By Matt Gosper
Movie tie-in games have never had a good reputation, let's be honest. Stretching all the way back to classic gems like the ET game on Atari, quality tie-ins have without question been the exception to the rule. Thankfully, we're seeing a nice trend towards smaller-scale movie games, for smart devices and the like. After the lacklustre Iron Man 2 game, the movie series' third instalment has made the smart choice of smart devices for Iron Man 3: The Official Game.
At its core, the game is a member of the "endless runner" genre, but with a few tweaks to fit its subject matter. Ostensibly set after the film, the game offers very little in the way of spoilers (a nice consideration, considering it released a week ahead of the film for our US comrades). Beyond that it seems to play fast and loose with the canon established by the movies thus far – the enemies you encounter are a bit more comic-booky, and AIM as it appears in-game is far more of an evil technology organisation than the form presented in the movie itself. This isn’t too bad of a deal though – alongside this the voices of Tony Stark, Pepper Potts and JARVIS are provided by none other than completely different people to the actors and voices you’re used to. It’s a little jarring at first given that none of the three are spot-on sound-alikes, but the disparity does help to separate the game and its version of Iron Man from the one in the movie.
Gameplay itself is composed of two key components – the traditional endless runner mechanic of dodging obstacles as you move progressively faster, and a combat component that sees you taking down enemy drones and combatants while avoiding explosive EMP devices that do their best to knock you out of the sky. Interestingly, you’re not subject to a one-hit-kill mechanic here, but instead have a health percentage that gets cut down bit by bit as you collide with environmental hazards or enemy fire. This is a great benefit, given that there can be a lot going on as you play. Some hazards such as the incoming missiles can feel a little cheap, as they don’t telegraph their placement on-screen very well – this only becomes more of a frustration as gameplay speeds up in long runs. This increasing difficulty is balanced by in-game power-ups that drop at random, activating abilities like multi-stage shielding, a magnet power that draws in the game’s collectible currency as you fly past it, weapon boosts and health regenerators. You’ll regularly find yourself up against boss encounter challenges with traditional Iron Man villains such as the Crimson Dynamo, adding some spice to gameplay that could otherwise become stale quite quickly.
As fun as it is, the game falls prey to the same freemium model that so many portable titles do. After a run ends you’ll often find yourself waiting out the auto-repair timeframe before you can try again, and similar waits when you attempt to upgrade your suits. Of course, these delays can be removed with the aid of ISO-8, the game’s spoon-fed super currency. Bulk lots of the isotope can be bought with real-world cash to speed things along, or you can rely on the sparse amounts you’re offered in standard gameplay. You’re given a decent stockpile at the game’s outset, but if you’re an impatient player you’ll find yourself burning through it quite quickly.
One fun element of this upgrade system is the ability to unlock over a dozen different armours from the movie continuity to play as. These range from the original armour from the first film, the briefcase armour from Iron Man 2, War Machine armours, and even branching out to the more exotic and varied suits featured in the new film’s trailers. Each costs XP and in-game currency to build, but unlocking the whole lot gives you access to the fan-favourite Hulkbuster armour, affectionately labelled are as “Igor”. Each armour has pros and cons as far as health, weapon and special ability power are concerned, allowing you to customise to your preferences.
All in all, the game is a solid portable title – I’d recommend playing on an iPad or Android tablet over a smartphone however, as you need the space to be able to operate both your movement and your weaponry without completely obscuring the screen in the process. Even on the iPad the animation got a little choppy in parts – and god help you if something pops up from the Notification Centre – but the game performs admirably otherwise. It would be nice to see these bumps smoothed out in future updates, as well as an option to skip Tony’s take-off animation at the start of each run to save you the five to ten seconds each time. If you have time to fill on public transport or the like, this game is a worthwhile distraction.