Robert Downey Jr. has made plenty of good films and decisions in his life, but he’s also made some pretty bad ones. Fortunately for him, not lending his voice to the Iron Man 2 videogame was not one of them. Coming off the heels of an impressive theatrical run but an underwhelming videogame adaptation, Downey was all but assured of returning for Iron Man 2 — in both media. The movie sequel has performed relatively well, and to be fair, the videogame sequel shows some improvement over the original. But improvement does not always equate to “enjoyment,” and that’s where Iron Man 2 for PS3 and Xbox 360 falls short.
The Iron Man 2 videogame delves into some nice Iron Man lore, and its movie tie-ins are a given. But where Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson’s likenesses and voices are used to decent effect, Downey wisely passed on the opportunity to provide the voice for his videogame counterpart and stayed far away from the scene of this interactive crime.
A variety of elements make Iron Man 2 fall flat, some of them even making the game literally laughable. Throughout the story, players can choose between playing as Iron Man or War Machine, each of whom has unique gameplay nuances. Iron Man is geared a bit more toward melee and short-range combat, while War Machine relies on longer-range guns and his ability to fly faster than our rust-colored hero. Between missions, players can spend points to research new weapons, new ammo types and suit enhancements that should help each protagonist succeed. But while these upgrades would theoretically help in battle, it’s a logistical puzzle to figure out how to actually achieve and equip them, and then they really don’t show much benefit until you’ve reached the third upgrade tier.
Not that the upgrade benefits are really necessary, since the gameplay’s driven by blindly mashing buttons until the 52nd ‘mech or helicopter finally topples to the ground and reveals (surprise!) that the 53rd is just around the corner. The environments change based on the mission, from enemy base interiors to open valleys filled with turrets, but the gameplay is identical from one level to the next. Actually flying through the levels adds a bit of intrigue since the flight controls have been simplified from the first Iron Man, but the most memorable flight moments are memorably for the wrong reasons. Case in point: after completing the primary objectives for one mission, War Machine needs to race through a series of tunnels a la the Star Wars trench run to escape before the entire facility blows sky high. However, not only does the invisible timer “pause” if War Machine is impeded — thus removing all sense of urgency — but the in-building flight mechanics are so bad that I literally bounced down every single tunnel like a wayward pinball, banging aimlessly into seemingly every obstacle, and still made it out. I actually laughed out loud and shook my head.
The game’s eclectic blend of nice animations, bland color palette, detailed vehicles and pixelized hero textures is also a head-shaker, almost as if FPO artwork accidentally made it into the final game. Couple that with repetitive environmental audio and voices that sound like they were recorded in a tin can, and you’ve got about as jarring a multimedia experience as I’ve witnessed in a long, long time.
Maybe my expectations were too high for a movie tie-in, or maybe they were just too high for an Iron Man movie tie-in specifically. Either way, Iron Man 2 the movie was plenty for Downey to tackle this summer; no need to align himself once again with a disappointing movie-based videogame even if it did show signs of improvement from the original. When the bar was set as low as it had been, saying Iron Man 2 is a better game than the first isn’t necessarily a vote of confidence.
- Score: 6
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3
— Jonas Allen