In regards to the gaming aspect of the Iron Man franchise, Tony Stark has had very little success as the leading man. His first foray into the wallet-gouging age old movie tie-in title was piss-poor at best. Save for the somewhat decent voice acting, the game was an absolute disaster in every sense of the word. Yet, even with poor mechanics and just generally offensively boring gameplay, the inevitable Iron Man 2 has hit store shelves, much to the delight of fanboys across the globe. Hopefully with SEGA at the helm, and War Machine as a playable character, Tony Stark will get the respect an armor-clad hero justly deserves... but I wouldn't hold your breath.
Iron Man 2 opens with an attack on the Stark archives, where J.A.R.V.I.S , Iron Man and War Machine's on board computer is stored. The two heroes are successful in avoiding serious catastrophe, but one vital piece of the archives was stolen: the J.A.R.V.I.S root file. With the file in hand, supervillain Kearson DeWitt of Advanced Idea Mechanics (A.I.M), as well as The Crimson Dynamo and other series villains, utilize the technology to create a new organism in order to take down Iron Man, Stark Industries, and ultimately the entire world for good. With the help of experienced The Invincible Iron Man writer Matt Fraction, the plot is an original storyline created specifically for the game, which is a refreshing change from the typical movie tie-in that frequently acts as a giant spoiler for the film. It's a genuinely interesting story that would work great within the comic. However, it is poorly told through a lackluster script and oddly edited cutscenes, where Tony will use his genius in developing an effective plan, only to cut away to after the plan has been magically completed. I can understand utilizing this plot mechanic once or maybe even twice, but after half a dozen times I began to lose any interest in the story, which subsequently affected the experience as a whole.
But narrative isn't an essential component to a superhero game. What really matters is "does it feel like I'm playing as Iron Man?" And the short answer to that question: not really. Sure, it plays infinitely better than its predecessor, and you'll fly around and use your blasters and more traditional weaponry to blow enemy armor out of the sky, yet that's still not saying much. Flying is still a mess; hovering around feels sluggish and inhibiting, while shooting off at high speeds is relatively uncontrollable, as a slight movement of the thumbstick will send Iron Man or War Machine whipping across the screen. It definitely holds some improvements over the first installment, but it still needs a great deal of work before it's thoroughly enjoyable.
Combat, for the most part, plays well and is more polished than the first time around. Weaponry is diverse and interchangeable, providing for multiple combinations of blasters, machine guns, and rocket launchers for both playable characters, with exclusive equipment for both Iron Man and War Machine. Iron Man 2 plays like most other third person action games released within the last five years, except that it possesses one of the most finicky targeting systems in recent memory. You can only target and cycle through enemies that are currently on your screen, making it nearly impossible to easily attack or defend against enemies coming from your six. While it seems like a small hiccup, it has a tremendous effect on the flow of combat, being the cause of many cheap deaths and unnecessarily frustrating battles. However, besides this "minor flaw", combat is pretty fun, but would eventually become quite repetitive, if the game clocked in at more than 6 hours and actually had an sense of replay value.
Although that sounds rather short, you'll be thankful after you've had your fill of some mediocre gameplay sprinkled upon chunks of finicky controls, patchy storytelling, and far from impressive visuals. Other than capturing the likeness of Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadles as Iron Man and War Machine, respectively, Iron Man 2 is a graphical bore; textures are bland, particularly in terms of your surroundings, weapons emerge from your armor seemingly out of nowhere, and I hate to say this, but the explosions and destruction in general could learn a thing or two from Michael Bay.
The one, true bright spot among a sea of mediocrity is the surprising quality of the voice acting. While Don Cheadle and Sammy L. are the only ones to return to voice their characters of War Machine/James Rhodes and Nick Fury, respectively, veteran actors Steven Blum and Phil LaMarr also lend their voice talent and help to add to the great voice work. Though I was thoroughly impressed with the voice work, especially the actor who plays Iron Man/Tony Stark, as he sounds exactly like his movie counterpart, it does little to help the gameplay menagerie.
While it's certainly leagues ahead of its predecessor, Iron Man 2 still falls short of the digital spectacle that the armored super-genius is due. Unless you've got a stack of Iron Man comics in your closet sitting next to the War Machine costume you made out of some pots and pans last month (yeah, I'm that awesome), I'd suggest sticking to a rental if you're really hankering for some armor-on-armor action. You may be better off just waiting for the obligatory third installment; with the way things have been shaping up, Iron Man 3 might actually be a decent game.