Sony seems to be lucking out with the Marvel licenses at the moment – the recent Spider-man films and game were runaway successes, the Miles Morales spin off will be a tent pole PS5 launch title, they made a decent Venom movie, and now they’ve managed to wangle an exclusive VR game about a tin man that needs a heart, and already has a gold paved road leading to his castle… well, I would if I had his wealth. Roping in Camoflaj and Darkwind Media to support, Marvel’s Iron Man VR is a fully fledged adventure on the PSVR headset that puts you directly into the high tech armour of Tony Stark’s design in an original story that’s been 3 years in the making. There’s a lot weighing on the power-suited shoulders here given the story arc of the MCU and how the character has seeped into mainstream consciousness, and there are a lot of questions need answering. Have they managed to make the superhero leap to the virtual reality space? Is there the ability to play out a full action adventure in a medium known for short experiences? How do they handle motion sickness from 360 degree flight and combat? Most importantly, will you be saying “I am Iron Man” whilst playing it?
Set just as Stark Industries is transitioning from weapons manufacturer to peace keeper, Iron Man VR pits our hero against the figurative and literal ghosts from his past. When Tony and Peppa get attacked whilst flying across the Pacific by a mysterious hacker controlling old Stark tech, it starts a series of revelations about the past that can’t stay covered any more. From Malibu to Shanghai, this is a globe trotting adventure that keeps the plot moving as fast as the action while never straying too far from the core principle of fly/shoot/punch/repeat. There are a few familiar faces and inside nods to fans of the comics, and enough recognisable locations that those with a cursory knowledge will still feel involved. From the first tentative thruster taps through to the inevitable boss showdown, it has epic written all over it, and there won’t be many out there disappointed with where it goes. In true big budget effects-fest style, it also telegraphs the twists and turns so that when they happen it’s not too jarring and doesn’t need much in the way of explanation. In short, it’s fun that would sit happily alongside anything on the big screen. Yet, that’s not why we’re here is it? What we really want to know is does it make you feel like Iron Man? Yes. Yes it does.
There’s a pretty sweet fit here for Marvel’s Iron Man VR and the headsets used to drop players into the virtual world, and it gets highlighted every time a level loads. The HUD lines etch themselves out on a black background, and Tony’s breath fogs the display, then the screen initialises to reveal the world beyond. The character views everything through an enhanced display in the suit, whilst the player views the world through the PSVR headset. It’s a synergy that should have been obvious, but might not spring to mind until it powers up for the first time. Your left and right hands hold the Move Controllers (with no other support available for this) and they’re the suit’s gauntlets. Squeeze the triggers and the thrusters are activated; point them down and you’ll get lift; aim to the side to strafe; it’s pretty intuitive. Hold the controllers up and it’s palms out, repulsor firing time. Mash the Move button until they overheat and your foe is floating back to the Earth in tiny pieces. Point them flat and the secondary weapons activate, which can be anything from a smart missiles to clusterbombs. Push one of the face buttons and pull back and it’s time to beat any foes into submission. Without doubt there’s a surprising amount of variety to pluck from a relatively simple setup, and then there’s the chest beam weapon too.
Movement is largely done through the positioning of the thrusters, though looking around will guide some of the flight, and you’re encouraged to get used to multi-tasking with moving on one hand and blasting on the other. If you’re standing up for this then be prepared to move quite a lot as you track targets all around, and don’t worry too much about tangling cords as the game will auto-pause itself to tell you to stop it and tidy up. Sitting keeps things a bit more stable, though isn’t quite as immersive. The top face buttons on each controller will turn the view, and getting to grips with this early doors will make things a lot easier as the difficulty ramps up. With verbal help on hand from Friday and Gunsmith, Tony’s two AI constructs, you’ll soon be zooming around the play area, deftly shooting down drones whilst navigating tight spaces. With the subject matter you’d expect open levels with freedom to fly, and that’s satisfyingly there, though it doesn’t mean the developers haven’t thrown in some obstacles to make things more playful. No level is too big that you get lost, but it’s not often that you’ll butt up against the edges if you’re following the instructions. Equally, visual clues are obvious yet in line with what you’d expect looking through the visor.
Mechanically it’s not all about shooting, there’s a fair amount of exploration as Tony and how he interacts with his mansion. Then there’s a couple of almost horror type levels that pull the pace back and focus on tension instead. Slowing things down allows some of the more heartfelt story beats to play out at the forefront rather than as a backdrop. However, this being about rescuing as much as destroying, there’s a nice amount of using the suit to perform tasks rather than just flying. Putting out fires, welding doors, pulling heavy debris… it’s all built into the narrative so that there’s variety in the mission structures too. Even the dialogue heavy parts have choices to be made on how to respond to questions. I doubt they have any bearing on the events that unfold, but it’s nice to be able to role play a little more. There’s a lot of content too with 12 missions (plus prologue and epilogue) in Iron Man VR. With additional time trials and combat challenges to unlock, and replaying missions to earn upgrade tokens, there’s a real emphasis on coming back for more. You use the tokens to develop suit add-ons and extra weapons, and these are needed to get anywhere near the best times in side missions, or just survive some of them. There’s even the ability to free fly if you just want to view the level structure without time or enemy pressure.
I’d be hard pushed to say it’s great looking throughout, there’s clearly a lot going on that’s probably pushing the PSVR to its limits. In fact, only half the game comes on disc, the other part downloads on installation, so that gives an indication of the size… most VR titles could fit on a DVD. It does the job graphically, and the detailing on the suit is particularly good, as it needed to be, but a couple of the levels look a bit dated. Shanghai in particular looks like Driv3r called asking for its city back. That doesn’t make Iron Man VR unplayable though, and when you’re high above the buildings tracking multiple bogeys, you’re not looking to see what reflections are in the windows (none, if you were wondering). With a mostly smooth and stable framerate throughout it’s dependable if not stellar, though I had issues with the end of the final boss fight where it tanked and eventually crashed the game. At least it saves progress regularly, it’s just the loading time wait that needs enduring. For those wanting to enjoy the 3D sound, definitely wear a pair of headphones. It’s pretty good without, and on the next level with them in, showcasing great design and spatial positioning. It will also mean you can enjoy Josh Keaton, Jennifer Hale and Dwight Schultz’s performances with better clarity.
With some surprise, Marvel’s Iron Man VR is a very good game, and I was sceptical because I’d been bitten by the frankly quite poor Spider-man VR experiences. This is not those. Yes, pull it out of the VR space and it would be on the middle step of mediocre, but that’s not the point. This is about getting you to fill the self-assured, arrogant boots of Tony Stark as he’s about to be taken down a peg or two. VR isn’t old enough yet to have lost that thrill of finding yourself physically controlling a character and that the mundane becomes interesting. Here, Camoflaj are giving you the superhero tools alongside the ordinary, and with enough love and attention to detail that it comes across as an authentic extension of the character. It’s a full game with plenty to get back and see time and again, and the set pieces demand a second viewing, or even a third if it’s the bit where you’re falling from the sky as Friday flies pieces of the suit to you so you can chase down a burning jet. It’s that type of scenario that sets it apart from other superhero games, and the VR setting that elevates it beyond the sum of its shiny, armoured parts.
Marvel’s Iron Man VR is out now exclusively on PlayStation VR for around £30.