed to be a billionaire genius? I'm pretty sure he could buy or build whatever upgrades he wanted, whenever he needed them. But then, that wouldn't fit into the linear videogame template and this clearly isn't a game with fresh thinking in mind.
To begin with, and as anyone who tried the demo will attest, it's the controls that make Iron Man a singularly unpleasant experience. You spend much of your time in the air, but the game seems to go out of its way to make movement in this space an incomprehensible fiddle. The left trigger makes you hover, but pressing it all the way down simply sends you rising inexorably into the sky. You need to press it halfway to actually maintain a steady height, an arbitrary distinction which takes some time to master. There's no way to control your descent, so you have to let go, freefall and hover again when you think you've reached the perfect height.
Forward motion is even worse, with Iron Man's speed a strictly binary choice between a complete standstill and rocketing forwards. Simply navigating the levels becomes a chore, as you ping-pong wildly off the scenery, drift upwards or tumble down as you try to keep enemies in your sights. I actually found myself wistfully pining for Superman Returns, a dreadful bland little runt of a game that at least managed to get the flying part right by making it immediate and simple. Eventually, after four or five levels, you do reach a sort of grudging truce with Iron Man's controls and find a compromise that at least allows you to move about with some sort of accuracy.