Earlier this week, I posted some pretty exhaustive first impressions of Iron Marines ($4.99), and consider this review a continuation of that article. In it, I cover most of the basics of the game and how various mechanics work. To avoid endlessly repeating myself a bunch, I’d recommend going back and reading that as this review will mostly confirm suspicions that I had and answer questions about the game’s monetization methods which have been fairly controversial in our community.
Real quick, the basic gist of the game is that Iron Marines is the closest thing that I know of to a mobile version of StarCraft that you can play on your iPhone or iPad. Take a universe that leans heavily on inspiration from StarCraft, add in a great touch interface and simplified base building that feels a bit more like a tower defense game, and you’ve got Iron Marines. Mission types are straight out of what you’d see playing a single player RTS game and have you doing things like conquering different parts of a map, defending objectives, rescuing other units, and many other things. It’s sort of wild just how much variety the different levels have.
The first hour of gameplay, which is where my first impressions stopped, left me with a few big questions. See, much like Ironhide’s other titles, Iron Marines is a premium game which as of this writing is selling for five bucks. Inside the game, however, there are quite a few IAP options. The App Store has more or less programmed my brain to assume there’s going to be some kind of pinch point in any game that gives you the ability to buy multiple currencies where you’re either going to need to pay up, or else. After playing a ton more Iron Marines, I can say that point never came.
It seems like Iron Marines doles out a constant supply of credits, and while you certainly won’t have enough to spam the consumable weapons every time you come across an enemy, you get enough credits that you shouldn’t really feel shy about firing off some special bombs if you’re really in a bind. Similarly, the way the techpoints end up panning out for filling in your tech tree, unless you really just want to boost your progress there’s no reason I can come up with to buy additional points- Particularly considering unlocking the game’s tech tree of persistent upgrades feels like one of the major overall progression paths in the game, so you’re effectively paying to skip playing, which seems odd.
There’s a whole host of unlockable hero characters, ranging from (again, as of this writing) $2.99 to $6.99. It’d be easy to assume that the more expensive hero characters would be way more powerful- Game breakingly powerful even. For the sake of science, I forked out the $6.99 hero, Mark X, and then replayed some of the levels I found to be pretty challenging. They were still really tricky, and it certainly wasn’t like suddenly I was steamrolling the game. Certain hero characters might have abilities that situationally can be better, but it doesn’t seem like a $6.99 character is distinctly better, or more powerful, than the freebies.
The problem comes in with the feeling that if you’re ever losing it’s because you’re not spending money, which is somewhat inescapable in a game which is both very challenging and offers you the ability to buy your way out of problems. I wouldn’t consider myself that great at RTS games, but the normal difficulty is challenging enough to be fun for me. At times it’s surprising just how much micromanagement of your units is required to clear normal difficulty maps even, but once I got a good handle of the game and its mechanics I can confidently say that any time I was failing missions was because of a strategic error I was making and not because I hadn’t spent. If you’re having trouble with normal, just kick it down to easy. There’s no shame in that.
Really the only thing I can come up with to complain about the game is that I really wish this game had some kind of checkpoint system in maps. I tend to take things very slow and methodically in RTS games, and many maps have multiple phases you need to get through. Any failure, at any point, sends you right back to the beginning. I usually mitigate this when I play PC RTS games by saving often, and if things start to go pear shaped I can just go back a bit and rethink things. In Iron Marines, it’s all or nothing. If you fail at the very last segment of a map after playing potentially for quite a while, you start back from the beginning. It feels unnecessary, particularly in a game that seems to punish micromanagement errors so severely.
Other than that, Iron Marines is a very, very good game. It seems like some sort of checkpoint or save system that makes failure feel a little less brutal would be a simple modification, but even without it, the game just forces you to be careful with your decisions. I really doubt StarCraft, in any form, will ever come to the App Store, so provided you can put up with the slightly cartoony art style of Iron Marines, this is definitely the next best thing.