Held captive in a cave by soldiers armed to the teeth with weapons of his own design, Tony Stark ponders his fate. Faced with the ugly truth about the world he has helped create, he resolves to turn his genius to other purposes. Stark constructs a high-tech suit of armor and becomes Iron Man, embarking on a quest to ferret out the evil fueled by his creations and salvage his shameful family legacy. Iron Man, a game recently released in conjunction with the feature film, parallels Tony Stark's plight. Born in the dark, dismal cave of movie-based video games, Iron Man tries to construct an armored suit of exciting third-person action that will capture the speed and power of being Iron Man. Unfortunately, it's all the game can do to muster a few low-altitude thrills over the course of this ho-hum adventure.
Iron Man begins in the cave where Tony Stark constructs the rudimentary rough draft of what will evolve into the iconic hot-rod red and gold suit. After his escape, the plot diverges from that of the movie, following similar themes while pitting Iron Man against a host of enemies that fans may recognize from the comics. Levels are bookended by cinematic cutscenes that generally show a little bit of character interaction and then a lot of Iron Man flying hither and yon. Only Robert Downey Jr. and Terrence Howard have lent their voices and likenesses to the game, and their performances, like the cutscenes themselves, are adequate.
Actual combat is a different story. Iron Man's foes, though quite numerous, are not very mobile, skilled, or motivated. Soldiers, trucks, tanks, and helicopters alike are quite content to hang out in one spot while shooting at you until you've got a moment to pop over and blast them. Your repulsors and rockets will get you through most of the game, but you'll want to bust out your Gatling gun on any and all soldiers and mow them down while resisting the urge to cackle with glee. On the few occasions that you do succumb to enemy fire, you'll have the chance to self-defibrillate with a brief, timed button-press challenge. If you succeed, you're back in the battle with no consequence; if you fail, you'll lose one backup power cell. Losing all your backup cells will result in failure of the mission, but Iron Man is so hardy and the self-defibrillation is so easy that you'll have a tough time dying.
If your foes begin to get the best of you, you can always reroute auxiliary suit power to your armor to toughen up. Rerouting to weapons will change your repulsor attack to the Unibeam, a powerful laser that takes a few seconds to charge up. It's fun to bust out on occasion, but the slow charge time will keep it from being your go-to gun. You can also boost your propulsion system, which will ramp up your flight speed significantly. Boosted flight is one of the more entertaining endeavors in Iron Man, but chances to fly at high speeds are few and far between. Unlike its Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 counterparts, the PlayStation 2 version of Iron Man (along with the similar PSP and Wii versions) does not feature very many wide-open spaces, and a good portion of the game unfolds in indoor spaces where your afterburners are disabled. This increased linearity actually works in Iron Man's favor because levels feel more varied and less repetitive than in other versions. Iron Man is as much a superhero inside a building as outdoors, after all.
Unfortunately, indoors or out, Iron Man is not a pretty game. Enemy models and explosions are a half step above two-dimensional, and draw distances for bigger environments are woefully short. More attention was paid to Iron Man's various suits, but even those efforts were not very successful. The graphics are most effective when you're flying at high speeds, largely because that's the one time that the pervasive blurriness is actually a positive thing. It's hard to feel like much of a superhero with such lackluster visuals.
Iron Man sprinkles some variety into the combat mix in an effort to break up the constant hover-and-shoot action. Melee attacking certain vehicles will let you trigger a grapple attack, which rewards your button mashing with an amusingly destructive animation. This is fun to pull off a few times, but you'll soon slide back into halfheartedly dispatching foes with your projectile weaponry while they halfheartedly return fire.
Halfhearted pretty much sums up this version of Iron Man. Enough effort was put into the gameplay and graphical design to keep it from crashing and burning, but not enough to inject it with any sort of life or appeal. Superheroes are meant to inspire you to do great things, but Iron Man will barely inspire you to finish the game.