Virtual reality is a medium that allows us to live out our digital dreams. Thus far we have already seen glimpses of that since PlayStation VR launched in October 2016, but perhaps not enough to slake our thirst. Whether donning the cowl of Batman, piloting an X-Wing or web-slinging through New York City, all of these ‘experiences’ as they have now been dubbed in the VR community often become unsatisfying temptations and leaves us longing for more. With Iron Man VR however, Sony and developer Camouflaj have set out to defy expectations while fulfilling the dream of piloting Tony Stark’s infamous suit. This is a tough gig, not only because many previous attempts in VR have been underwhelming, but they need to also nail the feeling of being Iron Man VR while creating a whole game around the experience. I’m happy to report that in a lot of ways, Iron Man VR is up to the task with a shiny new super-powered adventure, though not without getting a few dents along the way. The game’s control scheme is immaculately crafted, nailing the feeling of piloting the Iron Man suit while also feeling natural and polished in a way that allows the game to maintain the high octane set pieces you’d expect from a Marvel blockbuster. Moreover, Camouflaj has managed to create a lengthy campaign complete with the bells and whistles you might expect from a big-budget VR title in addition to challenges, unlockables, upgrades and optional missions to increase its replayability. However, while flying in the suit is pure bliss, the moments in between feel like you’re stuck in a suit with no juice.
I’d be lying if I said Iron Man didn’t make perfect sense for VR, joining an endless list of characters we’d like to play and worlds we’d like to visit. However, out of all the different experiences VR has thrown at me over the last three and a half years, nothing perfectly executes the experience of being a character in the way that Iron Man VR does. This is mostly thanks to the excellent controls, which are superbly tuned to the game mechanics. The suit controls exactly how you imagine it. Holding your hands down by your side and pressing the triggers will activate your thrusters, Propelling you upwards. Tilting the move controllers behind you pushes you forward while tilting them in front of you pushes you back.
I made this in a cave… with a box of scraps!
I was surprised at how quickly I could pick it up and how little I was bumping into things. In no time I was micromanaging enemies and objectives as well as comfortably navigating myself through the maps. The game is really fine-tuned to allow you to manoeuvre yourself with ease. Double-tapping the triggers will activate a boost giving you a huge rush as you zip through canyon sides and tall buildings. Pulling alongside a Helicarrier really makes you feel like you’re on the set of an Avengers film as you land in style.
So the flying is good, but it wouldn’t feel like the complete Iron Man experience without some weaponry and I can confirm that the suit is firing on all cylinders. Holding your palms open in front of you will allow you to fire your repulsors complete with its iconic sound. Players also have access to an auxiliary weapon mod that allows you to fire a secondary weapon, such as attaching targeting missiles or automatic guns to your forearm which is activated whenever you point your fist down while extending your arms forward. You can charge up punches and swing them at your enemies or ground-pound in your best (or most awkward) superhero entrance.
You can also use any of these functions simultaneously thanks to the dual controller setup. Firing your repulsors with one hand raised forward while flying with the other facing down to hover works like a charm and allows you to multitask the large number of enemies the game throws at you. While it sounds like a lot to digest, I cannot understate how well thought out and polished the controls are. This is even more surprising given the fact they are utilising motion controllers from eight years ago, and if you have read any of my other VR reviews you would know my distaste for the Move controllers. Regardless, Camoflaj has worked around its limitations and created something truly intuitive with the MK1 of VR controllers.
Tell Thor he can take the day off
The game can be played standing and sitting pretty comfortably, but due to the control setup and requirements, it is recommended you have a wide room setup so you are not accidentally knocking something over when you’re firing to your sides. It’s also welcome to find that the motion tracking is pretty spot-on, which is crucial for a game where you’re moving around really fast and targeting a lot of enemies. There is an auto-targeting system for users when you get close to enemies should you feel you need the extra assistance.
I did not find any general signs of motion sickness but this will always vary from person to person. However, I urge everyone who does play the game to install the day one patch before booting it up for the first time. There was one section towards the end of the game where there were a lot of effects and enemies on the screen at once which hammered performance and my framerate plummeted as a result. It was almost unplayable and I felt nauseous before having to turn off the game. Performance issues like this are unacceptable for a VR game but thankfully, I was able to reload the game with the patch installed and the mission played out perfectly.
While Iron Man VR isn’t the sharpest suit at the party, it still does a solid job with the aesthetics. There is some noticeable aliasing at draw distances (which occurs a lot given that you’re constantly in the sky) and in some of the brighter levels. Some of the character models like Ghost and the Iron Man suit itself can look the part, but the environments are a little bare and paper-thin. Fortunately you’ll be rocketing through levels at lightning-fast speeds and probably won’t have time to notice some of the rougher bits.
