Let’s face it – we all want to be Iron Man. It’s hard to think of the character and not imagine what it would be like to fly through the air at incredible speed and obliterate foes with blasts of energy. Now, thanks to Seattle-based developer Camouflaj, Marvel’s Iron Man VR gives you the opportunity to see the world through Stark’s mask and get a taste of what that experience might feel like. Though not without its rough spots, the game does an excellent job of putting you in the suit and letting you live out those fantasies, and for some, that’ll be all they need to hear.
On the surface, the controls seem simple; you fly, shoot, and punch just like Iron Man does. The game uses the PlayStation Move controllers and your palm positioning to simulate the thrusters in the suit’s hands. You activate the thrusters with the triggers, and where you fly depends on where your palms are pointing. Angle them toward the ground, and you’ll gain altitude. Hold them out in front of you, and you’ll stop moving forward. When flying, you can also tilt your palms to redirect your thrusters and turn a little bit. Holding the big Move button with your palm extended outward lets you aim and fire at a target, which is very intuitive and feels great to pull off. Holding either of the bottom two buttons lets you charge up a homing punch, which you unleash by actually punching the air in front of you. This setup works remarkably well, and cliché as it may be to say that the game makes you “feel” like Iron Man, it’s genuinely true to a certain degree.
For as fun as the core controls are, one aspect that does feel clunky is turning. While the bottom two face buttons control punching, pressing the top two buttons will turn your character about 45 degrees. This is a controller-specific action, so only pressing the buttons on the left-hand controller will turn you to the left. Same goes for the right-hand controller. It’s not ideal, but there’s no easy solution to this problem; you can’t physically turn or rotate very far, for example, without blocking the PlayStation’s view of the controllers, but since the rest of the navigation controls are movement-based, using buttons does create a bit of a logical disconnect.
Ready or not, the demo plunges you into a flying and shooting tutorial set over the ocean near Stark’s California home. Players get to take full control of the suit, and it’s rather thrilling to soar and plummet through the air with seemingly nothing to confine you but invisible walls. Though the presentation on the VR headset was a bit pixelated and unrefined, watching the ocean surface rush up to greet me genuinely made me feel like I was falling, however briefly. Shooting targets, flying through checkpoints, and pummeling waves of drones all felt as natural as could be – that is, of course, once I wrapped my head around the control scheme enough to perform more than one action at a time. The whole setup definitely takes some getting used to, and fun as it was, I still didn’t feel like I could confidently control it by demo’s end. I have no doubt that the controls will feel much more natural with time and experience, but know that there is a learning curve in the beginning.
In the demo’s pre-alpha state, however, it’s clear there’s more work to be done. While gameplay worked well, the game would occasionally lose track of the controllers and negate an attack or motion I was preparing. Some of this, in fairness, may have been the result of the physical setup of the PlayStation booth and the game hardware, but it was a problem nonetheless. Bystanders also commented that some of the presentation elements, such the model used for Pepper in the HUD, were of noticeably low quality, and some environmental elements needed work as well. For what it’s worth, PlayStation reps were quick to point out that the demo on display was an old build of the game, and I hardly noticed such things while playing.
I have to admit, this is a really cool idea and a really cool game. This is as close to “being” Iron Man as any interactive experience has pulled off to date. The concept lends itself to the PlayStation VR setup very naturally, and it’s pretty striking to see it all in motion. This is one of those projects that almost seems to make too much sense, and fans of the character will undoubtably love what it lets you do. Now, you too can be Iron Man – if you have enough Stark-like money to afford the hardware you need.
Marvel’s Iron Man VR takes to the skies on February 28th as a PlayStation VR exclusive.