Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ironfall: Invasion, or What Did You Expect for Free?

Like that other 3DS release Cubic Ninja, Ironfall: Invasion would have been quickly forgotten were it not for an exploit which opened the door to homebrews and other hacker hijinx. But Nintendo wasn't having any of it, and patched over IronHax in a recent firmware update. Now the game won't run at all until you download a fixed version which firmly nails that backdoor shut.

I never actually played Ironfall: Invasion just to, uh, play Ironfall: Invasion. However, now that it serves no other purpose, I figured that I might as well give it a shot. After all, the developers were kind enough to give it away. It was the least I could do, right?

Turns out the least I could do was a lot more than this game deserved.

Ironfall: Invasion by VD Dev is the 3DS's answer to Gears of War, but that was a gap in the system's library that really didn't need to be filled. The machine has neither the horsepower nor the audience for this genre, and the designers didn't have the skill or the inspiration to make it work. Nobody seems to know what they're doing or why they're doing it, and that ennui quickly spreads to the player, who wonders why they bothered to play it.

Visit our three star hotel, where the marble
is distractingly shiny and all the fixtures
are invulnerable to bullets!

Reviewers have described Ironfall as a tech demo in search of a game, and you'll see what they mean when you're dropped in front of a ritzy Indonesian hotel. It looks pretty slick despite the low resolution of the 3DS, but it doesn't take long before you get the nagging feeling that something is very wrong with the presentation. The playfield is disconcertingly empty and the heroes have a dead-eyed stare which makes you think they'd rather be anywhere else. Frankly, who could blame them?

Then the enemies arrive... not hulking monsters covered in armor and spikes, but the Dyx, androids with bucket-shaped heads. After absorbing way too much of your ammo, the unfortunately named robots explode into flaming chunks. You can't target specific areas to weaken them or just for the sadistic fun of blowing off limbs... it's the same death animation, every time.

The men are covered in battle armor.
The women... wear considerably less.
This, of course, is assuming you can even target your foes. The New 3DS and its dreadful C-stick won't make that easy. You aim with the nub (at least in theory), but the reticule doesn't respond to light touches, making you dig into the side of the C-stick with your fingernail and pull it toward (and past) your target. Granted, the Dyx are as indifferent about their jobs as Ironfall's developers, but they do take a lot of damage and tend to flank you from all sides. You can turn off the C-stick, but the touchscreen doesn't work much better for aiming, and you'll sacrifice the legitimately useful ZL and ZR buttons in the process.

Look, I'll be the first to admit that third-person shooters aren't my thing, but even a newb like myself can tell that Ironfall: Invasion doesn't measure up to its competitors... yes, even the ones on handhelds. I had issues with Killzone Mercenary on the Vita, but compared to Ironfall it shines like a diamond, with three times the detail and technique. The much-maligned Vita port of Borderlands 2 completely blows Ironfall away, even with its knack for crashing at the worst possible moments. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that Shadowgun for Android phones and Resistance: Retribution for the last generation PSP are superior to this. All of those games cost money and Ironfall doesn't, but if this is what free gets you, why bother?

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