After the debacle that was the first Iron Man movie game, expectations were pretty low for its sequel. Not only is it a movie tie-in, a kiss of death in its own right, it was made by studio that was closed down as soon as the game was completed. With a pedigree like that, it seems virtually impossible that Iron Man 2 could be a worthwhile title. Surprisingly, though, it is...if just barely.
Diverging significantly from the movie to which it’s attached, Iron Man 2 tells a story that seems to fit in the movie universe without actually referencing any of the sequel’s events. Written by Matt Fraction, current writer of the Iron Man comic, the plot involves Russian madmen, stolen AI programs, and a huge silver robot that longtime comic readers will recognize instantly, and while it’s not exactly an epic, character-defining tale, it’s enjoyable and well-told. Samuel L. Jackson and Don Cheadle reprise their roles as Nick Fury and James Rhodes, and do so with enthusiasm and aplomb. The other roles fall to fill-in voice actors, but even they do an admirable job with the script, which is decent in its own right. Players can choose to play missions as the titular red and gold hero, or as War Machine, Rhodey’s highly-armed alter-ego, though several missions require the use of one armor or the other. It would be nice if the game told players that a specific armor was needed for the next mission, because taking the time to outfit a suit, only to not be allowed to use it is extremely frustrating.
Controlling Iron Man is a more complicated affair than it probably should be, though after a while, the confusing control scheme becomes somewhat natural. On-foot, the armored Avenger has a pretty standard control scheme. The left stick moves, the right stick aims, and melee attacks are mapped to the face buttons, as are controls for Iron Man’s elevation. The triggers are set to Iron Man’s weaponry, with the d-pad used to switch which weapon each trigger fires. Holding them both down fires the powerful Unibeam, which, sadly, seems lacking in actual power. Locking on to targets is accomplished with the right bumper, and the left bumper causes Iron Man to dash away from attacks. When the left bumper is double-tapped, Iron Man takes to flight, causing some of his controls to change. In flight, the left stick controls speed, while the right stick controls trajectory. At first, the switch-over can be a bit jarring, but it soon becomes natural, though flight feels a bit out of control and unwieldy overall. Fortunately, there aren’t many extended flight sequences, so the issues aren’t too frequently highlighted. When Tony Stark turns off the boosters, controlling him is a much more pleasant experience, as blasting enemies on-foot is vastly better-implemented, and feels more satisfying. Hand-to-hand fighting, on the other hand, is a sloppy mess that feels poorly conceived, and plays too big a role in the game.
As complex as the controls are, the upgrade system is even more convoluted and frustrating. By performing well on missions, Iron Man unlocks research points. These points can then be spent on upgrades to ammunition, weapons, modules that change the attributes of weapons, and melee combat options. Once these upgrades are purchased (or “invented”), they must then be added to specific weapons. These weapons then need to be equipped to specific armors. The whole process takes far too long, and feels more like mindless busywork than any legitimate attempt to simulate Tony Stark’s invention process. Upgrades should have been implemented in a more simple, easy to use system. Instead, we get a system that isn’t enjoyable, and takes up far too much time in a game that’s only 5-6 hours long. Moreover, the whole process feels unnecessary; each hero has four weapons slots, and there are only five different weapons to put in those slots. For most people, the customization suite will be messed with once, then forgotten about with little to no consequence.
The one thing that the last Iron Man movie game had going for it was its gorgeous character model. The game was utter crap, but the special effects team that created the in-movie Iron Man cg model shared their assets with Sega. As a result, the Iron Man armor in the first game looked almost as good as it did on the big screen. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the sequel. This time around, the character model is much less detailed, and looks like the kind of character model one would expect from a movie tie-in game. These mediocre character models fit well in the world thy inhabit, as nothing looks particularly good or bad; it’s all just okay. When the game switches to cut-scenes, however, the visuals become far more inconsistent; Tony and Pepper’s cinematic models look fine, but Rhodey and Nick Fury look terrible, with extremely muddy textures and poor likenesses of the actors. Iron Man 2 sounds better than it looks, however, with a satisfactory soundtrack and some nice sound effects that help bring the player further into the Iron Man world.
At this point, gamers fully expect movie tie-in games to be mediocre at best. Iron Man 2 is a good example of this, though it isn’t as cookie-“cutter “as many other movie games. Despite some control issues, poor melee combat, and a somewhat unfriendly camera, fighting off the various helicopters, soldiers, and mechs that the game throws at you is surprisingly satisfying, and the allure of unlocking new armors (including comic armors) will keep Iron Man fans plowing through the 5-6 hour adventure, despite its many flaws. Were this a non-licensed product, it would be a below-average action title with little to recommend. The fact that it stars a popular super hero definitely helps, as does the passable plot and enjoyable script, making Iron Man 2 a title that’s just barely worth playing.