Review: Marvel’s Iron Man VR puts you in Tony Stark’s shiny metal shoes

0

Movement is a crucial part of any superhero’s identity. I think you could take a picture of just about any reasonably well-known character in motion and reduce them to a stick figure, and they’d still be just as recognisable. It’s no surprise, then, that the best superhero games are those that really capture that movement–like how Batman’s agility forms the core of Arkham Asylum‘s combat, or how web-slinging in Marvel’s Spider-Man reimagined traversal in an open-world game. Enter Marvel’s Iron Man VR, a game that largely succeeds at doing the same thing for Tony Stark’s beloved alter-ego. 

With a Move controller in each hand for hand-tracking, VR is a natural fit for Iron Man’s particular brand of movement—after all, the thrusters in his gauntlets are the source of much of his airborne agility. Iron Man VR can’t entirely capture flying horizontally (I don’t think trying to play a VR game while lying on your belly would work…), but it approximates that neatly by having you put your hands by your sides, palms back. Beyond that, everything works as you’d expect: aim your palms one way and fire the thrusters, and you’ll push yourself the opposite way, allowing for those quick stops and sudden changes of direction that Iron Man does so well.

This comes with a high skill ceiling, making it tricky to get a feel for but incredibly satisfying to master. When you really get the hang of how Iron Man controls, you can do some incredible, acrobatic flying—indeed, some of the later levels in the game, and most of the challenge courses, demand this. It’s here where Iron Man VR is at its best. Darting through and around a swarm of enemy drones, dodging laser blasts from all directions, flying one-handed while using your other hand to fire off repulsor blasts is a rush, and captures that “I am Iron Man” feeling in a way that’s hard to describe.

The trade-off to that is a learning curve that can be steep, and Iron Man VR isn’t a great teacher when it comes to the nuances of its systems. You can fumble your way through most of the game by only using the most basic maneuvers—and when you’re still getting a feel for things, that’s usually the path of least resistance—and then suddenly find yourself in a time-based chase sequence through a narrow, obstacle-filled canyon that demands a level of precise movement that’s nothing so far has really trained you for. There are optional flight challenges of varying difficulty, but they too assume a level of mastery that most of the main game doesn’t prepare you for.

If you want to really be Iron Man, you’re going to have to work for it, in other words. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth knowing. (The full game feels a bit better tuned than the demo, at least, which I struggled with.)

This mobility is also a key element in Iron Man VR‘s combat, which revolves around constant movement and frequent dodging. The catch here is that your hands are both your weapons and your source of movement, so there’s an emphasis on juggling both of those as the situation demands. The “one hand for flying, one hand for shooting” approach often works well as a catch-all solution, but you’ll frequently need full firepower or the high speeds that can only be achieved by using both thrusters.

A few extra layers come in the form of attacks like a rocket punch, ground pound, and wrist-mounted auxiliary weapons—which all rely on surprisingly responsive gesture based controls—giving you a decent assortment of tricks to use. Though different enemy types are relatively few, their unique qualities do encourage you to make full use of your arsenal, and with a much better difficulty curve than that of the agility-based challenges the game sometimes throws up.

Tying this all together is an original Iron Man story, one that isn’t bound by any particular comic or cinematic universe. It nonetheless cuts right to the heart of what makes Tony Stark interesting as a character: his charm, his sense of humour, his ego, his guilt over his family legacy, and his struggles to reconcile all these things. 

Iron Man VR takes place some five years after Stark Enterprises officially stopped manufacturing weapons in favour of more philanthropic technological developments. A mysterious hacker who goes by “Ghost” isn’t convinced about Tony’s change of heart, though, and starts bringing back old Stark drones from the dead in order to get her revenge. Tony’s warmongering past coming back to haunt him isn’t exactly a subtle premise, but it lends itself to a story about futility and destruction that comes with getting locked into an endless arms race and Stark being forced to confront his own ego.

There’s an abundance of his quippy humour to go with the game’s darker themes—Tony Stark is still Tony Stark, after all. Iron Man VR always manages to find the right balance between comical and serious, and it amounts to a far more engrossing and thought-provoking tale than I expected.

That said, pacing can be an issue, for a few different reasons. There are a few story beats that feel like they were written in solely to add another level to the game, and some of the levels themselves overstay their welcome by having you repeat near-identical objectives multiple times. This is amplified by long, frequent loading screens, which means a lot of idle downtime when you really just want the story to get on with it. There’s also the simple reality that VR doesn’t lend itself well to long play sessions—I start to get uncomfortable playing in VR for more than an hour or so at a time, which makes even an seven- or eight-hour game feel like a bit of a marathon.

Those pacing issues aside, Marvel’s Iron Man VR does an impressive job of capturing the feeling of being Iron Man. When you really get the hang of the nuances of the palm thrusters, darting around the skies and outmaneuvering your foes is exhilarating—and about as close to donning an actual Iron Man suit as anyone’s likely to get. Couple that with an original story that really knows what makes Tony Stark work, and finds just the right balance between serious themes and lighthearted banter, and you’ve got a game that belongs in the library of any Iron Man fan.

Score: 4 stars

Marvel’s Iron Man VR is developed by Camouflaj and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s available now for PlayStation VR.

A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.

Share.

About Author

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.