March 26, 2020
Action Squad Studios
Iron Danger describes itself as a “tactical combat game”. It contains elements of traditional RPG and turn-based strategy games but introduces a unique mechanic that drastically changes the way this game is played.
Playing as Kipuna, a young woman imbued with a great power, you’ll take on swaths of enemies in a party of two where you’ll use tactical thinking, the environment around you, and your new power to overcome those who stand in your way. Iron Danger blends real-time and turn-based elements to create dynamic gameplay that’s truly unique, but could other elements be holding this game back?
Iron Danger lets you rewind your actions up to seven seconds past. This ability, called the Trance, is at the core of Iron Danger’s combat and puzzles. Throughout the game you will encounter hordes of adversaries to overcome by turning back the clock—either by rewinding a fatal incoming blow and perfectly timing a strategic block, or with simple trial and error by rewinding each death and brute-forcing your way through.
For the most part, this time-turning mechanic is surprisingly intuitive and satisfying. I found myself rewinding from even minor hits in an attempt to flawlessly clear a horde of enemies without taking a scratch. While this works well in combat when focused on a single hero, you have a companion to control as well. This becomes a little awkward, as there isn’t a neat way to queue actions for your characters to take simultaneously. Instead of queuing moves for both of your characters and hitting a ‘begin’ key, you need to play out one character then rewind and play the other. While this allows you to synchronise attacks—or retreats—it feels awkward compared to how natural the mechanic works for one unit. Combat would be a smoother experience with only one character to control, allowing the rewind mechanic to focus entirely on its strong suit as a tactical tool for out-manoeuvring the enemy. As a way of piloting two characters at once, it feels clumsy.
Another mechanical issue I encountered was the save system. Unless I’ve missed a vital feature, it seems that checkpointing is few and far between during levels. I had a couple of level restarts after making it some way in and taking a break. From what I saw there didn’t seem to be a manual save that allowed me to pick up from right where I left off. This was inconvenient for me as I like to take a break or close a game if I feel that I’m beginning to feel frustrated.
“Topi has the most annoying voice I have ever heard in a video game.”
What I’m about to say next is entirely personal and quite possibly unfair; but the character Topi has the most annoying voice I have ever heard in a video game. I want to be absolutely clear that his voice acting isn’t bad, it’s actually perfectly on the mark and that’s the problem. Topi yammers and slurs every waking second he accompanies you. Topi is written as loyal yet oafish, and his delivery is a perfect rendition of the uncle who means well but should have stopped talking five beers ago. Even now as I think about him, the only comparison I can draw is to Navi’s “Hey! Listen!” in The Legend of Zelda. I’m certain most players will not share my borderline irrational disdain for Topi, but if he goes down when I bungle a fight I cannot deny there’s a temptation to leave him there.
One thing that is not so subjective is performance. Iron Danger ran surprisingly poorly on my machine compared to what I expected. I checked frames per second while running at Very High graphics settings and found it hovering around 45fps outside of combat. This was a bit concerning considering I was running the game on an Nvidia RTX 2070 that sits mostly around 90fps in Doom Eternal with everything cranked to ultra quality at 1440p. Looking at Iron Danger‘s cartoonish, seemingly lower-detail art style and limited draw distance, I don’t quite understand why there’s performance issues.
Iron Danger is a very pretty game thanks to its art direction. The style is distinctive and a combination of bloom lighting and bright colours help scenes to pop. It definitely looks good, but it doesn’t look mechanically demanding. For me, despite seeing a framerate much lower than higher detail games on the same system, it was still more than playable. I am concerned that, if there is an optimisation issue pulling framerate down for me, this could be a much bigger issue on less powerful systems. Hopefully this was just something weird I ran into and it won’t be an issue for others, although my hope is that the issue can be patched out in short order. It would be a shame if optimisation held Iron Danger back from connecting with a player who’d otherwise really enjoy it.
- A unique time-turning mechanic to finesse (or cheese) through every fight.
- A charming mix of steampunk and fantasy style with a splash of bright colour.
- Controlling two characters at once requires awkward rewinding and queueing.
- Lower framerate compared to more detailed titles indicate possible performance issue.
- Sparse checkpoints may have you repeating more than you'd bargained for.
Overall, I feel like I’ve missed something with Iron Danger. On paper I should love it but I haven’t been able to get there. For me, it was a nested frustration that killed my enjoyment. The awkwardness of moving two characters at once undercut the engaging part of combat; rewinding to dodge or block attacks and attempt to get through unscathed. Miserly save points wiping my progress through a level meant replaying the same long sections rather than moving forward, feeling more and more defeated each time and less excited for what came next. And, unfortunately, Topi sapped my interest in the dialogue. At the end of this all, I think I’m missing something great. If these complaints are trivial to you then I honestly recommend Iron Danger, you’ll probably love it. As for me, I don’t think I’ll be rewinding time to play it again.