The unprecedented success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen an increase in the amount of video games tied to the comics. While some like Marvel's Spider-Man have been resounding successes, others like Marvel's Avengers have been less well-received. With the recent announcement that EA Motive Studio is making a new third-person action game based on Iron Man, it is in a strong position to build upon what makes the best of the Marvel games so successful, while avoiding some wider pitfalls.
In many ways, the release of 2008's Iron Man movie was a landmark event. Not only did it revitalize the flagging career of Robert Downey Jr., it also kickstarted the MCU and introduced Iron Man to a whole new audience. In a superhero landscape that Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man largely dominated at the time, Iron Man was a breath of fresh air. This new project won't be Iron Man's first foray into the world of video games, but it's an exciting prospect nevertheless.
What Spider-Man Could Teach Iron Man
When trying to find a blueprint for the perfect superhero game,Marvel's Spider-Man likely springs to mind. The 2018 PlayStation exclusive received praise for everything from the visuals, gameplay, combat, and traversal to the story and customization options. Insomniac Games seemed to know exactly what people wanted from a single-player Spider-Man experience, and the game is able to confidently swing between a narrative-driven experience and an open-world sandbox with ease.
Traversal is a particular highlight, with many praising Spider-Man's smooth, fluid mobility when zipping and diving across New York's skyscrapers. With traversal being such an important part of Iron Man's repertoire too, it is crucial that EA Motive sticks the landing with this aspect. The very nature of Tony Stark's Iron Man suits demands unhindered freedom for the player to traverse whatever environment they find themselves in. Thanks to Stark's powerful jet thrusters, he is able to propel himself in any direction at lightning-fast speeds, while also being able to hover on the spot.
The open-world environment in Marvel's Spider-Man would seemingly be a perfect fit for Iron Man, too. While having a strong narrative to propel the action forward will likely be high on the developer's agenda, it should not come at the expense of Iron Man's freedom to explore. It would be anticlimactic to give Iron Man awesome flight mechanics, but not the freedom of a sandbox to use them in.
Combat is an area where the two games could drastically differ. Spider-Man'sArkham-inspired free-flowing combat is fast and reactive, with an emphasis on getting right up in the enemy's face. While Iron Man is no slouch in hand-to-hand combat, the majority of his offensive prowess comes from various forms of firepower built into his suits, meaning combat will likely offer the player more ranged options.
How Marvel's Avengers Missed The Mark
Iron Man has already appeared in a handful of games, but none have fared particularly well with critics. Licensed games based on the first two Iron Man movies were met with a lukewarm reception, while his standalone Iron Man VR was criticized for being too repetitive despite the innovative flight mechanics on display. Then there was Marvel's Avengers, which ultimately failed to live up to expectations. The game has a narrative that felt more like an afterthought, with the focus instead being on the game as a live-service experience with repetitive loot grinds. The Avengers don't feel or play differently enough when compared to each other, which is odd considering they all have unique fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses.
Iron Man isn't poorly done compared to other teammates in the game, but the level design doesn't favor verticality, with most levels being enclosed arenas that don't fit with Iron Man's penchant for flight. To its credit, the game does present Stark with a range of combat abilities accommodating both long and short-range. While he is far from the worst thing about the game, playing as him in Marvel's Avengers just doesn't give the player that feeling of becoming Iron Man.
It doesn't help that the game has no strong antagonist for Stark to face off against. Iron Man is at his best when he has a target to stand toe-to-toe with, while perhaps cracking one-liners. The upcoming Iron Man game needs to feature a strong villain, or cast of villains, who are able to match Stark both physically and intellectually, and push him to his limits as Thanos did during Avengers:Infinity War.
It can sometimes be hard to disconnect Marvel's superheroes from their MCU appearances. The actors portraying them have inevitably made it difficult for fans to see other takes as definitive, but the best Marvel games, such as Marvel's Spider-Man and the more recent Guardians of the Galaxy, are able to carve out their own versions of these heroes. EA Motive must attempt to create its own Iron Man free from Robert Downey Jr.'s shadow. If it can do this, while taking on the best parts of the games that have come before it, the next Iron Man project could very well be his best showing yet.
An Iron Man game is currently in development.