The original Iron Man game didn’t exactly win any awards—in fact, considering the runaway success of the film it was based on, the game was one of 2008’s biggest disappointments. Sega still has the Stark Industries contract, as it were, and produced a wide array of games based on Iron Man 2, just in time for the movie. Most of those games are for other reviews, but the version of Iron Man 2 for the Wii is something of a different animal. Impressed with their work on The Conduit, Sega handed exclusive Wii development to High Voltage Software. HVS is nothing if not technologically skilled with the Wii hardware, and they’re no strangers to licensed games—Conduit was their first original IP. Does the independent Illinois-based studio have what it takes to polish Iron Man’s tarnished reputation?
Well, yes and no. The Wii’s version of Iron Man 2 is markedly different than its brethren on other consoles, running on HVS’s proprietary Quantum 3 engine. It’s also better than your average movie licensed tie-in, but it doesn’t quite escape its nature as just such a game.
Strangely (and maybe wisely) enough, Iron Man 2 the game has very little to do with the film. The story is completely different, and it’s hard to tell if it even takes place before or after the movie. I’m going to guess after, considering Colonel Rhodes is firmly established as War Machine, although Tony still uses his older Palladium-powered armor so it’s hard to tell. In any case, an ex-Stark employee with a shady development history is manipulating the Russian government into funding his weapon programs, and it’s once again up to Tony Stark and his allies to prevent stolen Stark tech from sparking an international incident.
The game consists of a number of levels set all over the world. From the level select you can choose to play as Iron Man or War Machine in any stage, the main difference between the two heroes being the weapons they’re outfitted with. Tony uses more energy based attacks with a few explosives thrown in for good measure, while Rhody brings out the heavy metal with a missile pod and a gattling gun, while both heroes can equip standard repulsors and a devastating pulse beam. Before each mission you can outfit the suits with different weapons and ammunition, and buy upgrades or select different armors once you’ve unlocked them.
This focus on weaponry makes the game play like a third person shooter with some typical exploration elements. You control either hero from an over-the-shoulder perspective, moving and strafing with the control stick and aiming with the Wii remote pointer. Iron Man and War Machine move rather slowly but a tap of the C button activates thrusters and allows the armored heroes to hover for a short time. It’s an unusual scheme for a superhero game but it works surprisingly well.
Most levels consist of clearing out enemies in a strictly linear environment. You’ll face standard goons who stand absolutely no chance against Stark Industries power armor, but there are plenty of more worthy foes, including automated drones similar to the ones at the end of the film, and classic Iron Man villains like Crimson Dynamo and Mauler, re-imagined for the game. Unfortunately the combat-centric gameplay robs Iron Man of some of his signature flair, notably his ability to fly. Because the game is level-based and not an open world sandbox, all flight levels are strictly rail-shooter affairs. This makes the game feel ultimately limited in scope, and it lacks the more epic flavor of the movies.The game might not live up to the high quality of the films, but HVS’s technical prowess is still evident. Iron Man 2 is one of the better looking licensed titles for the Wii, and considering it’s almost certainly limited development timetable HVS has pushed some more flash out of Quantum 3. The various armor suits are all shaded with bump mapping and specular highlighting, as are many of the mechanoids and high-tech enemies you fight.
The same dazzling particle and bloom effects we saw a year ago in Conduit are on full display again, adding that extra element of “wow” to all of Tony Stark’s futuristic (and highly destructive) weapons. The menus are all based on Tony’s holographic lab interface, which makes suit upgrading particularly cool. The game could’ve done with a few extra months of optimization, though, as its framerate dips below 30 FPS on a regular basis.
The sound design is a cut above what you usually get from a licensed game. Both Samuel L. Jackson and John Cheadle reprise their roles from the movie, and a surprisingly convincing Robert Downey Jr. impersonator steps in to voice Tony Stark. Tony’s helpful computer Jarvis is similarly indistinguishable from his film counterpart, although the actress they got to portray Pepper Pots doesn’t sound much like Gwyneth Paltro. The soundtrack is instrumental hard rock for the most part, keeping with the ACDC theme that the movies established, although there isn’t any licensed music from what I heard.
Iron Man 2 for the Wii is a curious departure from most licensed game’s I’ve played, a movie tie-in handled separately from the other consoles by a developer with expertise on the Wii. That said, it’s only a notch above your typical movie game, which isn’t saying a whole lot. If HVS had a while longer to work on it Iron Man 2 could’ve joined the ranks of Spiderman 2 and GoldenEye 007 as a truly memorable movie game, but as it stands the game feels rushed and it doesn’t have much extra content to keep you playing. It makes a good week-long rental, but as talented as HVS is they didn’t have the time to make this one into a must-buy.