“I’m not Iron Man,” I mumble to myself after crashing into a wall for the seventeenth time while waving my arms. But it is not for a lack of effort.
Iron Man VR is a simple game: putting players in the famous metal suit from Marvel’s Armored Avenger, letting you fly around and fighting supervillains with laser blasts and gadgets abound. It is also the first real console title from Camouflaj, which had previously developed the high-profile mobile game, republic, back in 2013 (which has since been ported to PC, Xbox One, PlayStation and a host of VR platforms).
It is the kind of idea that is uniquely adapted to virtual reality. What better way to capture a hero best known for his helmet and wrist-mounted weapons than the VR headset and motion controllers?
Unfortunately, while Iron Man VR has moments where it really captures what it might be like to fit up like Iron Man himself, it is held back by sophisticated controls, repetitive levels and games that just aren̵
While early trailers can give the impression that Iron Man VR is a gussied-up on-rails shooter, the reality is that Camouflage has given players almost full freedom to soar through the sky like Iron Man. Using a pair of PlayStation Move controls, you use the two triggers to control your repulsors in a unique style of VR flight. Angle them with palms facing behind you, then you will fly forward; push forward, then stop and then fly backwards. The control is done by a combination of fishing your thrusters and by aiming with your head. Since players are standing vertically all the time, it’s still not really analogous to the rising Iron Man flight in the movies or series, but it’s as close as you can possibly come up with a VR installation.
It also has some limitations due to the nature of VR. The first is that PS VR is a paired headset, so players can only do limited turns. More drastic operation must be done with the push of a button that jumps the camera either 45 or 180 degrees so that they do not pull out the cables. It is also simply difficult, at least in the beginning. While Camouflaj liberally peppers the game with speedometers to help players adapt to the early levels, there is a steep learning curve. (Some of the developer’s times in these aerial challenges, quite frankly, seem impossible for me to beat, though I doubt players will.)
It also requires that players basically remain standing the entire time they play. While Camouflaj notes that the game can be played sitting, the fact that you point your hands behind you much of the time means that it is almost impossible to play on a couch. I had more success moving to a folding chair in the middle of my living room that I could reach behind, but the game was still struggling to track my hands as well.
I did not suffer from any motion sickness while playing, but I tend to personally handle VR movements well. If you are new to the genre or have a particular sensitivity to nausea, the fast movement may not suit you.
However, flying is only part of the equation. The other half is combat, which requires players to balance how they play because Iron Man uses the same repulsors to fly as he does to shoot blasts. It’s a constant juggling act: are you hovering in place and making yourself a bigger target to release more firepower? Or increase with both thrusters?
Iron Man actually has two main weapon types: quick-repelling repulsors and secondary weapons, both tied to the same button. Keep your palms up so you use repulsor blasts; tilt the palm down, your wrist-mounted secondary weapon will appear. It’s one of the Iron Man VRThe best pipe, and it did the best job of capturing the character. Finally, players can also throw rocket-powered punches by holding down a control button to smash enemies nearby.
There is also a customization system where players can unlock “research points” to add new gear to their armor or exchange their weapons. But all these options are unlocked from the start. Once I had a good attitude, the game does not give much of the reason to unlock the rest. (Entertaining, there are also a variety of color schemes for the costumes, but considering you almost never see the armor from a third-person perspective, it’s a bit of a worthless feature.)
But while the pieces are good, the problems are Iron Man VR arrives when they meet in the game, which is simply not deep enough to support a full blown title.
In practice, Iron Man VR is very repetitive. There are only a handful of enemy types, whose tactics never really change. One drone will hit players with laser blasts, another will try to hit you, while a third must be avoided before the shield is down. Each enemy is effectively designed to be countered by a specific weapon in your arsenal (you shoot the drone, you hit the hitting drone, you hit the tank), and the only kind really comes in how many game throws at you right away.
The result is that each of the 12 levels (which are divided into 15- to 30-minute bits, well suited for VR) is more or less broken down into a cycle of “defeating these identical enemy waves with identical weapons in identical locations” until the next expository number happens.
The game also breaks up the Iron Man action with a lot of time jumping around Tony’s mansion or Nick Fury’s helicopter performing the gimmicky sorts of VR tasks that the genre had grown up years ago. Teleporting around an open space to press a button to answer a speakerphone or put away a box of memorials feels just like padding. Such VR-y tasks also get into the regular game and punctuate the waves of drone fights by allowing players to “pull” a door open, “grab” some wires, or “hit” an energy core.
Iron Man VR trying to mix things up with different places, varying from the Shanghai horizon to a helicopter that skies in the sky to an abandoned weapons facility. But the levels are also often repeated; the first time spent raising through the cliffs of Tony’s Malibu Mansion is good, but for the third time the game releases it is starting to drag.
Some of these levels just look bad. Part of this is due to the lower resolution and horsepower of PlayStation VR. Some levels are better than others, but it can be rough to watch. In particular, the Shanghai level – all blocked, poor buildings and empty pixelated roads – feels like something out of a PlayStation 2 game.
The experience is held together by an original Iron Man story, which should sound very familiar if you’ve seen an Iron Man movie (or read a comic book) in recent years. Tony Stark has retired from making weapons, but a villain from his past – in this case the hacking ghost Ghost – wants to hold him accountable for the destruction caused by his past misdeeds.
Various classic Iron Man characters emerge, including Tony himself, Pepper Potts, Tony’s AI Friday, Nick Fury (all looking like off-brand versions of their big screen counterparts), along with a new character, a holographic copy of Tony who is called Gunsmith which helps players design upgrades and acts as a “devil” on Tony’s shoulder to the more positive Friday during missions. (Gunsmith also solves the VR problem of never seeing Tony’s face during the game by giving players a second “Tony Stark” to interact with.)
The biggest problems with Iron Man VRhowever, they are really awful load times – at least on the standard PS4 I was playing on. I routinely spent 10-20 seconds staring at a pitchy screen just for charge the charging screen, which can take up to an additional minute to load at the actual level. That expectation is made even worse by the fact that you are stuck with a VR headset and are in your living room all the time.
There are many good ideas in it Iron Man VR. But between the rough controls, repetitive gameplay and insufficient graphics, this is the kind that feels like it would have been better suited for a shorter, more polished experience. It may make you feel like Iron Man sometimes – but it’s not enough to carry a full-length game.
Iron Man VR is exclusively for PlayStation 4 on July 3 for $ 39.99. (A PS VR headset, two PlayStation Move controls and a PlayStation 4 camera are required to play.)