It’s the ultimate in fantasy wish fulfilment; stepping into not only the presumably expensive Italian leather shoes of genius-billionaire-playboy-philanthropist Tony Stark, but also the thruster-enabled bleeding edge technology boots of his evil-busting alter-ego, Iron Man.
Marvel’s Iron Man VR is a noble, but flawed attempt to do both. It’s a game that has you flying around as the armoured avenger, twisting, turning and careening through the air while firing off repulsor blasts at an army of cannon fodder drones. There are also quieter moments where you’re the smarmy, quick-witted Tony Stark; spending time with Pepper Potts, talking strategy with Nick Fury and engaging with the AI constructs that keep Tony company otherwise.
While I appreciate these quieter moments of self-reflection, they’re filled with the sort of VR guff that developers seem to inject into games just because they can. Because doing rote things like picking up and flipping through books, pressing buttons on telephones and engaging in weight-training in Stark’s gym. They’re all the sort of VR things we’ve seen for years now and they’re neither fun nor engaging, especially in a post Half-Life: Alyx world.
Thankfully, the sections where you’re playing as everyone’s favourite Shellhead very nearly nails the experience. There’s a palpable glee when you first don the suit, and are hit by that glorious futuristic helmet HUD. That excitement is exponential when you first take to the skies, manoeuvring the arc-reactor powered thrusters in your arms to control acceleration, pitch, yaw and all those other flight terms I’m spitting off despite only being mildly acquainted with.
It’s a genuinely enthralling experience that could only be achieved through VR. The controls here do, admittedly, take quite a bit of getting used to.
Controlling your ascent and thrusting forward are intuitive: Place your palms towards the floor and engage thrusters, and you’re headed skyward. Place your hands to the side, palms facing backwards and you’re thrust forward. It’s neat! Unfortunately, because the PlayStation Wands (You’ll need a pair of them to play the game) don’t have analogue sticks on them, you’ll have to do your in-flight turning using the wands’ face buttons.
There are comfort options for snap turning or smooth motion, along with several vignetting options to prevent mid-air vomitus, but it takes a fair bit of practice before you’re able to zip through the skies. It’s one of the reasons, I suppose, that the game is padded out with so many tedious checkpoint races. They’re there so you really get to grips with Iron Man’s flight controls, but the few of them that are forced (and require you finish within a certain time) just break the immersion. I’m pretty sure Iron man has better things to do than fly through checkpoints.
Still, with better controls (afforded by a better controller!) it would be a better game.
Perform well enough in missions and you’ll earn points allowing you to upgrade Iron Man’s suit; all sorts of nice toys that do things like improve the suit’s healing capabilities, increase thruster performance or increase Tony’s available armoury. In hardly any time at all, you’ll be a master of the stratosphere, picking off enemies with a barrage of repulsor blasts, switching to the assortment of supplementary weapons (with a flick of the wrist, no less) and suit upgrades that make you a better Iron Man. When the game is good, it’s a genuinely exhilarating experience.
That experience is unfortunately often let down by some frequently asinine writing. While the voice cast does a mostly admirable job of bringing it together, there’s little they can do with the writing. Tony’s meant to be a crack quipping loveable jerk, but that requires the right sort of sardonic wit. I think the writers have missed the mark here with some eye-rolling dialogue. I also didn’t really connect much with the narrative, probably because there are ample tells and queues that telegraph what’s meant to be a great big reveal, so I had that pegged within the first 10 minutes.
Iron Man VR is also beset by frequent and sometimes unbearably long loading times, and there’s nothing that takes the steam out of being a guy in a rocket-powered suit more than staring at a slowly-increasing percentage bar when the world needs to be avenged.
Last Updated: July 2, 2020