Iron Man VR Review
How do you make a player feel like Iron Man? That’s a question that had to be at the heart of the mission statement when developing Iron Man VR. It actually seems simple to answer too, until you think of all the variables. What does it feel like to jet around in a giant suit of armour? How simple is firing a missile from a wrist-mounted launcher? Does the player also need to feel like Tony Stark? Developer Camouflaj actually manages to answer all of this and more.
The moment this game puts you into the suit, it feels incredible. As I highlighted in my preview, the game does a fantastic job of putting you in the boots of the armoured Avenger. Movement feels incredibly natural in flight and, with a little practice, I found myself cruising through the sky in no time. The opening moments of Iron Man VR are the game at its purest most base level. It’s also probably the game at its best.
Seeing the blue wireframe heads-up-display that’s become so familiar to me through hours of Marvel movies appear into view, my fake breath fogging it up as the scene took shape before me made me feel like a superhero. The fact that the game’s core mechanics of flight and combat came so naturally to me — again, hours of Marvel movies and years of comics — was an equal thrill. Everything here works as expected: point your hands down and back and push the triggers to initiate thrusters, point your palms forward and hit fire and you’ll blast Iron Man’s repulsors, aim with your wrist and auxiliary weapons can be utilised, trigger the Unibeam and you’re sawing through enemies and standing there puff-chested. It’s slick, well done, and builds on that feeling. The game creates a fantastic first impression and as I took on my first mission I felt almost invincible. The suspension of disbelief that virtual reality is dependent on was near impenetrable. I wasn’t flailing around in my front room. I was Iron Man: blowing up evil drones, putting out fires and saving Pepper Potts from certain doom.
That feeling is encouraged by the tech on display. Rarely, in my experience, has a PSVR game handled three hundred and sixty degree tracking this well, especially with how fast and frantic combat can get. Quick turn options are available on the Move controllers, but I gravitated towards naturally turning to take on my enemies before blowing them to smithereens.
The problem is, Iron Man VR never really gets better than these early set pieces. It has its moments, for sure. However, the initial thrill of the first hour or so of the game was never bettered. Every mission after this point either felt too long, not varied enough, or both. Without that excitement, that stimulation, that spark of imagination that made me feel like a superhero, the cracks began to show. I started to notice how simple and empty the environments were, the often flat textures, how formulaic the mission design was, and how navigation often lacked subtle movements that PSVR just can’t comprehend. All things that might have gone unnoticed had the game kept things moving and excitement levels high.
This final point is compounded in small areas. There’s a handy magnetic pull that will drag you into place when you’re close to an objective, but getting to that point often caused a headache. The fact that one of the most responsive teleportation systems for movement is employed elsewhere might be one of the biggest headscratchers in the entire game. This inconsistency is typified by two seperate, non combat-focused, missions at the beginning and end of the game. The first uses teleportation for exploration, the other requires fastidious powering of the thrusters and slight hand gestures. You can imagine which one is most frustrating.
Boss fights and other close encounters can be equally disheartening. I never felt nimble enough to properly take them on, and it made certain fights feel like a war of attrition as opposed to the epic encounters they were framed as.
Still, at its most basic level the game can be entertaining. Combat encounters were mostly enjoyable, but I only got so much out of fighting the same enemies over and over with only slight variations for hours on end. As simple as they were, the little minigames where you’d move a heavy object, put out a fire, or diffuse a bomb broke up the action well enough. Why there wasn’t more interaction like that in each section, especially when missions were so drawn out, I don’t know. There’s a bevy of upgrades to unlock and even the option to build two different loadouts. That’s great and all, but once once I completed my first build I found I was set. I mixed things up towards the end just to try them, but only ended up reverting back to the set up I’d started using hours earlier.
Outside of combat is where Iron Man VR often presents some of its more solid ideas. Whether that’s exploring environments to uncover clues and additional pieces of the story, combining household objects to MacGyver yourself a new tool, or simply navigating Tony’s mansion and doing all the neat things you wanted to do with his holographic tech the first time you saw Iron Man in the cinema.
The game even presents in a more survival-horror like way in some of these areas to mix things up. As much as I’m not here for that, at least it tried something new. Naturally, these areas mostly serve to further the story. A story which, thankfully, was handled well enough to keep me engaged, or at least be the carrot on a stick to drag me through the end of some of the game’s least inspiring missions.
A very typical Iron Man story that sees Tony Stark battling with his conscience — in more ways than one — as well as the supervillain Ghost, it feels more like a greatest hits than something entirely new. Playing off the modern comic books and leaning heavily on the Marvel Cinematic Universe versions of the character, it’ll appease hardcore Iron Man fans and be familiar enough to those who have only seen the movies. The few tweaks to the formula here are welcome ones, and do just enough to separate Iron Man VR from any other mainstream Iron Man tale. The voice acting is also pretty stellar, with Jennifer Hale’s Pepper Potts good but underutilised, and Leila Birch’s portrayal of Stark’s A.I. assistant FRIDAY a standout. Josh Keaton as Iron Man / Tony Stark (and Tony’s other A.I. partner Gunsmith) is also great. He nails the cadence and the wit of the character. However, he too suffers a little from MCU overexposure and can often sound more like a Robert Downey Jr impersonator than a fresh take on the genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist hero.
Alas, that is probably the least of Iron Man VR’s problems. I really wanted to like this game. I did like this game for an hour or two. The concept seems so suited for VR, the story is decent, at its best the combat is fluid and fun, it’s just a shame that the whole package isn’t consistent. I’ve got to commend Camouflaj for their ambition, but there’s just not enough of the good stuff to cover a seven-hour game.
A flawed and frustrating game in more ways than one, Iron Man VR never lives up to the promise it presents in its opening chapters. Whilst it’s fun in small doses, its considerable scope and lofty goals were ultimately the game’s downfall.
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