The world is my arc reactor
Story-wise it’s a serviceable narrative that has all the expected beats and tropes you’d expect from a superhero epic. It’s not as big budget or as well-written as an MCU film or Marvel’s Spider-Man, but it does a solid job of creating its own Iron Man story. The voice actors are similarly serviceable and while you’re not going to see a Samuel L. Jackson level performance out of Fury, the characters say things you’d expect them to say, even if not everything they say delivers. There are some story elements and character arcs inspired by the Robert Downy Jr. films, but Camouflaj does take its liberties as well. I won’t go too much into spoiler territory, but the game does a good job at throwing a variety of locales and missions to keep you engaged.
Unfortunately, that’s when you’re in the suit. The game also has several sequences in between missions and these are sadly underwhelming. These sections put you in the ’regular shoes’ of Tony Stark as you progress through the story and interact with characters. However, these sections only allow you to teleport to designated spots of any given area and when characters are talking to you, you can’t move at all. It feels like a seated experience more than anything that triggers memories of VR during its infancy where everything had teleportation movement. Really it’s only there to provide some connective tissue between the missions and build a story with context, but all I wanted to do was get back in the suit and the game was constantly locking me into these scripted sequences. For a game that has moments of impeccable immersion and freedom of movement, these story sequences felt like being in an empty prison.
These frustrations are exacerbated by frequent and lengthy load times. Seriously, there are A LOT and they can last for up to a minute. There are even instances where after the load screen there is a 10-15 second delay between the load screen and gameplay where there is just darkness. It really kills the momentum and pacing of an otherwise thrilling ride. It also makes dying feel more punishing, which is always fun in video games. It makes me curious as to how Sony’s PlayStation 5, its SSD and compatibility with PSVR might benefit games like Iron Man VR. If it does, the benefits the SSD could provide in load times would virtually eliminate the issue as I see it.
Those load times channelled by inner Fury
Outside of the main story itself, there is quite a lot of surprising depth creating longevity and replayability. Between main missions, Tony has access to his garage which acts as a hub space for the player. In addition to trivial things like mini-games and interacting with various objects, Tony can also customise and upgrade his armour. Players can purchase upgrades and customise various parts of their armour using upgrade tokens gained from completing objectives and scoring high in missions. For example, players can purchase upgrades for Tony’s thrusters increasing its recovery, overall speed or boost speed. Other customisations include different auxiliary weapons (one for each arm), repulsors and arc reactors. It makes the suit feel like your own and you can notice the differences out in the field.
Players can also unlock and customise the skin of their armour by completing various challenges. Progress for these challenges can always be viewed during the load screen and all are assigned to PlayStation trophies, which you can also display in your garage. While hot rod is always tempting, I just had to look down at my star-shaped arc reactor as the Iron Patriot at least once in my playthrough.
In addition to customising your armour, the garage also gives players access to a virtual Mass Effect-like globe displaying the different levels and missions you have available. This allows you to replay earlier missions to earn a higher score and additional upgrade tokens or take on the various flight and combat missions in different environments. You can even revisit previous levels and just free-roam if you feel like you just want to go for a joy ride. There are about half a dozen or so different levels or environments providing some nice variety and play spaces. This is great for players who don’t really want to focus on the story and just get straight into the action as well as giving them more to do after the credits roll.
Does it come in pink? (it does)
Missions are scored based on several criteria, including completion time, damage taken and kill combos. There are different levels of difficulty for each mission as well as leaderboards for those who really want to flaunt their jorts. Overall, I am quite surprised at just how much there is to do and unlock beyond the main story. As long as load times and quiet sequences are kept at a minimal, I’d have no problem suiting up and paying Fury an unwelcome visit.
When it’s all said and done, Iron Man VR is a welcome success. Camoflaj was able to perfectly execute the feeling of flying the Iron Man suit and kick arse while you’re doing it. It’s also a decently-sized campaign with a solid level of variety in its mission objectives and environments while offering a serviceable story to oil the narrative wheels. Unfortunately, there are moments of stiffness between missions compiled by a frustrating sequence of restrictive story sequences and long load times. It almost feels like a fragmented game where the quiet moments’ lack of freedom and dullness is undermining the moments of brilliance when you suit up. The brilliant moments are enhanced and supported by the pleasant amount of replayable missions, optional challenges, unlockable upgrades and customisable armour that transforms this from being an Iron Man VR ‘experience’ to a fully-fledged Iron Man video game. Players who complain about VR games (built from the ground up) being too short or shallow shouldn’t have too much to complain about here. Just put on the suit and tell me you love me 3000 when you’re done.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro // Review code supplied by publisher
- Sony Interactive
- July 3, 2020