I’ve been an avid fan of anime for about eight years now, and I’ve seldom been bored with what I’ve seen. I’m a fan of the sci-fi genre of anime, such as Bubblegum Crisis, Appleseed and Vandread. When I saw the title of the download, Iron Combat: War in the Air, and found out that you controlled a mecha unit, my anime nerd senses tingled and I got a little excited. However, that excitement ended very quickly.
What struck me as odd is the fact that there’s no anime introduction. You know the kind, that cool intro where all the characters are displayed in a kick ass setting beating the crap out of someone. Instead, you’re forced to read through quite a lot ridiculous exposition. I can’t say much about the story, as I’m convinced the script was about four pages long, but I can say that’s it’s paper thin and completely uninteresting.
In Iron Combat, you play a woman who volunteered to become a mechanized weapon to help fight in a war that’s meant to bring peace. The world is divided by two mega corporations, and both are at war with each other. Both corporations are trying to command the world in order to establish their version of peace. It’s your job to ensure victory on the battlefield so your corporation can bring some stability to the world.
Along the way you’ll meet your handler, Selen, who will keep you updated regarding mission parameters, enemy locations and anything else that she thinks is useful. You’ll also meet your rival, who is the only other “mecha-weapon” in the game.
Like with most games, the first stage is the tutorial. However, this game almost throws you in the deep end, right from the start. Learning how to use the controls is a bit tricky at first, but I found it quite easy after 30 minutes of trying. You have two forms: the mecha, which is used for combat and the jet, which is used for flight. The great part about Iron Combat is that it nails the importance of both and balances them perfectly. Jet mode allows you to travel much faster and is the only form that can change your altitude. It can also shoot bullets, a charged shot and homing missiles. The mecha form allows you to shoot rapidly at an enemy with some homing ability, also shoot homing missiles (but with a reduced range), dodge incoming fire and slice enemies to pieces with a blade.
Combat is rather fun in small doses, but what really kills the mood is how easily you die. You see, the enemies also have homing missiles and they’re damn good at following you. They’re also very powerful to boot. Dodging missiles can only take you so far before you screw up and lose a massive chunk of health. Now, I can handle a little bit of death here and there, but when you lose repeatedly on one stage, then you know a game is really trying to test you. The enemies aren’t particularly difficult to kill, you just happen to be really fragile.
Difficulty aside, the one other issue I had with the game is the lock-on system. It does a good job of locking-on and the aiming is very good, but the problem is when you’re trying to change your target. For some reason, the auto-target picks the furthest enemy to lock-on to. Sometimes you have to travel from one end of the area to the other just for one unit, and you’ve passed about two groups of enemies on the way. It might not look like a pain right now, but the inability to change targets cost me many stages. A lot of the time the enemies are bundled together, firing off two missiles each. Picking them off one by one should be easy, but when you’re dodging bullets, shooting and trying to see where the hell your enemy is, chances are you’re going to muck up and get hit. Now, you can change targets, but it doesn’t always work. I’m not sure if this is a bug, but I’d press the change target button and half the time it just re-locked on to the same target. How irritating.
It doesn’t just end there. Graphically the game is as boring as dry white bread. Everything looks very bland, even the menu design. Certain missions take place in canyons, urban settings, etc., but if you try to fly near it, you’ll see a force field that keeps you contained in a certain area. This force field sort of makes a giant box, and that box is where you’ll do all the aerial fighting. Because of the box, there are no obstacles you can use against you opponents, or to make the flying interesting.
One portion of the game that feels totally underutilized is the upgrades. At the end of each level, you’ll be awarded with points. These points can be used to buy new upgrades for your character. The upgrades don’t look significant. Most of the time an upgrade will improve certain stats and downgrade others. This forces you to weigh up some options, but ultimately feels redundant.
Selen, who is one of two people that actually talk in the game, is voiced in Japanese. Normally I’d be fine with subtitles, but since she only speaks during missions, it’s a little difficult to read subtitles when you’re trying not to get killed. I’ve had to replay quite a few missions to make sure that I read everything that she said, as it’s the only window into the story. An English dub would’ve been much better for a Western release.
Iron Combat: War in the Air isn’t an easy game to play. The controls are easy to learn and the flying is actually entertaining, but the huge difficulty and bland visuals really brings this game down. You can replay all 20 missions in Free mode, buy all upgrades and even try to earn all the flight records (similar to trophies), so there is some form of replay value. In the end, I was more frustrated with the game than anything else. A wonderful story would have offset the frustration of the game, but there wasn’t one. Sadly, I don’t see many people enjoying this game. It’s like eating 2-minute noodles with a pair of scissors and no flavouring.