by Robert A. Jung
Atari Corp., for the Atari Jaguar
It is the year 2006. As foretold by the futurists, the political factions of Earth have been supplanted by the industrial conglomerates of tomorrow. Strongest of these is the Iron Fist Corporation, whose private army is slowly turning the planet into a massive military dictatorship. The few remaining free people have coalesced into a resistance group in hopes of stopping the hostile takeover. In a daring raid, the rebels have stolen one of IFC's Iron Soldiers -- a 42-foot-tall war robot. As the pilot of the Iron Soldier, you must lead the battle against the Iron Fist and their merciless assault.
Welcome to Iron Soldier, Atari's latest action-packed title for the Jaguar video game console. From a first-person perspective, you steer the stolen Iron Soldier through 16 different missions in groups of four, shooting enemies and leveling real estate in the name of liberty. You start off with only your bare metal fists and a giant assault rifle, though you can get more weapons by completing missions. The cartridge includes three difficulty levels, two continues, and the option to save the current game.
A number of "giant robot" titles have been written for various video game consoles to date, but none of them captures the sensation and the thrill as well as Iron Soldier does. The level of interaction in this game is simply amazing -- intercept enemy rockets, bludgeon warehouses, stomp tanks, and dodging behind skyscrapers are just some of the actions possible. You quickly stop seeing this as a game, and feel like you're truly piloting a four-story-tall war machine, complete with its lumbering gait and limitations.
That's not to say that Iron Soldier is difficult to control. The game manages to pack a wealth of options into a reasonable control scheme, and after a few minutes of play, it feels very natural. The default setup allows weapon selections with the keypad, and movement, attack, and speed controls in the joypad and buttons; advanced players can even walk in one direction while turning/firing in another. The targeting crosshairs are centered on the view window, which allows shooting and looking at targets all around, from high overhead to right at your feet.
The game is simply crammed with realistic detail and lots of subtle nuances. For instance, while the missions in the group of four can be completed in any order, some orders are easier than others. The Iron Fist enemies have widely varying tactics, from simple patrols to dodging around the landscape. While there's no randomization in the game, the higher difficulty levels add more enemies and makes them harder to kill. Up to eight weapons are available, though they can be mounted only on certain locations, and some cannot be used together. Weapons are reloaded and damage is repaired in battle by finding crates in destroyed buildings, though reloads may not always match your current armament. In the end, my only fundamental grumble is that only one game can be saved to cartridge at a time.
The visuals in Iron Soldier are among some of the best seen on the Jaguar, but fall a little short of being spectacular. Polygon graphics are used throughout, giving the game a very "virtual reality" look, with Gouraud shading and texture mapping giving extra detail on select items. The animation is beautifully smooth, though the screen refresh rate drops briefly when an explosion occurs directly in front of you. Buildings, enemies, and objects are easily identifiable, while extras like flying shrapnel and clouds of debris round out the sights.
Sound effects are nice, but could have used some improvement. Each enemy and weapon has a unique sound, allowing for quick identification, but there are no sirens or alerts for critical situations. Also, when the action gets very heavy, some effects are simply dropped, which is disappointing. A number of suspenseful background tunes play throughout the game; they're well done without being diverting, and are capped with a rousing title theme.
Iron Soldier is, quite simply, the best implementation of the "giant robot" theme in any video game to date. It accurately conveys the sense of piloting a massive war machine, and wraps it in an exciting and engrossing challenge. Throw in some nice graphics and sound, and Iron Soldier ends up as a delightful title that shouldn't be missed.