Sega's movie tie-in for Iron Man 2 can't possibly be worse than its movie tie-in for the first Iron Man film, can it?
After the Iron Man video game that accompanied the first entry in Marvel's film franchise failed to impress, Sega went back to the drawing board. Bringing in award-winning Marvel scribe Matt Fraction to work on the story and promising that the rechristened Sega Studios San Francisco was actively working to right the wrongs they perpetrated as original game developer Secret Level, it seemed like there was no way Sega could repeat the failure of the first game.
In a way, they didn't.
A Comic-Worthy Tale: Matt Fraction is an Eisner Award-winning comic book writer for a reason. The current writer on The Invincible Iron Man, Fraction gives the characters he writes, even the ones encased in impenetrable armor, a warmth and humanity you don't often see in the comic book medium, while delivering a story that flows naturally from one plot point to the next. Tony Stark's enemies have made off with a copy of his artificially intelligent butler, J.A.R.V.I.S., and are planning to use the advanced learning program to power the ultimate weapon. It's a story that would make for a great comic book or mini-series. It's just sad that even a fraction of Matt's talent had to be wasted on this game.
A Sense of Scale: Scale was the main problem I had with the first Iron Man game. While taking on tanks and planes was satisfying enough, fighting human-sized characters didn't cause the camera to zoom in close, so it felt like you were suddenly playing with action figures instead of inhabiting the Iron Man armor. This is one area Sega got right in the second game. The camera zooms in and out so that fighting always feels somewhat believable and real, whether you're firing missiles at a helicopter or kicking an armored enemy in the face with your big metal boots.
Points for Trying: I have to give Sega Studios San Francisco a point for attempting to include a research and fabrication element to Iron Man 2. Its implementation might be poor, but giving players the ability to spend points on unlocking new tech and weapons gave the proceedings a certain "Tony Stark, scientist" feel that fits very well with the tone of the film franchise.
A Muddy Mess: One of the few highlights of Sega's first attempt at an Iron Man movie tie-in were the graphics, particular those associated with the game's protagonist. Iron Man looked gorgeous, and being able to tool around in an almost perfect recreation of the movie suit, functioning air foils included, almost made up for the game's faults. This time around Iron Man, War Machine, and the rest of the unlockable suits feature muddy, blotchy textures that suffer from pixelation when up close, just like the rest of the textures in the game. The air foils from the last game are nowhere to be seen. And the character models, which seemed impressive in this cut scene? That's not a cut scene, it's an advertisement. You won't find anything like that in this game. Misleading? Very much so.
Out of Control: I'm not sure I ever got a real handle on the controls of Iron Man 2, despite finishing the game and playing through several missions afterward in different armor sets. There's a lock-on system that's mapped to the right stick, which also controls the camera. Movement is controlled by the left stick, unless you are flying, in which case it's handled by the right stick. Moving the right stick while targeting an enemy, necessary to move the camera, also changes your target. Lovely. R1 toggles targeting, R2 fires your right weapon, L2 fires your left, the control pad handles weapon swapping, fighting style swapping, and your special power, should it be active. It's all a tangled mess that completely fails at ever feeling natural.
Over-Complication Ruins a Good Idea: So yeah, that research and fabrication I spoke about earlier? Unlocking new tech is as simple as spending points earned after every mission. Using that tech is another matter entirely. You have to navigate confusing menus in order to assign ammunition types to new weapons, then assign the weapons to the load out for each individual armor type. Certain missions lock you into a suit type, but don't tell you that until you attempt to start the mission, so you can spend 15 minutes optimizing your armor only to discover you can't use that suit for the particular mission you're on. It's the angriest I've been at a video game in months.
Glitchy Camera: The point of the camera in a video game is to show us the parts of the game we want to see while obscuring the parts we shouldn't see. Parts like the insides of objects, for instance, or a corner with nothing in it, while we're trying to quickly exit one room and push a button in the other room in order to kill a nasty bad guy. Too many times during my play-through I found myself staring at programmer-knows-what while trying to focus on the enemies or activities at hand.
Five Hours of Disappointment: Perhaps the game's shortness should have been listed as a merciful positive, but I figure for $59.99 people generally want a game that lasts longer than four, possibly five hours tops. This is the shortest full game I've played in ages, and that includes iPhone titles. Once you finish the game you can go back and earn more points to spend on upgrades, or try out the unlocked armors in the game's eight missions, but really there's nothing here worth fighting for once you've completed the game.
Iron Man 2 takes the disappointment I felt over the first Iron Man movie video game to an exciting new level. Somehow Sega has managed to address several major issues fans and critics had with the original game, notably story and scale, while failing in areas that game excelled in - graphics, length, and presentation. It's as if there is some sort of failure constant that must be maintained, and succeeding in one area must be balanced by failing at another.
So no, Sega did not repeat the failure of the first game with Iron Man 2. They found a completely new way to fail. Good job!
Iron Man 2 was developed by Sega Studio San Francisco and published by Sega on May 4 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Retails for $59.99 USD. Alternate versions available for the Nintendo DS, Wii, PSP, and mobile devices. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played PlayStation 3 version story mode completely through on standard difficulty.
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