Theaters were packed as Marvel's Iron Man film made its box office debut, and of course it was accompanied by the typical marketing blitz of action figures, toy blasters, and yes, video games. Donning the red and gold suit in Sega's title for PS3 and Xbox 360, players take control of Mr. Tony Stark, ripping apart tanks, catching fighter jets, and flying high. But is the billionaire hero's game shiny and polished or covered in a thick layer of tarnish?
Running parallel to the story of the film, the game's plot attempts to fill in the gaps by creating new scenarios not seen on the silver screen. The trouble is that the film really didn't leave many gaps, causing the game to haphazardly trample over the script, altering scenes or contradicting events. The story takes for granted that players have seen the film, failing to properly introduce characters and situations and making it hard to follow. Iron Man newcomers likely wouldn't even know about the all-important power cell embedded in Stark's chest, which just looks like a T-shirt design in the game.
Much of the film centers on the development of Iron Man's suit and the struggle to keep it out of the wrong hands, but the game brings in other villains with suits of their own as well as plenty of generic flying soldiers. While these are legitimate characters in the Iron Man universe, their appearance doesn't really fit with the film's prose and it ultimately detracts from the climactic, final battle.
Iron Man's main quest takes players through over a dozen missions, taking out enemies and facilities in deserts, cities, and even a flying fortress. Each mission is fairly similar--you fly into an area, your computer identifies key targets, you destroy them all, and then you take on the next set of targets or a boss.
As you complete missions, you'll earn cash to outfit your suit with items like stronger weapons, defensive shields, and better thrusters. Plus, you can earn additional funds by defeating a certain number of enemies or clearing a level under a set time. As you progress, you'll also unlock the one man army mode with five extra missions, challenging you to defeat 80 enemies within 10 minutes and rewarding you with alternate costumes if you succeed. The new suits are a cool bonus for Iron Man fans, but you can't use them in the main game until you've completed all 13 story missions. You can't customize them, either.
Beyond that, Iron Man doesn't hold much in the way of extra content. The main set of missions is a fair length, but most players will be able to complete them in a weekend.
Since it isn't a pure flight game, controlling Iron Man takes a little getting used to. You push the left bumper to fly forward, and the left trigger lets you either hover or gain altitude, depending on how hard you press.
Iron Man makes use of both ranged weapons and melee attacks. You can fire repulsor shots, missiles, and the powerful unibeam at enemies from quite a distance, and you don't have to worry about pinpoint accuracy since your weapons lock-on. Buildings and tanks can be destroyed with a few punches, and it looks silly. After just a few puny blows they just suddenly explode.
You also have a few flashier moves. Tanks and helicopters can be ripped apart by mashing a button, which quickly gets annoying. You can grab SAM launchers and fire their missiles at other enemies. And with perfect timing, you can actually catch missiles and fighter jets and direct them at victims below.
Where Iron Man really falls apart, though, is with the overwhelming number of enemies blasting you at any given time. You're under a constant barrage of missiles from helicopters, SAM launchers, fighter jets, and even tiny flying soldiers. It's a relentless assault that can make it difficult to focus on objectives or boss fights and quickly knock you out of the game.
Likewise, boss encounters with Titanium Man can feel downright impossible. His attacks are hard to avoid and take huge chunks out of your health, and you have to contend with respawning goons firing missiles at your back. You often die without having a clue what hit you, and it's made all the worse by a lack of checkpoints, forcing you to repeat the entire level. The only real way to counter him is to use cheap tactics of your own, attacking from so far away that you can barely see the villain.
The visuals in Iron Man aren't very impressive, either. The suits are finely detailed, showing scrapes and bullet holes as you take damage, and the game has no problem scaling from close-quarters ground combat to wide views at high altitude. Unfortunately, every other aspect of the game looks downright ugly. Models and textures are simple and bland. Environments are empty, and the few cars on the street look like they drove in from the DS. Cutscenes showcase frightening recreations of the film's stars with awkward facial expressions and poor lip synching. And we came across far too many technical issues, including floating bodies, severe slowdown, game crashes, and a boss that flew into a building and just got stuck there.
Iron Man has its occasional bright spots, but the gameplay fluctuates between monotony and frustration. With technical meltdowns, unsightly visuals, and a jumbled plot line, there are more than enough reasons to leave this junker on the scrap heap.
Reviewed on PlayStation 3.