Puzzle Strategy game Ironcast billows onto PS4 soon. Both Sean and Ross tag-team the game for our review;
Sean Davies – Review Editor
After playing 2 very disappointing games in the past fortnight, I felt the dreaded “gaming slump” setting in. You probably know the feeling. Looking over your games thinking “I don’t want to play any of these right now” and when you do eventually choose something to play, switching it off 10 minutes later to put Netflix on instead. I threw out a desperate plea for game recommendations to the rest of the PSGamer team and Ross stepped up as my White Knight, riding in on his trusty Steam Tank, with a suggestion of a game I really wanted to try. “I’m reviewing Ironcast at the moment” he said, “It’s pretty good. Give that a go”.
I’d heard some positive whispering around the internet about developer Dreadbit’s first game but when I read the synopsis, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. “Ironcast is a turn-based *shrug* match-3 *sighs* rougelite *rolls eyes* steampunk mech *excitement builds* combat strategy game *Yeeeessssss!*”. It’s a real mash of ideas and mechanics that I couldn’t imagine forming together into a good game. Well, It turns out that these contrasting ideas *really* work and Ironcast is one of the most refreshing games I’ve played in months.
“Ironcast is one of the most refreshing games I’ve played in months”
Ironcast is set in a steampunk war-torn alternative version of Victorian era London where steam-powered mechs AKA “Ironcast’s” are the most powerful weapons on the battlefield. In the games fictional world, Britain has been embroiled in a long, drawn out war with the French which has recently started to escalate. The game commences as the French launch a massive offensive on London, killing off the majority of the British Ironcast pilots in the process. You play as one of the last remaining British Ironcast operators who must repel the invading French forces, led by legendary Ironcast pilot René Durant, before they can reach the centre of the capital.
Boiled down into its purest form, Ironcast is a game about spinning plates. Each Ironcast mech has 4 systems – 2 weapons (either projectile or energy), a drive (the mechanism that makes the lumbering mechs walk and makes them harder to hit) and a shield system (that restricts the amount damage taken from enemy attacks). Each system costs something to use. Weapons cost ammunition and coolant to fire. Drives and Shields cost energy and coolant to activate. This is where the match-3 game mechanic comes in. Each type of symbol on the board of play represents a type of resource. It’s your job to decide which resources you need and to claim them by chain together as many as you need or suffer the consequences. Run out of ammo and you will be unable to fire on the enemy. Run out of energy and you leave yourself vulnerable to enemy attacks. Run out of coolant and your Ironcast can over-heat, causing damage to your hull. It’s deceptively strategic, constantly forcing you into making difficult decisions. Do I collect coolant and raise my shields or do I let my Ironcast overheat and fire as many shots at my foe as I can in the hopes I can destroy them? Can I get away with my current movement speed or do I need to up my drive in the hope that my adversary misses their next shot? It’s the risk and reward of spinning plates in a turn-based match-3 format that is surprisingly fun.
I was pretty sure I was done with “Rogue-likes” and Roguelite games. It’s a genre I have overindulged with over the past few years and was quite happy to spend some time away from but with Ironcast, it’s such a subtle inclusion that it didn’t turn me off. The main campaign of the game spans across 20 missions which can last between 2 and 4 hours dependent on how long you mull things over. The initial 9 missions are all in preparation for the first boss fight which occurs on the 10th day/mission. For each of the 9 set-up missions, you have a choice of 3 quests to choose from that have a variety of different game types – Salvage, Battle, Collection, Survival and Trade – each which offer their own pros and cons. Collection and Trade missions are easier paths forward but often represent a lower reward meanwhile Survival missions are far more difficult but often grant access to better weapons and more resources. There is also an RPG element thrown into the mix as you level up your Ironcast using XP earned from missions and matches as well as “Scrap” that can be used to buy better weapons or defences.
The first time you play Ironcast, it will be damn near impossible to complete the game. You start with a balanced Ironcast that will likely get you through 3 or 4 campaign missions before the opponents become too difficult and blow you into tiny steampunk-mech chunks. This is where the roguelite mechanic steps in. “Commendation Marks” are a resource that can be collected during the Match-3 sections of Ironcast and are the only thing to carry through to each of your attempts at the campaign. Collect enough of these Marks and you can spend them on persistent rewards like different Ironcast’s, different Pilots, Health, XP and Scrap boosts and even new abilities which will help you progress further on subsequent campaign plays. The more of these rewards you purchase, the easier it is to progress further in the campaign. Then you meet the 1st boss – René Durant.
The first time you manage to last till the 10th day in Ironcast, it feels like an achievement. Having spent hundreds of Commendation Marks (or by simple, seat-of-your-steampunk-pants luck) to get this far, it’s a real sense of relief to get a crack at fighting René Durant and what you would think would be the end of the game – only what awaits is a mammoth task. I won’t spoil anything but the first boss and its proceeding missions are uncompromisingly tough and will require some incredible patience or a sound strategy (which is more than likely at odds with what got you to the 10th day of the game in the first place) to even have a chance at completing the game. It’s where the game takes everything it has and throws it at you at full steam-powered force and for some, this will be the moment where you shut down the game forever and never return to it – but for those that persist, there is a real feeling of elation waiting at the end of the game.
