Review: Ironcast (PS4)

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Title: Ironcast
Format: PlayStation Network Download (309.8 MB)
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Ripstone LTD
Developer: Dreadbit
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E10+
Ironcast is also available on Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Ironcast is a roguelike match-three game set in an alternate 1800s. The year is 1886 and England and France have been locked in a war for the last decade. After years of stalemate both sides developed powerful war machines called Ironcast. These twenty foot tall bipedal machines are powered by volite, a powerful energy source that caused the war in the first place.

Gameplay:
Ironcast is a roguelike with permadeath. The player battles, repairs, and upgrades last until their Ironcast is finally destroyed, ending that campaign. Fortunately, this match-three is not a true roguelike.

After each campaign the player is rewarded with commendations for their effort and success. I will talk more about the commendations later but I wanted to mention them here because they are part of the gameplay loop.

Each campaign is an opportunity for the player to learn more and, thanks to the commendations, to become armed with new abilities and strategies. All of this makes the player feel like they are making progress in the game even though they are starting over with each campaign.

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After starting a new campaign, the players go to the map and select their first mission. There is some mission variety, even though most involve fighting an enemy Ironcast. Missions vary from fighting one enemy, fighting two enemies back-to-back, surviving for so many turns, and defeating an enemy without damaging a certain system.

Of course, to keep the pressure up, there is a turn limit that the mission must be completed in. There are even a few missions that involve no combat at all.

… a great way to turn the tide …
Combat takes the form of match-three. There are ammo, energy, coolant, repair, and a few special gems that can be matched at any angle. Combinations of these gems are required to activate one of the four systems of the Ironcast, Weapon A, Weapon B, Drivers, and Defense.

You can also target one of your enemy’s systems. If your enemy’s health bar for Weapon A is reduced to zero, then they will not be able to fire that weapon until it is repaired. Crippling a system on an enemy Ironcast is a great way to turn the tide in battle.

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Some weapons are not very effective against shields. Crippling the enemy’s Defenses will stop them from being able to deploy a shield, leaving them open for a massive attack. It should be noted that repairing will repair that system but not repair the overall health of the Ironcast.

After each mission is complete, the player earns XP based on the difficulty of the mission and on how well it was executed. If you earn enough XP to level up, you get to select between one of three random abilities and augmentations.

… the success or failure …
It can be frustrating when you have three or four abilities and you are on your third campaign of the night. It becomes hard to remember what abilities you have and which ability is which. In between missions you can scroll over your abilities and augmentations to see what they do but it would be really helpful if players could do that during battle.

Besides XP, the player is also rewarded with scrap after every mission. That, and any scrap the player manages to match together during battle and how it is used, will determine the success or failure in the rest of the campaign.

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Any damage sustained to your Ironcast in one battle will be taken into the next battle. So the player can use the scrap to repair the Ironcast or buy upgrades. Since this is a roguelike, the campaign ends if the Ironcast is destroyed, yet your Ironcast will not survive long without any upgrades.

You will constantly be weighing the risks versus the rewards. Do you use your precious scrap to give your Ironcast a little more health? Do you risk going into the next battle with half health and save up for that big weapon upgrade?

Speaking of upgrades, picking the right ones can really be important. Players can upgrade their Ironcast max health, increase the capacity for one of the gems, add new weapons, new drives, and new shields. Having an Ironcast with powerful weapons is not enough if it has weak shields and not enough ammo capacity to fire those weapons multiple times.

… a huge spike in difficulty that comes out of nowhere …
Eventually, your Ironcast will be destroyed. But before you start all over again on your next campaign, you’re rewarded with commendations. These allow the player to unlock new commanders, Ironcasts, abilities, augmentations, and boosters.

All of these give you a leg up in the next campaign. Each commander has their own special ability and each Ironcast has a different specialization. By unlocking new commanders and Ironcasts you’re opening up new ways to play and new strategies to try. Best of all, if you’re having some success in your campaigns, the commendations came at a fairly fast pace.

I love games with hard bosses, but Ironcast is not like those games. It is not a matter of being underleveled, missing some piece of knowledge, or skill. The bosses are simply a huge spike in difficulty that comes out of nowhere.

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To even have a chance against a boss you need to be decently overpowered for the few missions before the boss. The boss missions are also much longer than normal missions. Maybe because most missions are short I never noticed how unfair the random number generator can be at times.

There were times when I had shields and drivers maxed out and I was still being hit for massive damage. Yet I was barely making a scratch on the boss when it wasn’t moving and had no shield.

… not much going on graphically …
Other times, there was a huge imbalance of the gems that were on the screen. You do have to manage your gems but it’s hard to have any sort of success when you go turns without being able to match up a certain resource.

And because Ironcast is a roguelike, it takes time and it isn’t easy to get back to a boss. Spending all the time battling your way back to a boss for what seems like an unfair battle quickly dissolves any allure of the game.

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Visuals:
As you can see from the screenshots throughout this review, there is not much going on graphically. The background of the battles are generic buildings that lack detail.

Sometimes the building is on fire and sometimes the sky is covered in haze from industrial furnaces burning coal. Some of the buildings are brick and others stone. The diversity is limited.

Beyond the background, there are the animations for the Ironcast. It can fire primary and secondary weapons as well as walk. Besides these few animations there is not much else going on.

… some desperately needed life …
Audio:
The chorus rises and falls with the intensity of the game. At times, the music can contribute to the pressure that weighs on the player as they analyze their do or die situation.

What really stands out here are the sound effects. Throughout the game you’ll hear the sound of the gears clanking together and turning. This is assisted by flashes of other noises common to many steampunk games.

Then there are the spurts of crackling and sizzling electricity that spark as power tries to flow through the damaged Ironcast. The sounds effects by no means make the game stand out but do give some desperately needed life to the world. There is no voiceover and all of the game’s story is in text form.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Ironcast is a match-three that is also a roguelike that adds layers of strategy to differentiate itself from the majority of other match-three games. Yet, it does not take advantage of the PS4.

There is nothing special about the graphics and the entire story is in text. The lack of detail in the world and lack of voiceover in the game ultimately leaves the whole thing feeling bland and boring.

There is nothing in the lore driving me to fight for my beloved England. This is an alternate 1800s with twenty foot tall machines. How is the lore and world anything but awesome? Ultimately, I am left wondering why Ironcast is on the PS4 and not smart phones.

Boring lore and world aside, the mechanics and strategies are the heart of Ironcast. Every campaign you are learning more, when to be aggressive and when to hold back some resources for the next turn, what upgrades to work best for your play style, and how long you can wait before repairing your Ironcast.

Using the commendations gives the player new commanders and Ironcasts to experiment with. At the same time you are unlocking new abilities and increasing the overall HP and XP of the Ironcast that you gain from missions.

Ironcast really nailed the gameplay loop. Despite having to start a new campaign every time I was destroyed, I really felt like I was making progress in the game. That is, until the bosses. The unfair and unbalanced boss fights quickly turn the game into a repetitive grind and remove all enjoyment from the proceedings.

Score:
6.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Matt Engelbart

Matt Engelbart

I love all things video games. When I am not gaming I am watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, BBQing, and reading.

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