Iron Man 2 - Xbox 360 review

We can't see many people arguing that Iron Man 2 is the best superhero movie ever, but there are definitely one or two great things about it. Robert Downey Jnr is predictably great. Sam Rockwell could have done with some editing, but he's very entertaining. Mickey Rourke makes a really good villain for the odd few minutes when he's actually on the screen. Scarlett Johansson looks amazing in skin-tight leather, the AC/DC soundtrack is fantastic and there are a couple of brilliant action set-pieces. Can we mention Scarlett Johansson and leather again?

Sadly, none of these things have made it into Iron Man 2 the game.

Instead we get a game that, while not as wretched and inept a piece of code as the game of the first Iron Man, is certainly right up there. Basically, it's a sort of sequel to the movie sequel, pitching Tony Stark/Iron Man and his now tooled-up best mate, Rhodey/War Machine against lethal drones, Russian warmongers and a sinister arms corporation, not to mention that old standby, a mad scientist who's gone out of control.

Through level after level, you play as either Iron Man or War Machine, flying around the map, blasting and battering helicopters, tanks and drones into scrap metal, and completing whatever objectives the game dishes out to you, which usually entail (a) wrecking something, (b) defending something or (c) finding a computer console and mashing the B button until something happens.

In a game so reliant on combat for thrills, the fighting had better be fun. Unfortunately, it isn't. Whether you're firing rockets and repulsors at the helicopters or going mano e mano with armoured drones, it's all just a bit repetitive and uninspired. Target, blast, block, repulse, repeat, continue until nothing else moves or you've cleared enough space to complete your objective without getting blasted off your feet. Done? Just fly off to the next objective.

Occasionally there's a boss battle, but these are as clichéd and dated as the rest. It's never a good thing when the cutscenes are more entertaining than the in-game action, but these actually get closer to the witty, light-hearted spirit of the movies than anything else in the game.

Nor does it help that the controls - while an improvement on the complex system used in the game of the first film - still aren't exactly intuitive. With several weapons systems to manage, walking, hovering and flying modes to deal with, it's hard to imagine a system that would make controlling Iron Man simple, but this one certainly doesn't. It's OK for War Machine to be a walking tank, but the famous red and gold suit should feel fast, agile and responsive. Instead you seem to spend half your time in hover mode rotating the view so you can get a lock on the nearest threat, and the other half circle-strafing like you would have done in a last-generation third-person shooter.

Even the close combat feels dull. While Iron Man 2 the film glories in the clash of metal on metal and colossal, wall-smashing punches, Iron Man 2 the game just delivers a lot of woolly button-mashing where you only occasionally make use of whatever combos and special attacks the developers have coded in.

The game attempts to add depth by allowing you to spend credits earned within missions on a range of suit upgrades, weapon upgrades and research projects that enable you to put together your own super weapons and fit them to the Iron Man suit. Completing missions will also unlock alternative suits from the first movie and the comics. Sadly, none of this stuff quite works.

Even as a veteran of complex video games we found the upgrade system bewildering, and the suits don't seem to make a lot of impact on the actual gameplay. And while a more potent arsenal makes the combat a bit faster, and so less tedious, it still doesn't make it that exciting.

Iron Man 2's worst fault is an overall lack of polish. The difficulty curve is all over the place, with some missions absolute cakewalks, while others hinging on conditions that are more a question of dumb luck than strategy. Few sections in a game can be both boring and aggravating at the same time, but the bits where you have to defend the Black Widow from hostile droids or put down an AI-enhanced nutjob in a massive armour suit effortlessly manage it. Did anybody test this stuff?

The same sloppiness extends to the visuals. Iron Man 2 can look brilliant. The suits aren't a million miles away from what you see in the film, and when you're fending off hulking drones while blasting away at helicopters there's a fair amount of spectacle involved. Sure, a lot of the environments – particularly the interiors – are shockingly drab, but when you do get a chance to take off and fly, the rush of scenery occasionally threatens to turn exhilarating.

Unfortunately, Iron Man 2 can also look appalling. Textures that suddenly pop in are one thing, but this game features whole chunks of background that suddenly jump into view. The likenesses of the human cast are amongst the most appalling in recent memory. Maybe Stark, Rhodey, Pepper and Natasha look nothing like Robert Downey Jnr, Don Cheadle, Gwyneth Paltrow and the Scarlett Johansson for legal reasons, but did they have to look so very, very odd? The Black Widow looks more like a novelty drag act than a deadly super-spy. Take it from me - this is not a good thing.

Verdict

We all know that you shouldn't expect much from movie tie-ins or superhero titles, but there's no reason why an Iron Man game can't get to the essence of the hero and deliver a compelling, action-packed, thrill-ride of a game. Iron Man 2 fails to do so. It feels tired, dated, plodding and depressingly lacking in entertainment value. If you're a fan or have an Iron Man-crazy kid, save yourself some heartache and don't buy it.