'Iron Man' maims at mach speed, but game barely achieves liftoff

Iron Man has always had a flight problem in video games.


Over the decades, the high-tech, high-flying Marvel superhero has peripherally appeared in several games, but he's never been able to truly soar. Sure, he could float in Captain America and the Avengers and achieve a little hang time in old-school Marvel vs. Capcom video games, but he wasn't really flying.

That's not the case in Sega and Secret Level's Iron Man. The game, based on the summer blockbuster starring Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, allows players to don the boozy billionaire's suit of armor and reach mach speed, and to blast foes with missiles, repulser shots and that oh-so-devasting uni-beam.

Though the film devotes a bulk of screen time to Stark's building the armor that will make him even more infamous, the Iron Man game spends only two levels on such development. The rest of the interactive experience is focused on flying around and blowing stuff up.

Interesting? Not at all. Fun? Absolutely -- for a little while, anyway.

Iron Man heavily relies on Stan Lee's original source material to expand on director Jon Favreau's big-screen take on Stark, taking gamers beyond the film's Middle East and Los Angeles locales. Because of some playgroundlike gameplay, however, plot never becomes an integral cog in this machine.

Every level is open, which allows wannabe superheroes to seek and destroy robust battalions of enemy tanks, turrets and helicopters in any order they desire. Such action quickly becomes repetitive, though.

The game's ability to switch among flying, hovering and battling on the ground is overly ambitious. The awkward control scheme ends up diminishing any joy of becoming an Iron Man who can rise more than 30 feet off the ground.

In the heat of combat, Stark looks more like he's having a surface-to-air seizure than battling as a one-man army.

Upgradable enhancements and unique objectives give the game a hefty amount of replay value, unless the arcadelike gameplay is completely off-putting from the start. Hardcore fans can try unlocking suits such as the Extremis and Hulkbuster, as well as an exclusive "Ultimate" and silver centurion suit, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions, respectively.

Mr. Downey, Terence Howard and Shaun Toub from the film provide their voices in the game. Much like the movie, Mr. Downey delivers his lines with bite. His wisecracking asides are one of the most engaging part of the game. That's more good news for the scene-stealer -- but not for gamers hoping for a completely fleshed-out interactive Iron Man experience.

Hey, at least Iron Man can finally fly in a game.


TITLE: Iron Man

FROM: Sega and Secret Level

PLATFORMS: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360

COST: $59.99

THE VERDICT: ** out of ****