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SEGA's adaptation of the hit blockbuster movie fails to offer anything "super"...
Based around the surprisingly satisfactory blockbuster movie starring Robert Downey Jr and Gwyneth Palwtrow, we certainly didn't expect to see SEGA joining the superhero movie adaptations bandwagon typically monopolised by Activision and Marvel.
Enlisting the skills of Secret Level, Iron Man pits itself as an uninspired third-person shooter gracing every popular format. The story closely follows the plotline of the film, although in true movie-adaptation tradition, Iron Man offers a handful of characters and extras from the comic universe that didn't feature in the film.
Recreating the dives, hovers, and swoops of Iron Man's shiny suit of armour, Secret Level has opted for a control method that quite frankly leaves you feeling anything but a superhero. Using a combination of shoulder and bumper buttons to switch between hovering menacingly above the land and zooming off into the horizon, Iron Man's first flaw is the unnecessarily fussy need to carefully use half pulls on the shoulder trigger to maintain a hovering position. Chuck in the clunky camera and controls on the thumbsticks and you're left with a fundamentally messy setup that instantly creates a barrier to enjoying anything the game offers.
With our many years of honed gaming perfection it's easy enough for us to struggle through such issues, however Iron Man also insists on the manic action of an old-school 2D shooter, literally throwing dozens of missiles at you amidst wave after wave of bullets and lasers. Iron Man may be a tough cookie in the superhero stakes, but when the controls are unable to deal with the action on-screen you're left to stare at the radar and tap the buttons manically to dodge or grab hold of missiles and throw them back with more blind-luck than skill.
As a result of these inadequacies and the fundamental frustrations the auto-targeting system is something of a joke. Perhaps wisely realising that the control method throws up enough challenges as it is, let alone without the need to actually shoot anything, locking onto a target is simply a case of aiming somewhere vaguely near it and holding onto the shoot button. There's no skill when it comes to shooting things, leaving combat little more than waving the targeting reticule whimsically around the screen and deciding whether you want to use Iron Man's Repulsors, missiles or his chest-mounted super-charged laser.
Whether it's due to a tight development period or the simple fact that licensed games will always sell regardless of quality, Secret Level appear to have quite happily relied on the generic template for mission designs. Largely little more than destroying a certain number of tanks, drones and attack helicopters, Iron Man occasionally injects a little thought with objectives such as destroying missiles before they're launched, but there's nothing to really stretch the bar when it comes to superhero games. It shares the same level of indifference and general blandness as the equally dull Superman adaptation from a few years back.
To give some credit, Secret Level has at least thought a little about the most important thing for an Iron Man videogame, namely the suit. With the ability to route energy to boost Iron Man's Thrusters, Melee, Weapons or Life Support, there's a hint of strategy to the action, but in reality this offers little tactical benefit because of the way in which the action takes place - leave it on Life Support and keep your fingers crossed.
Another neat feature is the ability to upgrade Iron Man's suit with various new weapons and features using credits achieved during the missions. The only problem is, because the game is distinctly lacking when it comes to providing any addiction you'll find yourself racing through missions just to get through it and not seeking out the secondary objectives to secure the extra credits needed.
On a production level Iron Man also disappoints. Presumably a result of development spanning the current and last generation of consoles, Iron Man is never going to earn interest from its visuals alone. Admittedly the occasional environment and Iron Man's shiny suit look nice enough on the 360/PS3, but look closer and you'll find the many other nasties that plague the game throughout. Stifled, canned, animations rule the roost, GTA4 with euphoria charged physics animations this certainly isn't. Object models of the various other things you'll come across hint heavily that Secret Level had to work a fine balance when it comes to creating visuals that are sufficient on the Xbox 360 and Playstation3, but also achievable on the Playstation2 and Wii.
Also, what is it with superhero games and the insistence on woeful one-liners? Because of the control issues, Iron Man has a habit of making you repeat level after level, not because of the difficulty but because the controls aren't up to the job. As a result those same one-liners come out all the time and get increasingly infuriating with every attempt. We'll give some credit to SEGA for securing the vocal talents of Robert Downer Jr., Terence Howard, and Shaun Toub, but when the script fails to impress and the one-liners frustrate, you're left wandering why they even bothered. Such an example includes Tony Stark commenting that he shouldn't be held responsible for the job losses caused by his decision not to produce any further weapons after an apparent epiphany in the desert. Remarking that he's an "engineer and not they're dad", perhaps somebody should point out the obligations a good boss takes on as an employer - "Iron Man says you can't have your Christmas present this year little Tommy".