I’m not going to sit here and say Iron Man 3 is a great game, because it isn’t. It’s an okay game with a big IP attached to it and a big developer, Gameloft, running the engine. It’s also a runner, which may or may not disappoint you depending on your opinion of the genre. Run, shoot, upgrade. Rinse, repeat. Face the occasional infuriating cooldown or — even rarer — a big upgrade. Put down the game and review it. This was my experience. To put things another way: Any game can be broken down to its core components and described in a dry, technical manner, but there’s some sort of steam between the cogs of a good one that makes it fun despite that. I didn’t sense a lot of steam in this particular title.
There were many points at which I would have loved to be able to punch this game in the face. Extreme, perhaps, but we can’t always help the way we feel. A lot of my anger came from things fundamental to how the game operates, which made it that much worse.
It sounds weird, but I want you to imagine a gas station called Larry’s. Larry’s takes usual cash, which you find out on your own in the real world, but also offers a rarer second currency: Larry Dollars. When you shop at Larry’s the first time you’re given a handsome fee in the second currency. You marvel at all the things you can buy with it. Then comes the stark (rimshot) realization that Larry Dollars control everything at the gas station. Want to use the bathroom? Two Larry Dollars. Flushes? Three Larry Dollars. You go to the sink and it charges you four Larry Dollars to make the water go warm instantly instead of having to wait a half hour. That’s what Iron Man 3 does to you. Every single thing you do has a cooldown, and the only way to speed things up is to spend that secondary currency — or buy more with your real cash if you’re running low. When you buy a suit upgrade you have to wait a few seconds or pay to get it immediately. When you die in your favorite Iron Man suit you have to wait a set amount of time for repairs unless you pony up. I don’t care if the game is free. There are ways to make money that don’t involve making players (eventually) spend real money on game currency to navigate menus. It’s a shameless, greedy, and unforgiveable fleecing.
Tony Stark’s flights over the neighboroods and military bases that make up his world are neither smooth nor graceful. I found to be the controls (tilt or touch) to be finicky and altogether unreliable, which is not a good thing in a game requiring such finessed movement. Choosing, say, which quadrant of the screen to take when rockets are getting ready to claim the other three feels more like a game of chance than anything require real skill. It was bad enough to make me feel like half of my deaths were cheap and unpreventable, though I’m sure selection bias has a little bit to do with that figure… it’s still too high in my head when I acknowledge the fact. Combined with my near total unwillingness to go back and log some actual numbers, that says something.
The visuals are a little less than what I’ve come to expect from recent mobile titles, but are overall still great when considering the platform. Things ran smooth on my Galaxy S III — I unfortunately didn’t have my tablet at hand this time around — with little slowdown or other related snags.
I do have some qualms with the character models, specifically the enemies. While the design is decent, there’s some definite jagginess. It’s bad enough to make things look like a PS1 game at times. Obviously a mobile title is going to look a little worse than anything running on a big box. I get that. There is proof (even in the games I linked above) that you can do better than what’s offered here, no matter what your expectations for mobile gaming as a whole. When a lot of big-name titles like this separate themselves with their top-notch eye candy, it’s a weird thing to see. Especially when the environments and pretty much everything else look so solid.
Many Starks to Choose From
I liked the variety of suits available for purchase, even if they did get expensive too soon after starting. Something like 18 suits (possibly more — the menu was prohibitively difficult to navigate and see for sure) are unlockable in the end. Many of those come at a price higher than I suspect the average gamer is willing to spend. That said, some of the endgame stuff is really cool, with tons of variety in weapons and defensive capability as well as general visual design. I’m guessing the selection contains a good number of nods to the movie and comic because of the sheer number of stuff there. Unless the movie is four hours long there’s no way it features a fraction of the suits available, however hard they may be to acquire.
Shooting feels like every other pop-up game on the market, and Gameloft’s attempts to add to the format only result in frustration. Combined with the unreliable controls many enemy attacks seem impossible to dodge. The enemies themselves are often overpowered on the offensive or defensive ends (or both), wiping your poor Tony out in seconds while repeated blasting from your fully-upgraded gun does next to no damage. The game is always quick to offer you a respawn, too (at a quickly multiplying amount of rare currency), with a timed sales screen that mentions nothing about how you can speed the bar at the bottom up by tapping the screen. In fact, the only input option explicitly stated on the screen is the invitation to buy another life. In the words of the immortal C&C Music Factory: Hmm.
Items of Note
Gameloft knows how to make a video game. People making titles of this magnitude don’t get there by being awful. Movie companies are slow to react… not so dumb as to keep hiring terrible developers for their blockbuster releases. Building a story through the challenge system, for instance, is interesting, and it opens the door to fans more interested in the story than another unlock dopamine hit. The upgrade and game-currency portions are sufficiently addictive, on that note. My biggest problem? My reason for the score? This game makes absolutely zero bones about what it wants you to do. It’s straight-up drug dealer tactics.
Some games may irk me by offering a small number of realistically obtainable items before throwing up the paywall, while others may pressure me into unlocking anything with a cooldown. This game does it both to an insane degree. Iron Man 3 did both. I’m totally not joking about it being “unforgivable,” like I said at the top. It’s completely turned me off the game and put a ding in the developer’s already less-than-stellar image in my head. Will millions download it? Yes. Will many like it? Absolutely. But I’m just as sure there will be some vocal backlash against the amount of pocket-grabbing going on here. If there’s not, practices like it will continue. As long as people keep buying there’ll be direct incentive to never stop. We can only hope at some point microtransactions take up so much of the gameplay they start to charges from the outset again instead. This is getting absolutely ridiculous.