Iron Man is one of the most instantly recognisable and likeable Marvel super heroes. He's a billionaire genius by day (Tony Stark) and saves the world in his spare time - what's not to like? Despite this, it's not always easy to convey such dazzling traits through the medium of video games and SEGA San Francisco (formerly Secret Level) certainly found that with Iron Man, the complimentary game to the Hollywood blockbuster. With Iron Man 2 now hitting theatres, so too is Iron Man 2: The Video Game - and SEGA San Francisco are handling the development of this title too. Have they learnt from their past mistakes?
Despite coming out in tandem with the Iron Man 2 theatrical release, the story actually bears no resemblance. It instead focuses on the creation of two of Iron Man's biggest foes - Crimson Dynamo and Ultimo - who, as expected, are hell bent on seeing that Iron Man ceases to exist. There are also some appearances from Nick Fury and Natasha Romanoff of S.H.I.E.L.D, while War Machine becomes a much more integral member of the cast.
The story is mainly focused around Tony Stark aka Iron Man though, which is by no means a bad thing. Progression through the story is very smooth, with cutscenes before and after missions informing players about the current state of affairs. Some parts do seem rather coincidental, but liberties obviously had to be taken to speed certain parts along. It's a story that's very fitting of the character and universe, so the writers should be commended for that.
Unfortunately, that's where most of the praise has to stop as the gameplay is definitely not the game's strongest point. Controlling Iron Man is much more hassle than it should be, even with improvements made from the original title. Players will be able to make Iron Man fly, perform melee attacks and two interchangeable weapons, but none of these elements are present with any conviction.
While Iron Man's flying abilities have been improved, it almost feels redundant in the grand scheme of the game. Quite a lot of the time Iron Man is fighting inside buildings and even when outside, he'll often be engaged in combat of some kind so there isn't really any need to enter into proper flight mode for more than five seconds. When flight mode is engaged, the controls also feel rather awkward and it's often easier to just ignore flight and boost there.
Melee combat does have some variety and there is a very basic combo system, but it's not that practical for most of the game. In enclosed spaces, using melee can cause the camera to get stuck against walls and when being attacked by multiple enemies it's much more effective to just constantly press the counter button until some space appears. There isn't really any skill involved at all; using the weapons is far more effective for dealing with almost all enemies, so melee feels very superfluous. It's there if players want it, but it doesn't really add a great deal.
Moving on to the main weapons, there are six different types and each has its own pros and cons. It's possible to change which weapons Iron Man uses on the fly and they can also be upgraded to deal more damage and use different types of ammo. They're probably the best component of the gameplay, but there are still some annoyances. Like, why isn't Iron Man's repulsor an auto-fire weapon like War Machine's machinegun? Why does the multi-rocket weapon have to fire at all available targets in order to utilise its homing functionality?
The final stage of the game combines all of these frustrating gameplay elements all into one. Flight might be useful, but not for very long; boosting is equally ineffective as too many boosts are needed. Trying to get near the specified targets is extremely frustrating and often ends up with the player's character clipping through objects. Trying to evade attacks is equally annoying and it all just ends up being a big mess.
On the presentation front, the graphics aren't overly impressive - the cutscenes, which could have been pre-rendered, are equally disappointing. The actual content is decent though, which does help things a little and the addition of voice talent from the movie (excluding Robert Downey Jr.) sells the performance. It's just a shame the other elements aren't up to scratch, like the convoluted menu system which is far more confusing than it needs to be.
There also isn't really any incentive to play through the game again. Playing on a different difficulty does present another challenge, but battling with the gameplay at the same time as harder enemies might be too much for some people. It is possible to play through as Iron Man or War Machine for many of the missions, but the way they play is essentially the same. It's possible to upgrade weaponry, ammo types and insert modules, but most of this can be bought with one play-through anyway and while there are different Iron Man suits to unlock, it just makes for cosmetic changes.
While some improvements have been made to Iron Man 2 over its predecessor, they aren't significant enough and it means the Iron Man once again has another blight to his name. A ridiculously short campaign is complimented by poor presentation and redundant gameplay mechanics. The only saving grace is the story and cast present in the game, but it's not worth picking up for that reason alone.