Iron Danger is a real time tactical combat game inspired by Finnish folklore. The game’s main feature is a time control mechanic. With only a limited amount of health and items, players will lean on their ability to control time heavily to avoid damage and erase bad decisions.
The story follows Kipuna, a young girl who is the only survivor of a Northlander attack on her village. During her escape, Kipuna is impaled through the chest with a crystal that has imbued her with magical abilities. Now, Kipuna is on a quest to assemble all the crystals and use that power for good amidst a brutal war between two nations.
Iron Danger’s story is very good. While the game is too short for epic world building, the writers take a relatively familiar fantasy setting and make some adaptations to make it their own. This gives a little more time to focus on character building. Combined with the excellent dialogue, the result is an enjoyable adventure with a lovable cast that have relatable moments.
Iron Danger bills itself as a tactical combat game where players are able to control time. Fans of tactical RPGs will be instantly familiar with much of Iron Danger’s combat. Players control two characters at a time. Each character follows some RPG archetype, such as the caster and the tank. Each level consists of a map with a certain goal. Unlike an RPG, Iron Danger does not award experience or equipment, but rather offers players a range of upgrades after specific maps.
The time control mechanic is game’s focus. The mechanic counteracts the player’s low health pools as players can fix bad decisions and pre-emptively dodge or block enemy attacks. While the game advertises itself as a mix of real time and turn based combat, practically speaking, combat is turn based with all characters taking their turns simultaneously. One turn or heartbeat is equal to half a second of real time. The actions of the player’s two characters are listed on the bottom timeline, which should be familiar to anyone who has used video editing software. Players are able to rewind back a limited number of heartbeats, so while short term implication of a certain action is meaningless, the long-term consequences still remain.
The combat is enjoyable, but it does not always feel tactical. Oftentimes, I found myself having to fiddle around with different actions until I could figure out the correct combination of moves to beat the encounter. Luckily, I found the long bouts of frustrating experimentation happening once or twice per map. The ability to roll back time makes combat feel more puzzle-like which isn’t a bad thing, but it may be a different from what people would expect when they hear “tactical combat game.”
The level design in Iron Danger tends to be linear and on the small side. The larger maps usually have one or two side areas to explore with a few consumable items to help the player out, but the emphasis is not on exploration. While combat is still the main draw, there are a few smart puzzles in the game to break up the action. My only gripe with the level design is the tiny levels for story purposes. They are treated the same as other maps which cause some unnecessary load times.
The controls are decent, but there is room for improvement. Actions are assigned by clicking on the character’s timeline and selecting the desired action, then time is moved forward, and the action is executed. If the other character has no action queued, they will simply stand still, and player will need to rewind time to set up the other character. It’s the most annoying part of Iron Danger’s controls. I would have preferred the game automatically jump back to the character with no action queued once an action is selected for the other. The other main issue with controls is pathing for traps. Without the player manually selecting a nearby safe spot then clicking on a trap to pick it up, characters will often run right on top and set it off.
The visual experience is solid, marred only by a few minor technical details. The art style is cartoony but is restrained with smart use of light and dark colour schemes. The UI can get cramped once players have a lot of skills and items on the bar. The graphical options are extremely spartan as players can only set resolution, fullscreen or windowed, and graphic quality from a vague low to very high. The models, textures, and animations look good except for an odd stutter when characters sneak around.
Iron Danger’s audio is very good. The sound effects and soundtrack are enjoyable to listen to. The voice acting is excellent as the actor deliver strong performances. All major dialogue is voice acted, leaving only minor banter as text.
Iron Danger is a hard game to describe. The genre isn’t quite a tactical combat game, but it doesn’t fit the traditional definition of a puzzle combat game either. Regardless of typology, Iron Danger is a unique take on RPG style combat that is easy to pick up. The story and audio/visual presentation ties the experience together nicely. While the game has some flaws, the well executed time control mechanic makes Iron Danger worth a try.
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