July 3, 2020
In the 40 odd years gaming has been around, there’s been a seemingly never-ending struggle to nail a good superhero video game. I think I speak for everyone when I say 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man from Insomniac is one of the best forays. Marvel’s Iron Man VR is the next game the comic book company have proudly put their name behind. A more immersive, first-person virtual reality approach is definitely something new for the genre but does it stand among greats?
Like many Iron Man stories before it, the villain is someone from Tony Stark’s past that he has seemingly wronged in some way. In this case, it’s a mysterious, quite literal Ghost of the billionaire bad boy’s life. Yes, the same one that’s in MCU film Ant-Man and the Wasp. The eery, spectral like figure, is set on raising hell for Stark, reminding him of all the deaths the weapons he’s created over the years have caused. To be even more on the nose, they do so by possessing and controlling the same, old, Stark Industries technology. As such, drones, tanks, airborne mines and the like are your threat. You’d be forgiven if you’ve heard this type of story before. Undoubtedly you have. Poor old Mr Stark just can’t escape his past.
The game’s personality comes as quite a pleasant surprise
For a VR game, the characterisation of Marvel’s Iron Man VR is quite deep. Tony, though not performed by Robert Downey Jr, is still as charming as ever, with the shared chemistry with Pepper Potts just magnetic. The friendly AI known as Friday is present and ever welcome too, with the trigger happy, hot-headed Gunsmith to butt heads and balance things out. Hell, this game even finds time to explore some of the PTSD Tony’s gathered over the years. That alone should be lauded in what is just an otherwise fairly simple VR game.
Now, enough of that. The real question is how does it feel to play? Surprisingly, quite well. With the PSVR headset on, accurate HUD representation and two PlayStation Move controllers in each hand to control each arm, flight is intuitive. It’s achieved simply by holding the triggers and pointing your Move controllers opposite to where you want to go, propelling you. Yes, having hands at your side, blasting and launching you forward is quite a pleasure to see.
That isn’t to say it’s perfect. Despite immediately feeling like home in the peripheral, soaring through the virtual air, it will be easy to get turned around. If you’re like me, with no remote sense of direction, you’ll at times clumsily slam headfirst into a skyscraper or formation. That’s okay though, and not too much of an annoyance. Good reward is found in pausing and taking your time to course correct. If anything, that affirms much of how navigation feels in Marvel’s Iron Man VR: easy to pick up, difficult to master.
As far as combat is concerned, it’s without a doubt less intuitive than flying, but still satisfying once you wrap your head around it. Juggling flying, hovering, dodging and getting some solid hits on enemies becomes this whole other puzzle and ball of wax. Sometimes, it’s just a tad too difficult. Other times, everything fits together like glue allowing for chaining together of some real damage.
Whether it’s a soaring punch, fired wrist rockets, blasts from your palm or the powerful unibeam blast Tony performs from his chest, these modes can all be alternated between with simple button pressing and a certain flick of the wrist. Pushing in a front button and extending your arms outward while holding the Move controllers was all it took to ball the suit’s fist and pack a serious punch.
Customisation and modding of your suits is also present in the game. It’s not as incremental as I’d like it to be but some leeway is provided for different play types and cosmetics. Scoring high in missions (be it story ones or time trials) is what earns you upgrade points for suit mods. These can vary from little, non-cosmetic, damage boosts to weapons to improved flight speed. Decos on the other hand are earned by performing certain feats in games. They’re not always the most exciting but you can score a molten lava looking one and a nice, sheer looking gold one. Pretty flashy.
“With the PSVR headset on, accurate HUD representation and two PlayStation Move controllers in each hand to control each arm, flight is intuitive.”
The biggest fear I had entering Marvel’s Iron Man VR is that it’d be a glorified tech demo. In some ways, it is: in the 12 missions through the game’s campaign, the same locations will return more than once. Though there’s some fun ways to interact with objects in VR and activities to be found, they’re still reminders that at times, a lot of VR games can feel like a tech demo and a gimmick.
Some adventures take you to Shanghai to defend Stark Tower and investigate an infiltrator, others will have you doing laps and defence work around Tony’s Malibu property. They’re not the prettiest or most exciting environments and tasks but they work enough for a VR game.
Though the campaign is short and not too ambitious in length, there’s plenty to do in your downtime. Tony’s garage in his Malibu house serves as your hub between levels. There’s a lot of neat touches here. You can find a tablet that has a podcast run by his cousin Morgan Stark that you can listen to brief excerpts of. One wall even contains a shelving unit of the in-game version of trophies you’ve achieved for Marvel’s Iron Man VR.
Here in this hub, you can also have a chat with Friday or Gunsmith, pick missions or time trial races to play or replay, customise your suit’s loadout, or even play the silly arcade basketball shoot game. Hell, you can even do chin-ups, pump some dumbbells, and eat some snacks from your fridge. It’s novel and ridiculous but man is it fun. Funny how that’s how much of the game turned out in the end.
- Feels damn good to fly like you're the suited up hero
- Plenty of timekillers outside of missions
- Finds the time to give you a good boost of personality
- Bit of a cookie-cutter Iron Man story
- At times still very much feels like a tech demo
A next-generation console is looming and questions about the future of the PSVR peripheral still a bit up in the air. With this, I was hoping Iron Man VR would be the quintessential, possible swan song for the peripheral device. It isn’t quite, but it’s still a solid, popcorn-like story romp. If you’re looking for a deeper VR experience, maybe prioritise playing Half Life: Alyx. Want to just kill some time and live out your best superhero power fantasy? Then Iron Man VR is number one with a bullet.