Iron Danger Review – I’m Out of Time
Iron Danger25th March, 2020
Have you ever seen the film Frequency, starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel? I'm not asking for any particular reason other than I recently re-watched the film and I like it. Actually, there is another reason, Frequency - like Iron Danger (read my earlier preview here) - deals with a very loose interpretation of time travel. In Frequency, there's a radio that can talk to itself thirty years in the past, or future depending on your perspective. In Iron Danger, a magical shard has embedded itself into a character's chest, letting her move back ten heartbeats.
There's a little bit of a plot hole here though. Surely, in a fight, her heart would beat faster meaning you can't travel as far back time-wise? I know I'm overthinking it, I just think that developers Action Squad Studios would have been better basing the game's core concept on seconds, not the beating of a heart, if only for the sake of not having a pedantic git like me writing this paragraph. Pedanticism aside, what do I actually think about Iron Danger? It's alright.
So Iron Danger is a real-time tactics game with a twist. It's not an RPG as others would have you believe (does anybody actually know what game genre's actually are anymore? Silly Steam tags). This twist is the aforementioned time-travel aspect. The main character, Kipuna, gets impaled by a magical shard after falling down a hole when her town is attacked by the Northlanders. This shard gives her magical powers to travel backwards and forward in time for up to ten heartbeats. For the purpose of this review, I'll now be calling these steps.
Alongside her ability to move backwards and forwards ten steps, Kipuna also has the ability to throw fire at her enemies, as well as enchant her allies' weapons with fire. These are the first of the powers obtained by Kipuna, with the story moving along to find five more shards, providing more abilities to Kipuna. The story also features the Northlanders, who couldn't be more stereotypically 'bad guy' if they were dressed in Scooby-Doo ghost costumes. You'll find a few more "did they really do this" tropes as well.
So, what I'm saying, is that the story isn't great. It's not bad either, but not great. For the most part, I've found myself engaged thanks to the dialogue. The core characters are pretty entertaining, even endearing to a point. The voice acting makes this all the better, with it actually being much better than I imagined it would be. The audio design overall is pretty damn good, with everything from the bolt of an arbalest and the explosion of a grenade, to the chill of a newly formed ice wall sounding great.
All of that works in line with the colourful aesthetic. Iron Danger is a colourful game, giving off a comic book feel. The design of the characters, enemies and more all lend to this too. The game hasn't got the most detailed of anything really, but this isn't really an issue due to the style choices that developers Action Squad Studios has gone for.
So all this talk about the story, sound and visuals, but what about the gameplay? So I can't help but really like the whole time-travel step-based combat. Or, I should say I want to really like it. For the most part, I do, but there are occasions where I'm asking myself what the developers were thinking. The actual combat is great, you're facing overwhelming odds and through trial and error, a lot of it, you're going to prevail.
The problem I have is that the game is infuriating in how much it doesn't want you to enjoy the mechanic. You'll stop time, rewind a few steps and choose a new action. The game starts back up again and everything keeps moving again. It doesn't make sense to me, particularly since you have two characters, that the game has to restart time every damn time, making you then go back to your other character and rewind another number of steps just to organise your moves. It's a little too repetitive and, honestly, it seems designed just to use up more of your time.
That wouldn't surprise me because at the end of each level it tells you how long you've taken in the game and also how long it would have taken if the moves that eventually happened all occurred in real-time, not including your take-backs and so forth. So yes, the concept of time travel and how it plays out is something I really like, it's new and it's interesting. How it controls leaves me feeling frustrated a little too often.
Which is a shame because, on top of the time travel mechanics, the game also has a group of features that let the game stand out tactically. For example, casting a fireball on an enemy in longer grass will cause more damage as the grass burns around that enemy. Maybe you want to use a roundhouse kick on an enemy, knocking them into a fuel canister, which you then ignite at the right moment by using the time travel to perfect the combination.
Each character you encounter and get to use have their own list of skills, usually fitting into a general class stereotype. At the end of some missions you have the option to improve and rank up certain skills. All of these contribute to the wide number of moves and combinations to be found in Iron Danger, including some that can result in unexpected laughs like combining an explosive attack with a fire-enhancement. Talk about something blowing up in your face!
Actually, talking about something blowing up in my face. I think sometimes I'm either a little too smart or eager for the game and it's trying to punish me. That or it's just buggy. I've had characters disappear into buildings and cave walls. I've had moments where the game has literally buggered up in a way that I've had to restart whole levels. As a matter of fact, these level-breaking bugs have cost me at least one and a half hours.
Two examples that come to mind are a battle where a magical force field appears around a tree, only it appeared with me outside of the forcefield ensuring I couldn't do the battle and also the game wouldn't let me call an elevator required to progress the level. Another thing I want to complain about, but isn't a bug - just a strange design choice - is the camera. I just find the thing to be too unwieldy. Controlling the camera with just the left mouse button just feels wrong, especially when it starts getting caught up on scenery.
As negative as a lot of this review has been, I do still think Iron Danger is an enjoyable enough game. It's made all the more enjoyable by the innovative time travel system as well as all of the other little features around. It's a very reactive world and the combat is made all the more enjoyable by the fact that there are so many tactical options. It's just a shame, then, that there are level-breaking bugs, that the camera is such an unwieldy beast and that the story isn't really anything to write home about. At least the characters are personable and enjoyable to be around.
PC version reviewed. Copy provided by the publisher.
Iron Danger is a compelling real-time tactics game that's held together by its core feature and a few interesting characters. Sadly, the story is bland other than a few interesting characters and while the core gameplay elements result in a strong tactical game, the controls frequently frustrate and impede the fun you can have.
- Interesting core game mechanic
- Full of good tactical elements that add to the fun of the battles
- An enjoyable cast of core characters
- The story is a bit bland with boring side-characters & villains
- Controls for camera and the core mechanic are niggly at best, awkward and annoying as hell for the most part
- Some mission-breaking bugs have a big impact on the game
- No real replay value