Move Controllers – Assemble!
Out of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, Iron Man feels like the one that would naturally translate best to virtual reality. Given the UI within the suit and the previous VR experiences that have used robots and mech-suits in the past, Iron Man VR feels like a natural extension of that idea. Despite taking a big, meaty swing at the virtual reality space, this adventure game doesn’t quite leave the intended mark on VR it so evidently wanted to.
Given the medium is still in its infancy, a lot of credit can be given to Sony for actually attempting to blend a more narrative-driven game with a virtual reality play-space. We’ve seen this done before with titles like Blood and Truth last year but here the two concepts just aren’t in-sync and it’s clear there’s still a long way to go for virtual reality to match up to our expectations of gaming at this level. Compared to titles like Astrobot and Halo – two games that arguably set the bar for what the hardware is capable of right now – Iron Man VR pales by comparison.
The game itself is split across 10 chapters and developers Camouflaj have done everything they can to make this a substantial, long-lasting experience. There’s a solid 6-8 hour story carved into this along with replayability on missions, lots of side activities and an involving story that’s engaging enough to see you through to the end. Iron Man wastes little time getting the ball rolling on this narrative, with a prologue dropping you right into the heart of the action, getting you accustomed to the controls and flying mechanics before starting the aforementioned 10 chapter story.
You take on the role of Tony Stark and early on you meet the main antagonist of the game – Ghost. Having hacked your drones and with a serious chip on her shoulder, a cat and mouse game ensues that sees you hopping across the globe and chasing her down. Along the way you figure out exactly what her end-game is and all of this crescendoes into a serious of bombastic action set pieces.
Around these segments are a series of unskippable cut-scenes that place you front and center of the action. While a nice idea in theory, the bubbling sub-plot involving your AI companions Friday and Gunsmith disliking each other grows old quickly and it’s made worse by some incredibly long load times between them.
While I’m not suggesting this is anywhere near the old Amiga game days of placing a disk in the drive and wandering off for a few hours, Iron Man’s wait times are made all the more cumbersome by the fact you’re standing there with a VR headset on, twiddling your Move controllers and desperate to get going. It’s such a shame too because some of the individual combat segments on here are excellent and when you get a chance to use everything Iron Man’s suit has to offer, the game really opens up and delivers some of the best content it has to offer.
In essence, the game itself plays out in two simple virtualized spaces. The first are those aforementioned cut scenes and down-time segments that allow you to move around Tony Stark’s house, picking up and interacting with a few different items and completing some mini-games. Highlighted areas can be accessed through pressing A which teleports you to that location and it’s here you can also upgrade your gear (more on that later), examine enemy drones for weaknesses and more.
Alongside these story-driven areas is the main meat of the game and these come in the form of flying and combat sequences. The former is essentially a glorified time trial section and sees you racing through circular portals to try and get a high score. The latter drops you in the middle of a medium-sized area flying between buildings in a city or even high up in the clouds at Shield’s base of operations.
The combat encounters usually arrive in waves and around these sections you’ll complete simple tasks like moving barriers and shutting down electric panels. It’s a very basic set-up but the VR does make this a lot more fun than it otherwise would be, especially when you get the chance to use all the gadgets in Iron Man’s arsenal.
More of these goodies can be unlocked along the way with points accumulated between levels and these range from better health, attaching cluster bombs and even smarter missiles. It’s a nice way of incentivizing replayability but to be honest most of the gameplay revolves around using the same three or four weapons. Pressing circle and thrusting forward allows you to rocket punch enemies, flicking your palm down and pressing A allows you to hone in with auxiliary missiles while the reverse (palm up) and pressing A hits enemies with your standard laser repulsors. There’s also a Unibeam that can be charged up over time and acts as your special move, helping to mix things up.
Alongside this are the flying mechanics which admittedly caused me a fair amount of trouble to begin with. Pressing the trigger button on both Move controllers sees flames propel out your wrists and holding these down by your side allow you to launch up in the air. Holding them out to the side almost simulates standing still while the inverted controls (up moves you down etc.) helps to simulate the real world flight of Iron Man. However, it is very easy to over-estimate your flight path given double tapping the trigger buttons gives you a rocket boost.
From a distance, the environments look pretty good and there’s a decent amount of lighting and work put into making these areas look as aesthetically pleasing as possible. Unfortunately when you move in closer the lack of graphical fidelity does reveal itself in all its glory. If you go in preparing for a Playstation 1/ Playstation 2 level of quality here then you’re sure to avoid any disappointment. That’s not to say the game is ugly – far from it. The virtual spaces are pretty detailed and the character models are impressively rendered but next to the environmental detail it is a lot more noticeable.
As a VR experience, Iron Man does have some stand out moments but they’re frequented overshadowed by long load times and a repetitive mission structure. The combat is fun and when the game cranks up the excitement late on there’s some decent chapters to blast through, despite the re-used level environments. Flying around as Tony Stark is a lot of fun but gamers expecting something akin to the recent ‘AAA’ experiences on the platform will be left disappointed. Baby steps of course but Iron Man VR should be viewed as a foundational stepping stone for greater things to come rather than a solid, sculpted work of art. Whether that’s enough to warrant the asking price however, is another matter.
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