The Nardio Game Review
IS IRON MARINES WORTH YOUR TIME?
HOW IT PLAYS AND WHY IT FAILS:
Ironhide Games is getting greedy.
Iron Marines spent so much time winking, nodding and copying other games it forgot about making itself memorable.
This is a huge disappointment.
Iron Marines may very well be the biggest gaming disappointment of the year for me. The campaign is short, frustrating, forgettable and, worst of all, not fun. It spent so much time making winks and nods at Starcraft, yet manages to totally ignore what made Starcraft fun. Had this game been made by any other indie company it would have worse reviews. As is, Iron Marines is riding on the coattails and goodwill of Ironhide’s better games. Part of why I finished the game instead of tossing it to the side was because I really wanted to believe it would get better. I really had hope Ironhide Games would turn it around. Unfortunately, Iron Marines just wasn’t fun.
Boring Level Design
The game is one long slog of punishing linear levels. And yet I never felt that moment of achievement. Just relief that it was over. The difficulty wall at level four was a slap in the face. Early on you realize this isn’t a game about strategy. It’s about grinding upgrade points to make your pitifully weak heroes and units usable. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more to do, but Iron Marines only has a handful of levels to play. This makes the grind boring and punishing. There is no variety. No room for strategy!
The more I slammed against these poorly designed levels the more I felt like Iron Marines was pushing me to spend gold on one-off items to make it through the levels. This, in turn, felt like it was trying to get me to buy gold with real cash or earn a pittance by watching video ads. This might be OK in a freemium game, but Iron Marines cost $5.00.
It felt so wrong to be treated this way by a developer I held in such high regard.
The prominent in-game shop was the constant anchor weighing down the experience. The more and more you deal with woefully under-powered units and cheap level design, the more you feel like the developers are telling you to grind or spend IRL money. It’s maddening and disappointing. Every level has a flat amount of gold and XP you can earn. No matter how you perform, you get the same meager amount. Sure later on, after an insane amount of grinding, you can get a tiny bit more, but that’s it. It’s the same story with techpoints, which you need to progress along the overly complicated and drawn out tech tree.
Iron Marines is not a strategy game, It’s about dealing with unfair level design and grinding.
The more I played, the more linear the levels became. Towards the end, it just became about numbers. Sure, I squeaked by, but I never felt in control. This is based off of Starcraft, a game that gives you control and the ability to play as you see fit while still offering a rewarding challenge.
Maybe, if Iron Marines didn’t present itself as a glorified, mobile, second coming of the greatest RTS of all time and instead spent the time and resources developing its own world this would have been sort of OK. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
From its promotional art to the way the units look, move and speak, Iron Marines angles itself as a mobile Starcraft. Sadly, it just plays like a freemium knock off.
Sure as a game reviewer I knew I should be playing the game on its own and not comparing it to Starcraft, but with the nearly cloned races, enemies and structures, I couldn’t get the comparisons out of my head. I couldn’t let go of how horribly wrong it felt in comparison to the original game that Iron Marines was trying and failing to emulate, clone and or pay tribute to.
I feel bad for newer players that play this mess and think it’s anything like Starcraft.
This is a shallow, disappointing lazy bastardization of a much better game.
It isn’t until you invest thousands of hard-earned techpoints into the convoluted tech tree that your playable characters feel right. When levels start to feel fair. Hell, some even start to feel interesting. You can even start playing around a bit with unit formations. But by that point, you have already beaten the game. There’s really no reason to replay levels unless you want to go through other difficulty modes.
I only played this long to see what the units and the game was like without having to think about the tech points. Unfortunately, it still felt wrong. The game became a mixture of too easy and still frustratingly cheap. Bosses, are just poorly designed. Off screen snipers felt as out of place as ever. Endless enemy hordes still felt stupid. The insane inability to move your bases or build structures freely felt even worse.
At max level, with heroes and units, the game felt less cheap, but sadly, still not fun.
Thankfully I didn’t have to keep replaying this mess to power up my units. Early on I found a way to farm gold, techpoints and xp in one of the poorly designed levels. Thanks to that I was able to become powerful enough to deal with the punishing later levels. Sure, some levels require a very, very specific strategy to beat, but they also demanded a certain amount of skill points to ensure survivability against the cheap enemy attacks.
Or you can just buy and spend gold for one off poorly explained items to deal with the many, many, many situational and unfair threats.
This isn’t a balanced game. This isn’t a good game. This feels as if the game designers wanted to make life as hard as possible for its players and force them to turn to one-off consumables or watching ads for pitiful amounts of gold. It was a slap in the face as a long time fan of Ironhide Games. It was a joke that they dared make this game in the likeness of Starcraft.
Sure, I understand that game devs need to make money. I know this is a company with permanent employees, but the heel-turn from a company that made premium games, to premium with the ability to spend more if players so choose, to this, is sad and frustrating. I have zero desire to buy any additional heroes. The few that I have unlocked don’t feel interesting. They don’t change up playstyle enough. They don’t make the levels feel fresh. I don’t see why I would buy additional heroes for this game.
The art is good. Levels have lots of pop. As per always, there are hidden winks and nods to other sci-fi and game stuff. Units look good and the enemies do as well. Unfortunately, they mostly remind you of other games. Sure Ironhide’s Kingdom Rush series borrowed a LOT from Blizzard’s Warcraft games, but they still added enough flair polish and uniqueness and story to make it an experience that was its own. Iron Marines doesn’t. There is almost zero story in-game and the art just screams mobile clone.
The sound design teeters between good and annoying. There are useful sound effects and then there is audio clutter and pollution. Iron Marines suffers badly from the latter.
I need to once again mention just how painfully short and linear Iron Marines is.
The first “world” is just eight story missions long. I use the word story very loosely there. Then there are six side missions. 14 levels may sound like a lot, but they are so linear and short that it’s a shallow experience. The second “world” only has six story missions and 4 side missions. Without a coherent story, Iron Marines felt like a patchwork experience lacking substance.
Levels aren’t even that replayable. Again, with the liner complaints, I know. I know I sound repetitive, but so is this game! You just HAVE to replay them to grind gold and technpoints. Unfortunately, Ironhide doesn’t really offer enough variety or challenges to make replaying levels worth it. It’s just a grind. A soul-crushing grind to get techpoints to upgrade your units. After so much time grinding, I just became salty over the whole affair.
Besides being an annoyingly cheap and punishing boss, you have to deal with horrible references to horrible movies…
I beat Iron Marines on normal difficulty and a few of the missions on impossible. Honestly, there isn’t enough there to make me want to replay everything on impossible. It’s just not fun. I don’t care about the achievements and the rewards for completing said achievements are pitiful.
I beat Iron Marines the day after it launched and besides grinding for gold & techpoints a bit to max things out, I barely touched it since. Honestly, it wasn’t really a grind. I wasn’t actively playing. I just used a level that was so poorly designed I could set my units up and forget it until it was time to collect my meager rewards. Part of me just wants to delete it off my iPad to save space, but I really don’t want to replay the damn thing all over again when Ironhide eventually adds content to Iron Marines. I never, ever felt that way with an Ironhide game before. I never just dropped, ignored and forgot about any of the Kingdom Rush games.
If this is the direction Ironhide Games is going to move with regards to their work, count me out.
I’m not promoting this.
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