There are moments when Iron Man VR nails that ‘oh yeah, I can fly’ feel of testing out Stark’s techno powers. Things like directing repulsor jets from your palms with the PSVR Move controllers to fly around, or flipping your wrist forwards to unleashing a swarm of tiny homing missiles feel amazing. When it gets it right, the experience of Iron Man translates well. But ‘experience’ is the key word here as, while some parts work beautifully, the attempt to stretch it out over a full game is less successful.
Release date: JUL 3, 2020
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The opening gives the best implementation of an Iron Man experience: after a flight tutorial racing through checkpoints, you get a taste of hero work trying to save a crashing plane. It's a thrilling few minutes of flying around the jet, firing back at attacking drones, or having to match its speed to fix damaged parts like landing gear and wings. I got a huge kick out of simply matching my speed to ‘land’ on the hurtling aircraft and stand there doing hero poses as it fell towards the ground.
Moments like this are exciting, showing off an ability to realise superpowers through gameplay, but Iron Man VR struggles to make it work over its entire 8-10 hour length. Part of that comes from the control scheme - you can fly around by aiming your ‘hands’ and firing repulsor jets to move but only turn using the triangle and square buttons. It generally favors two things: flying forwards fast, or facing something. The plane section works so well because you’re doing both - following a clear path with an impossible to miss focal point. Chases also work well for the same reason. However more open combat area become a fudge of high-speed movement facing one direction, while clicking buttons to track numerous targets that effortlessly fly all around you.
Obviously it’s VR so you can, in theory, turn freely to follow enemies as they zip by. But there are plentiful warnings not to turn around completely and get the wires tangled around your feet, and flashing arrows in-game to remind you where the camera is. It suggests the developers were aware that the game’s 360-degree, fast, freewheeling sky combat had some issues that couldn’t be entirely resolved. You can turn your head all you want but Iron Man’s body, and flight path will only turn with the face buttons. And without the smooth turn option enabled it’ll do so in fade to black increments that almost require you to memorise things to help you guess where it will all be when you’ve turned.
I am Iron Man?
It means that for every level that seems designed to work with the controls and make you feel like Iron Man, there’s another that grinds against the limitations, leaving you feeling fumbly and rubbish, battling enemies exploiting Tony Stark's greatest weakness - watching things that fly past him. Something shorter and tighter would have probably worked a lot better by focusing more on the strengths. Games like Star Wars: Vader Immortal and Batman Arkham VR are good comparisons here. Each last about 90 minutes but every second shines in terms of realising its world or character’s wish fulfilment dream. Iron Man VR tries to make it work over 12 chapters and, as mentioned, around 8-10 hours of in-game time. That includes a couple of enforced time and combat trials, and plenty of visits to Tony’s workshop to expand the story, tinker with armor upgrades and perform VR staples like ‘eat things’ and ‘pick stuff up’.
It’s not that any of it is particularly bad (save a ‘gigantic man from the waist up’ boss fight that’s like a PS2 era flashback) but it feels like there was an attempt to stretch out a great one or two hour Iron Man tech demo into a full game. Doing so, though, only sandwiched the truly exhilarating, exciting and fun moments in between less than tight combat, slow-paced exposition and a lot of loading pauses. With a tighter focus on the few hours that excel this could have been a much better, shorter game. Stretched out as it is, however, it struggles to make the ‘holy shit, I am Iron moments’ it has carry the full play length.