Iron Danger Review25 Mar 2020 0
Iron Danger Review
Released 25 Mar 2020
Sometimes, you grab a game completely randomly and it turns out to be good! That doesn’t happen too often, but it happened now. I’d be very happy to recommend Iron Danger to anyone who wants a light fantasy romp with more time-bending shenanigans than Doctor Who. The story takes place in the land of Kalevala, a title which screams “FIIINLAAAND!” even before you discover the first healing sauna room. Queen Lowhee and her northerner slave armies of tech-thralls are the threatening the good people of this fantasy land.
One such raiding group just happens to demolish the town Kipuna, our protagonist, grew up in. She would have died here if not for a shard of Auralith, a mysterious ancient device. Said shard allows Kipuna to briefly rewind time… among other things. Now, she has to collect the other bits and beat the northerners.
Flip it and reverse it
Iron Danger is a tactical timeline-abuse game. Kipuna’s major power is to reverse the flow of time, allowing her (and whatever single companion she has at that point) to avoid death. It also enables her to time her attacks right and cause all sorts of mayhem.
Once any of your characters gets hurt or when combat starts (or you press “X”), you enter the 'trance' mode. While in it, each character has to be controlled individually and their every action is recorded on their own timeline. Each action takes up one or more “beats” - half-second intervals. So taking a single step is a single beat, though some naturally move further than others. A melee attack is usually three beats and so on. This is similar to the mechanic used in John Wick Hex.
While beat blocks always align neatly, the effects of their actions don’t - after all, the interactions in the world are physical. So when Kipuna takes a sword to the face, it happens because she was in the way at that point, and not because Sword Attack dictates that a hit is to be delivered in the middle of beat.
Also, now that you know that Kipuna’s going to suffer the Sabre Special, you can go back down the timeline and prevent it. Maybe you’ll have her use the beat where she got smacked to dodge. Maybe you’ll reroute the other character to intercept the enemy. Who knows! The world is your timey wimey oyster.
Oh, and Kipuna feels every time that she dies and remembers each companion's death she prevented as well. This is how it is in fluff - in terms of gameplay, the mission debrief screens shows your run time vs. the length of the eventual “real” timeline, as well as how many times each of the characters died. A bit of good writing there.
There’s more to spells than fire (but I didn’t say so)
But there’s more to Kipuna than gamified save scumming. Each shard also gives her magical spells - by the end of the game, her toolbar will rival that of a World of Warcraft character. The first shard gifts her with fire. The first spell lets her set an object ablaze - it’s one of the few instant, hit-scan attacks. Fireball sets stuff on fire in a more exciting manner, but it’s not instantaneous and it can be dodged. And there’s also a buff that sets your or ally’s weapons a flame as well as granting fire resistance.
Just don’t cast those spells while Kipuna is hiding in tall grass or standing on a patch of oil. This doesn’t tend to end well, just like Lemichen firing explosive arrows when the fire enchantment is on. Now that’s some attention to detail!
In contrast, Kipuna’s companions are a lot more limited. They usually rely on their physical powers, and they have a much smaller toolset to work with. This may become a problem at times when you run out of the good stuff and only have basic attacks. Seeing how those are a) short range and b) none too powerful, you won’t be too hot on using them. There’s some variety in that the game sets your companion for you. It prevents the creep of 'the right choice', but their individual tool sets could use some expanding.
That is not to say that there’s no power development in Iron Danger. The game doesn’t feature experience points or any such systems. Instead, after you finish a mission, you may be given the chance to upgrade one of your characters (and, very rarely, both). This means making one of your abilities or powers more powerful - substantially more powerful. It’s stuff like adding damage to an ability that didn’t have it before, removing tradeoffs, increasing speed and so on.
A simple example of this is Topi’s - the first companion’s - Taunt ability. Normally, it just draws aggro. Upgrade it, and it also boosts your allies. So this goes from being a utility power of dubious use to a buff that just happens to also draw aggro. Imagine what happens when you upgrade the fireball!
Looting and foraging
Your characters may also collect items, but it’s a very simple system: each character can collect anything they can collect up to a set maximum. For example, everyone will be lugging around two barrels of oil, a pair of fuel canisters, and a triplet of grenades. There are also food items that heal or refresh your cooldowns. However, it’s the exploding stuff that’s fun. Combined with Iron Danger’s potential for stealth, you can set up an IED ambush for a patrolling northerner cyborg giant.
Oh yeah, the opposition. You’ll mostly be fighting the evil northerners. Clad in metal and bearing a monocular helmet with an evil red eye, they’re the hordes of faceless drones pouring in from the north. They range from pathetic mechanics (go down in one hit) to more regular fighters, to turrets, giants, officers and more. The more advanced enemies have more abilities and are more dangerous, of course.
Aside from that, you’ll encounter wild animals, hostile spirits and artefacts left behind by the ones that built the Auralith. Those precursor temples where you go to extract the shard feature some simple puzzles and almost always provide some variety to the game. Not that it lacks in it - Iron Danger has a good deal of missions (everything happens in sequence, so even a brief interlude on Kipuna’s ship has a mission start and end screen) that break up the pace, get you to know you characters better and so on.
And even the combat missions themselves are fun. They’re free form, in that you almost always have alternate paths to the goal, allowing you to approach any situation from many angles. Again, this is where the rudimentary stealth and the well-developed barrel-tossing mechanics come into play. Scout the enemy. Eliminate the stragglers. Shape the battlefield. Strike!
Ah, the great outdoors
And Iron Danger does this with some pretty nice visuals. When the world is bright and shiny, it’s bright and shiny. When the temples are dark and damp, they’re dark and damp. The only downside is maybe with the northerner designs, in that they’re a little boring. However, the art for text box portraits is great - Kipuna has several versions.
There’s also a surprising amount of voice acting done. Kipuna and her companions will share much dialogue, and you can feel the effort put into making each character distinct. Too bad the chatter that pops up during exploration isn’t voiced - it’s very easy to miss the speech floating above your characters. All in all, the sound in the game is good, even if OST isn’t a prize-winner.
All things considered, Iron Danger is a great game. It may lack the sweeping epic scope of others and the marketing budget of a AAA game, but it lacks none of the quality. It’s a fun romp in fantasy Finland, setting stuff on fire and slinging spells left and right. It’s like 2001’s Achron that actually works!