For a game with an abstract concept, Iron Wars is oddly specific about certain things. The protagonists of this arena-style twin-stick shooter, for instance, are emphatically identified as “futuristic iron balls”, not to be confused with the garden variety.
What exactly are futuristic iron balls doing gallivanting around a stone maze, mine shaft, or wood clearing? How are they operating what seem like fairly conventional handguns, machine guns, or grenade launchers?
A long story short
Well, if the Campaign mode had any semblance of a plot, these questions and many others might have found answers. As it stands, it’s just a parade of re-tooled multiplayer maps - and by ‘re-tooled’ we mean perfectly identical, but with AI bots.
To its credit, the marriage between classic arena FPS level design and top-down twin-stick mechanics that Iron Wars attempts isn’t exactly commonplace.
Unfortunately, it’s one of the few areas of the game exhibiting any imagination.
The inordinately familiar three game modes - Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Domination - work as well from a top-down perspective as they would in first-person.
We need guns, lots of guns
Gameplay itself lives and dies by the auto-aim feature, which, considering the ridiculously tiny projectiles you have to work with is more of a necessity than a convenience.
Fortunately, the diminutive bullets as well as the impeccable virtual thumbstick implementation lend themselves to some skilful bobbing and weaving, making evasion at least as fun as shooting.
As with any good arena shooter, map control is your first priority, as knowing where the nearest shield, health pack, or grenade launcher lies will spell victory or defeat more surely than the quickest trigger finger.
The skilful AI asks for no quarter and certainly doesn’t offer any.
In fact, the AI will not only ambush you and beat you to the best weapons, but it'll also take advantage of high ground and hunt for health packs when hurt.
The only thing letting the AI down is the level layout, which mostly funnels you into one on one duels instead of interesting three-or-four way shootouts.
Eyes on the prize
High-resolution environment textures and detailed ball animations manage to dress up the simplistic models just well enough for the game not to look like a college graduate’s degree project.
Décor is similarly basic, with little to no effort spent on anything not directly contributing to gameplay.
The framerate also seemed to drop frequently and significantly on our HTC Desire Z review unit - never to an unplayable degree, but often enough to annoy. It’s probably better, then, that no online multiplayer component was included.
Iron Wars takes the strengths of two popular genres and expertly melds them together with aplomb. But, despite the barebones presentation and basic single player Campaign, thoughtfully crafted mechanics make the Iron Wars well worth fighting.