By now there’s probably more than enough snappy Tony Stark quotes immortalized by Robert Downey Jr. that you could make an entire review of Iron Man VR just lifting from the movies.
But, reflecting upon the newly launched PSVR-exclusive’s technical performance, I can only think of one line from an iconic scene in Civil War: “You’re in dire need of an upgrade. Systemic – top to bottom.”
Iron Man VR is a brilliant, brilliant game. Its combat is some of the most intricate and thrilling you’ll find in VR today and its story goes to great lengths to cover new ground for a character that’s been pretty thoroughly explored over the past decade and a bit. But, like the Mark 1 armor that saves Tony from captivity, it can also be rusty, clunky and requires a lot of patience. It’s clear from playing even the game’s first mission that Iron Man VR is pushing PSVR and the PS4 to their limits, and that we’re way past due for a new model.
The game’s loading times, for example, are numerous and lengthy; a thrilling opening setpiece that sees Tony suit up mid-air is brought to a screeching halt as you transition from Stark to suit, and every time you die you’ll be waiting around a minute to get back into the action. The PS4 is trying desperately to keep pace with developer Camouflaj’s ambitions but ends up often squandering that of the action and storytelling.
Some environments, too, are on the unsightly side; a visit to Shanghai, China recalls PS2-era architecture. It’s undoubtedly the best that can be done to get a wide-open area running in PSVR with long draw-distances, but even then some of the game’s combat sequences see the framerate drop on a standard PS4, which is the first time I’ve noticed that happen after Sony’s reportedly rigorous Q&A process.
It’s the headset itself that puts up the best fight; Camouflaj’s impressive 360-degree design somehow manages to work despite PSVR’s traditional tracking limitations. But it’s not perfect, and the Move controllers still make for a mental minefield when first getting to grips with the game. Plus, after two play sessions I took my headset off to discover that the PSVR headset I’ve kept well-maintained since launch day now has twisted, mangled wires from the amount of turning; something you don’t see on wired PC headsets.
All of this is a sign that developer’s aspirations are outgrowing the limits of the aging PSVR headset. The console has had a fantastic 2020 thus far, with Iron Man, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, Paper Beast and other great games whetting our appetite while we wait for Dreams, Pistol Whip and Star Wars: Squadrons, but it’s clear that in Tony Stark’s latest adventure — one that was supported and published by PlayStation itself no less — the system has met its match. Anyone that wants to go above and beyond Iron Man VR will need a better foundation.
Fortunately, it seems like more stable footing is nearly here. Sony’s PS5 boasts near-instant load times thanks to an onboard solid-state drive (SSD) and an increase in horsepower might make only slight differences for traditional games, but could do wonders for the scope and polish of VR titles. Comments from Sony’s R&D division, too, suggest that a potential PSVR successor could be wireless, or at least provide that option (follow everything we know about PSVR 2 right here). Bundle all that in with revised controllers and expected updates to tracking and screen resolution, and you have a headset that could well make a gigantic leap forward.
That promise has me looking forward to hopefully revisiting Iron Man VR on new hardware just as much as I eagerly anticipate a sequel. PS5 launches this holiday season and will support the original headset, but we’re yet to see what else Sony has in store for the future of VR.
Iron Man VR is available on PSVR now.