The fighting genre has typically been about one-on-one contests. Occasionally, you see it try to break out with something a bit bigger than that, though the results have been mixed over the years. Four-player fighters, like Super Smash Bros. and Power Stone, may not have had the complexity of a more traditional fighter, but they provided some fighting game thrills without much of an investment. But once you go over four players, the air gets a little thin. So far, the only game to pull off the concept is One Must Fall: Battlegrounds, a little-known PC game that allows up to 16 players to duke it out online. Iron Phoenix tries to pull off a similar concept--16-player online fighting--but with its surprisingly awful fighting mechanics, busted-up frame rate, and bare-bones gameplay, Iron Phoenix is just a colossal waste of time.
Selecting a character in this weapon-based fighting game is a two-step process. First you select a fighter. These fighters range from demonic-looking humanoids to regular ol' men and women, and each is ranked in a few categories that give them slight differences in speed, power, and stamina. After that you'll choose which weapon you want that fighter to wield. This offers you more of a choice, because it's the weapon in your hand that determines your moves, though most moves (such as each character's lethal strike) are done the same way. Each weapon also has an elemental affinity, as well as stats, such as speed.
The game has a handful of arenas to choose from, and two more are available as free Xbox Live downloads. These arenas have somewhat of an impact on the game, since some have walls to hang from, while others offer multitiered environments, and so on. Some of these arenas tie into the game's challenge ring mode, which is a one-on-one battle mode that plays out like a rocket arena battle, where players duke it out in separate fighting zones and wait in spectator mode while other fights finish up.
The game offers a training mode to teach you some of the basic movement techniques, but it's not much more detailed than the manual is. Your only gameplay options are to play online or offline. There's no dedicated single-player component and no story mode to work through. If you play online you play against humans. If you play offline you play against idiotic bots. Ultimately, there's not much difference, though human players seem to be better about not just randomly running away from you or standing still for no good reason.
When you get 16 fighters in one arena, the action becomes nearly impossible to follow. You can lock onto an enemy to focus your attacks in one direction, but when all the fighters come together, it really doesn't matter. The game does have a combo system of sorts, but it's also somewhat viable to mash on buttons. Considering how hectic and choppy things get when the action heats up, it barely matters what you're actually doing.
The frame rate in Iron Phoenix is one of its worst problems. When many fighters get on the same screen, the frame rate goes south fast. If you toss all of those fighters into one of the game's shallow-water backgrounds, it tanks even harder. With fighting games relying on things like timing, having a frame rate this busted makes the game unplayable. The rest of the graphics aren't so hot, either. It supports 480p, but that doesn't save the character designs and backgrounds from looking bad. The game's soundtrack and effects are some of the game's high points, though in this case, high is relative. The sound doesn't really stand out in any way, and the speech in the training mode is weak.
Without a competent fighting system, Iron Phoenix is already a subpar game. But when you slap on all of the game's technical issues and a real lack of variety and content, it goes from bad to worse. Even if it were available at a lower, budget price, Iron Phoenix isn't a game worth playing.