In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I saved the world from weaponized televisions using a walking bipedal trench.
Oh Double Fine, Double Fine, Double Fine, why do you taunt me so? The ideas around your games are so good. They are always funny, look great and filled with style…its just the game-play that lets them down most of the time. Even their magnum opus Psychonauts was mediocre, at best, when it came to the game-mechanics. Iron Brigade isn’t much different, sadly.
I’ll start positively, as the hilarious premise deserves to be lauded. At the end of the Second World War, two radar specialists come in contact with something called “The Broadcast” and have sudden inspirations that change war forever. Woodruff invents the “Trench” which allows disabled soldiers to fight, whilst his friend Vlad invents the television and becomes obsessed with connecting the world together with his networks. He quickly goes mad and creates “Monovisions” which are robots that both destroy everything and spread Vlad’s ‘broadcast’ through the land. It is up to you, Woodruff and the Mobile Trench Brigade to stop him. It is like a short story that a deranged early twentieth century pulp magazine would tell. If there is one area that Double Fine are unparalleled in, it is coming up with unique and funny settings for their games.
The Trenches themselves look great (you can see your avatar on top gesturing which is a nice touch) as they tower over the battlefield. You could almost imagine them being made in the 1940s by some fevered mind. But the Monovisions are pretty generic. They all look like blue/red salamander things and end up merging together into one homogeneous mess. The arenas you fight them is are also quiet bland. Yes, being based around World War Two means that, much like Sniper Elite, there will be lots of brown and green but that is no excuse. Yes there were a couple of more colourful levels based around the Pacific, but there wasn’t enough to make up for it. I’m sure the DLC Epilogue, Rise of the Martian Bear would solve these problems to a degree as it is based on Mars, but I didn’t enjoy the game enough to play it beyond the first level.
There was something about Iron Brigade that really put me off the more time I spent with it. For those who don’t know, it is a tower defence game mixed with a third person shooter. Although, unlike more traditional Tower Defence games, it is much more free-form. This is something I actually think is a bit of a problem caused by the boring maps. The Monovisions run in a straight line towards the objective which made me build all my “towers” in the general area of whatever needed to be protected. There was no point of moving away from it because you have to vacuum up the currency yourself, or build a tower that does it for you, so its easiest to let them come to you. It ended up being a boring experience, for the most part. Iron Brigade wasn’t a long game, but I was totally done with it before the end.
There was also something about the game that was fairly annoying to play. I think it was the obvious focus on multiplayer. There were several maps that were clearly designed to be played by two or more people. So, since I didn’t have anyone to play with, the lack of any sort of variation on the difficulty to make up for the fact that I was playing it solo really grated. Protecting more than one objective (especially when they are far away from one another) against waves of the most annoying enemies almost made me put my fist through my monitor. Especially because the Trenches, although fun to shoot and to even move, are difficult to aim with any sort of accuracy. This makes all the flying enemies borderline impossible to hit. Killing everything by yourself whilst trying to rely on your emplacements, that actually feel quite ineffective more often than not, just wasn’t fun.
Out of all the Double Fine games I have played before coming to Iron Bridgade: Psychonauts, Stacking and Costume Quest…I think this game might be the most disappointing. It isn’t the biggest gap between style and substance, Costume Quest takes that crown, but it is the one which I expected to have the best game-play and was just left deflated by the end. I believe that if the game stops being fun when the difficulty ramps up, then the core mechanics are just flat-out bad. Iron Brigade is almost a perfect example of that theory when you are playing on your lonesome. If you buy it avoid playing by yourself as much as possible.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: God of War 2