I have to say, when I first saw the announce trailer for Marvel’s Iron Man VR, I wasn’t exactly blown away. Now that I’ve actually had a chance to try the game for myself, my tune has totally changed—there’s huge potential for this to be an excellent VR game, thanks to innovative flying mechanics which really channels the feeling of unrestricted flight in the suit of the iconic hero.
Iron Man is of course known well known for the ‘repulsors’ on his hands and feet which offer both propulsion for flying and act as laser-like energy weapons. The studio behind the title, Camouflaj, has clearly spent a lot of time figuring out how to make the core flight mechanics feel awesome. They achieved that through a combination of immersive input (thrust is dictated by the direction the repulsors on your hands are facing) with enough assists to keep things comfortable while still making players feel like they’re in total control of where they go. The studio has also smartly designed the system to work in full 360 degrees (which is normally just about impossible for PSVR games), which further lets players get lost in the fantasy.
When I got to try the game for the first time recently, I started out with some flight training which, after just a few minutes, had me zipping and zooming around a waterscape full of sea stacks.
To fly forward, you put your hands behind you facing backwards, which directs the thrust backwards and thus sends you forward. To gain altitude you angle your hands downward. To fly left and right you can of course point your hands side to side, and to turn you just rotate your body.
After getting the hang of it, the whole flying thing just feels awesome. I was able to maneuver my way between the sea stacks at high speeds, banking turns, gaining altitude quickly as needed, and even forcefully shedding altitude by putting my hands over my head to thrust downward as I threaded a few needles.
The flight system has been smartly built so that it’s capable of working even when players are rotating in 360 degrees, away from PSVR tracking camera. It seems this is achieved by designing the flying mechanics to constrain the range of possible motion so that IK can be employed when the camera loses line of sight of the controllers. In practice, the system that made this work felt invisible as I was playing (aside from the occasional funky arm movement) and I had no sense for what my real-world forward direction was (whereas knowing the forward direction is essential in many other PSVR games). Because I didn’t have to worry about where forward was, I ended up being more immersed because I stopped considering the outside world.
Combat also ties nicely into flying. Because you have lots of momentum as you jet around, you can lay off your thrust for a second and bring your arms forward to aim your repulsors. In practice, especially when you’re moving at a steady clip through the air, the best approach seems to be to get yourself on an upward arc trajectory with some downward thrusting, then put your hands up in front of you to shoot your repulsors as you clear the climax of your arc, before pulling your hands back behind you to keep flying.
There’s also a flying punch attach which allows you to zoom forward quickly to smash opponents with your fist. This works by holding a button to prepare for the punch and then doing an actual punch gesture in the direction of your intended target. It feels a little heavy on the auto-aim, but is ultimately successful in making you feel like Iron Man putting the hurt on the bad guys.
My flying and fighting skills in Iron Man VR were put to the test in an action sequence which started with me as suitless Tony Stark on a private plane. After some story banter in the cabin, an enemy drone blew the side of the plane open, launching me out in the process.
And if you’ve seen any of the Iron Man movies lately, you can probably guess what happened next—I’m free-falling toward the ground and reach my arms out as pieces of the Iron Man suit come flying out of the sky and snap onto my body. First it’s the left hand, then the right. Then a big chest piece comes crashing right into my chest, and last but not least the helmet. I’ve gotta say—as someone who has no special affinity for Iron Man—the sequence did make me feel like a total badass.
Once I was suited up and flying, I immediately went in pursuit of the damaged plane which was careening through the sky with Stark’s confidant, Pepper Pots, still on board. As I approached I had to fight the malicious drones which were responsible for the attack in the first place. The whole battle took place with the falling plane as the centerpiece, and it felt quite convincingly like I was keeping pace with the plane as it cut through the sky, even though I was maneuvering around it while fighting off attacking drones.
Aside from blasting (and punching) the drones, there were also a few scripted moments where I had to land on the plane’s wing or come up underneath to fix some damaged part. Thanks to the fun flying mechanics, making a slick landing right onto the plane did feel really cool.
After the flying, fighting, and fixing of the plane, I eventually pulled Pepper from the falling wreckage and saved the day.
It was a lot of fun, and the experience made me feel like Iron Man VR has a ton of potential. It’s too early to say how it might turn out (the game is set for a release sometime this year) but what I’ll be looking for going forward is whether or not the game can create enough variety to keep things feeling fresh. The feeling of flying and the action sequence with the plane was pretty awesome, but it’s going to take more than that (or similar scenarios) to extract the most fun out of a really well crafted set of VR flying mechanics.
For the studio’s part, they say that Iron Man VR will tell its own unique story, and this is something they’re spending significant time on. They’ve also said that players will unlock upgrades to enhance the Iron Man suit throughout the game.