It’s worth mentioning that, even though I have a mild dislike of the steampunk aesthetic (I think it’s something that is overused these days), Ironcast is quite restrained in its use. The games visuals are entirely hand painted and give it this Victorian sci-fi vibe without looking tacky or overdone. It’s a smart art direction that’s very pleasing on the eye.
And then there is soundtrack. Full of brass pomp and bassy rhythm, it adequately matches the games theme and pace. It’s also very catchy. One particular track has been stuck on repeat on my brains internal jukebox for the past week – and I don’t really want it to leave.
“Ironcast’s crescendo finish might be too much of a test for some players”
It was a relief to play something I enjoyed this week and Ironcast was the perfect remedy for my looming gaming slump. It’s a refreshing mix of game genres and mechanics that somehow fit together like strawberries and cream or chocolate and fudge. It’s strategic depth and re-playability are its biggest draws however, offering around 25 hours worth of play time that will slip by as if they were minutes. Ironcast’s crescendo finish might be too much of a test for some players as the game takes some liberties by introducing difficulty spikes the size of Blackpool Tower and one of the game’s mission types, Collection, needed further balancing (missions can be over before anyone has taken a shot) but the game is such an enjoyably taxing and pleasurable romp that it’s easy to lose entire afternoons to it without even noticing.
Rossko Keniston – Games Editor
When I saw the trailer for Ironcast it was something I never thought would appeal to me. It looked like a game that was better suited on my iPad than my PS4 behemoth. The premise was interesting, I’m all about steampunk – cheers for that, Dishonored – but the gameplay looked a tad dull. Mechs meets Columns? I don’t need it thanks.
Then the code came in, and I got my hands on it…and woah, did I feel stupid.
Of course, Ripstone are pushing this one out the door and I’ll play anything they tell me too. I’ve no doubt that their focus on quality is one of the reasons I took an interest in checking this out, and was pleasantly surprised that the game turned out to be as interesting and as fun as it was.
As you can see from the Let’s Play above, Ironcast is about using your lack of resources to your advantage. The ‘3 and out’ technique of ensuring you’re using your ammunition, protection and health in the correct amounts becomes a game of mental arithmetic, imagining a hundred different scenarios in a small amount of time took up most of my time playing Ironcast, and when they came off it was instantly gratifying.
An aspect of the game I really enjoyed was the dialogue between the lead protagonist and the commanders. The voice over work isn’t anything spectacular but can be hugely improved by simply doing it yourself (see the Let’s Play above, I made myself laugh many a time and I’m not sorry about that). The conversations are witty, sharp and reminds me of Futurlab’s incredible Velocity 2x in terms of wit. Ironcast isn’t hugely built around its narrative but I certainly enjoyed the writing.
From the screenshots, Ironcast does look a little overly complex. In reality, it’s the complete opposite. I knew Sean would be intrigued by this as it can be difficult near the end and it will give him incentive as he always looks to prove himself in these kind of games. I’m far more intrigued by action games (and terrific Pool simulators) but as I said before, Ironcast is all about gratification. When the choices you make pay off and the mech standing to the right of you is downed thanks to your quick thinking in simple to understand turn based combat. You can hear on the Let’s Play I was cheering and wooping when things went my way. Sure, I was playing on early levels but that I worked it out with little confusion was enlightening.
I went in thinking this game was going to kick my ass and instead it built me up and was surprisingly straightforward to pick up. For a ‘turn-based-combat-mech-based-steampunk-shooter-strategy’ (!) game, it is a great game to play to ease you into more complex strategy titles that do the rounds, and will appeal to the sci-fi in you when you want to play something a little bit different. The game looks great and uses colour very well, which works in its favour as a contrast to the somewhat drab backgrounds of a war torn Victorian London.
Go give Ironcast a shot, you’re gonna find a challenging but deeply rewarding title that has exceeded this old critics expectations. I’m looking toward to seeing what Dreadbit do next.
Ironcast is available now on PC via Steam and launches on the PS4 (version reviewed) on the 1st/2nd of March and the Xbox One on March 4th.
Ironcast was reviewed as part of Sean’s quest to play and complete 52 games in a year and to write something, nay, *anything* insightful about each one AKA the #52Games52Weeks challenge. You can catch up on his progress so far by visiting the links below:
Week 1 – X-Men: Destiny
Week 2 – Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
Week 3 – LA Noire
Week 4 – LEGO Marvel’s Avengers
Week 5 – Nubla
Week 6 – Albedo: Eyes From Outer Space
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code by the publishers