Iron Man 2 Review (Xbox 360)

Game Review: Iron Man 2
Release: May 4, 2010
Genre: Action Adventure
Developer: Sega Studios San Fransisco
Available Platforms: Xbox 360 and PS3 (Alternate versions for Wii, PSP, DS and mobile devices)
Players: 1
MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: Teen

In Iron Man 2, you follow the story of Tony Stark, the billionaire playboy and tech genius.  For those not familiar with the comic, Tony Stark is the alter ego for Iron Man, and you quickly find yourself pitted against folks who are interested in the technology you had been working to develop for years before dropping the project for personal reasons.  As you play through this original story consulted by Invincible Iron Man comic writer Matt Fraction, you will deal with the consequences of developing emergent technology without fully understanding its capabilities (especially in the hands of those who would bring harm to the world).

Iron Man meets old friends...

Iron Man 2’s gameplay is that of a 3D platformer, with the ability to fly instead of jump.  This results in epic battles both on the ground and in the air, and there is considerable firepower that is brought with you on each mission.  You will play as both Iron Man and, for the first time, War Machine.  The two heroes have different abilities, different weapons, and play very differently, forcing you to consider their strengths before embarking on each mission.

Missions take place anywhere from open canyons, to military bases, to aircraft carriers and more.  You will perform escort missions, protect missions, rescue missions and standard “follow the objectives and beat up everything in sight” missions.  There’s good variety in the missions, and there are a few that will have you flying around evasively while trying to figure out how to tackle the creature in front of you.  Your enemies will vary from basic footsoldiers to robot crawlers, fliers and fighters.  You’ll even encounter a few foes from Iron Man’s comic rivalry, so there’s plenty for fans to enjoy here.

You can wield two weapons at a time, activated with either trigger, and each weapon slot can hold two different weapons, so you’re bringing a total of four with you at any moment.  You also have an arsenal of melee moves that are very effective up close, and you will be utilizing all of your skills during the missions.  Some enemies will stay at a distance and attack, while others will charge up close, forcing you to handle both foes at the same time.  Finally, you have a powerful blast attack that requires a charge, but will devastate most enemies.

Levels are of the “open railroad” design, in that you have the freedom to move around an area, but you ultimately are following a single path through each mission.  There’s always enough room to fly around during battle without feeling cramped in (aside from indoor levels, which I suppose is intentional), and the levels are varied enough to not get bored flying around one area over and over.

Explosions are always fun

Iron Man 2 does some things really well.  For one, it is very well written, and anyone with an appreciation for sarcastic humor would do well with giving this game a playthrough just on the merits of the writing alone.  Tony Stark is sharp and witty, and the voices of the other leads (Including Elijah Woods and Samuel L. Jackson) are also well done.  Some of the extras have forgettable dialogue, but I remind myself this is a comic book game, so that is probably intentional.   The music and sounds are both appropriate and well done.  Once in the game, the battles are fun and rewarding once you get the hang of it (more on that below).  Melee is visceral and explosive, encouraging up close battles as opposed to just hanging back and blowing things up.  Weapon customization is nice, if a little limited, and the variety of Iron Man suits that are unlockable is impressive, and you can play in all of them (as a nice bonus, the load screen for the level is the suit being assembled on your character piece by piece, which is rather cool).  Environments are mostly destructible, which adds to the enjoyment of using big combos to destroy both the enemy and the surrounding buildings.  There are also some levels that make good use of the flight mechanic, including flying through security fields and an “escape from the exploding deathstar-ish” flight through an exploding facility.  Missions are well varied, but the last couple of levels are particularly good, with the final boss being a fun and impressive display of largeness.

Not everything is roses, however.  I’ll get the most obvious complaint out of the way first, because it’s the most noticeable, but matters the least to me: the graphics are subpar at best.  It makes the game feel a little campy, which could be intentional, but they are certainly not what you’d expect at this day and age of HD gaming.  The controls take some getting used to, and I felt you were thrown too quickly into a protect mission (2nd level, just after the brief tutorial).  Protect missions are something that require a comfort level with both controls and weapons, and after a 5 minute first mission, you aren’t ready for it.  On my second playthrough, it was a breeze.  While on controls, there was a poor decision made on how your lock-on works: once you hit RB to activate lock-on, you switch targets by using Right and Left on the right thumbstick.  This doesn’t seem too bad, except that in a flight game, you want to circle strafe your enemies, which traditionally means using the right thumbstick’s left and right direction to keep your view on the enemy while circling around the target.  The problem then arises that when you do this, you end up switching targets constantly.  It took me half the game to break this habit, and once I did, combat was much easier, but that was an adjustment that I felt was unnecessary (a button to switch targets would have worked fine).  While we’re on the flying subject, there’s no way to invert your Y axis when flying, you either invert it always, or don’t.  I found that when looking around I was fine, but when I went into flight, I was in my flight simulator mode, and wanted to invert my up/down controls, which led to me humorously running into every wall I saw.   The weapon upgrade menu is poorly explained, and the interface is a little clunky, with no clear description as to what your upgrades are actually doing for your weapons aside from giving them a new number next to the name.  I mentioned before that up-close combat is nice, and it is, but I often felt like I wasn’t in control of what I was doing.  I made things blow up, but I ended up just mashing melee buttons and performing impressive combos.  Still, that’s a minor gripe over a nice melee touch to what easily could have been a ranged combat only game.

Won't call War Machine useless but...

The only other thing of note is that either Iron Man is overpowered, or War Machine is underpowered.  I much preferred playing as Iron Man (which I suppose is intentional as well), since he had the ability to convert enemies into allies, which was invaluable on most missions.  His main weapon also didn’t need reloading, so I was always able to launch an attack on the enemy, unlike War Machine’s minigun.  Still, this was hardly a gamebreaker, and on the levels where you had to play as War Machine, I found it just took a little more effort, and nothing more.

So what does it all add up to: I will admit I went into this review with low expectations: games based on movies (let alone comic movies) do not have a good history.  And while the graphics were an initial turn-off, I really liked the writing with its witty sarcasm and great voice acting.  Once I had a grasp on the controls, missions were fun and engaging, with a nice culmination at the end.  The game is short: I finished my first playthrough in 5 hours, and there is little reason to play again unless you want to see how the other character handles a certain mission (or to finish up achievements – you’ll get about 400 points on your first run).  The length does not detract from the enjoyment factor: rent this game for a nice weekend distraction before seeing the movie; you’ll be glad you did.

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