Perhaps I'm just getting old and my hand eye co-ordination is starting to fail, but it seems to me there's one gaping flaw in this new Iron Man game (well okay, there's a few, but lets focus on one for the purposes of this introduction). The single most practical ability his fancy all-flying all-shooting suit possesses is the ability to hover in mid air while you battle it out with foes. However, the only way to perform this most useful of actions in-game is to squeeze the left trigger till it's half way down and hold it there, thus ensuring not only regular bouts of finger cramp but a constant battle to keep trigger pressure in the nanometre sized window between veering wildly into the never ending sky and plummeting like a stone to the ground.
It's not that it doesn't work, because it does when you get it right, it's just an irritating complication to have to worry about while you focus on the more important business of aiming and shooting things. Its not like the 360 pad is short on buttons, surely one could have them been used as a hover button, kind of like a superhero cruise control.
Sadly that pretty much sums up the whole feeling around Iron Man, a sense of uninspired ideas lazily implemented. It's not a surprise of course, we'd all be turning cartwheels if a film tie-in, especially a superhero one, was actually half way decent (although tomorrow's Speed Racer review could be a surprise, wink wink - Ed). It's still a shame though, not least because the film itself is one of the better comic book adaptations to arrive in cinemas recently.
As is the way of these things the game largely follows the plot of the film casting you as Tony Stark, a hugely successful industrialist who undergoes something of a Damascus moment while holed up in an Afghan prison. Instead of using his skills and money to make killing machines he vows to use them for good. Thus the first Iron Man suit is built from the contents of his prison cell (handy that...) and he sets off to destroy the weapons he's sold before they do any more damage (the irony of him building the ultimate killing machine to take out his other killing machines seems largely ignored...).
What this boils down to in game terms is a lot of very similar 'kill everything that moves then kill the extra big boss thing at the end' style missions interspersed with a load of rather poor cut-scenes that serve to move the plot along with all the nuanced delicacy of the proverbial bull in a china shop.
To try and make it look like there's far more freedom than the very linear mission objectives would have you believe most levels do play out in impressively large open areas. Unfortunately while indeed large of scale they're also devoid of any particularly interesting features, leaving a lot of walking/flying around between groups of enemies which gets old very quickly.
Once you happen upon a group of enemies the flaws in the combat system soon become apparent. You quickly realise that for the most part fighting while hovering in mid air is the most practical option since the speed of the suit when flying makes picking off small ground targets horribly fiddly. So, you hover and shoot, at which point the problem I mentioned at the start rears its head and you begin to lose the will to live as the game seems to go out of its way to remove the possibility of fun at every opportunity.
Making matters worse, if that was possible, is the fact that the developers have clearly noticed how painful it all becomes and given you an uncannily accurate auto-aim to try and help. This locks onto the nearest enemy for you when you press the right trigger to fire and then helpfully skips to the next when they're killed. If you've spotted the flaw in this then give yourself a gold star. What this all means in practice is that if you master hovering you can essentially shut your eyes, hold down fire and let the game mop up enemies for you while you merely adjust your position a little now and then to keep the dodgy AI from shooting you down. Of course you can override it and aim freely if you want a bit more of a challenge, but guess what, we're back to our old finger numbing holding of the trigger half way down to do that. Wonderful.
Up close things actually look nice enough, Iron Man himself is well modelled and the sense of speed when flying is one of the games few plus points especially when you're zooming around a city. However the city is also a perfect example of the game's visual weakness. The lack of detail in your surroundings is quite staggering for a game that has to jostle for chart positions with the likes of GTA IV, cities are virtually deserted bar your enemies and the wide open spaces you do battle in are devoid of anything bar hills and a few outbuildings to house your foes. It's just like a PS2 game with a high-res makeover.
For some reason Sega and Secret Level have gone to the trouble of getting the film's star, Robert Downey Junior, to record his character's vocals and while I'm normally a fan of such things even I have to wonder why bother here. It's not that he does a bad job it's just that with the rest of the game so poor you wonder why the undoubtedly large sum of money handed over wasn't better spent improving some of the game's many flaws. It doesn't help that the character model spouting his dulcet tones in cut-scenes somehow manages to turn one of Hollywood's more attractive men into a slightly chubby looking Dale Winton clone.
We've been here so many times now I have to wonder why I'm even in the slightest bit surprised that a comic book film tie-in has ended up being a rotten excuse for a game. I guess it's because somewhere in the future there's a superhero game that will actually deliver on the promise of characters that really, all things being equal, should be ideally suited for games what with their special powers and large rosters of existing well-realised enemies. Unfortunately Iron Man is defiantly not the game to usher in that brave new dawn, if its finger cramp you're after though knock your self out, you're onto a winner.