Ironcast Review

by

Go ahead, Steampunk. Mech my day.

Game: Ironcast
Developer: Dreadbit
Publisher: Ripstone
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review code provided)

Ah, alternate history. It’s all the rage at the moment, didn’t you know, what with Amazon’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Tower making a lot of waves. Into this strides (and clanks, and hisses) Ironcast on PS4, an adaptation of a game which hit Steam almost a year ago following a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s 1886 and England is under attack from France. War is waged by utilising the latest advances in technology – the Ironcast; a steam powered mech. But this is no Victoriana Mechwarrior, no sim or action game; get ready to join some gems – Ironcast is a Match 3 game!

No, wait! Come back! Get those images of Candy Crush Saga out of your head and replace them with something more akin to the combat based match 3 of Puzzle Quest. Want more variety? Add a little roguelike and permadeath into the mix and you have something that is quite unique.
Ironcast is practically overflowing with whimsy and “Englishness” from the well dressed mech pilots (all upper class tea drinking types) to the “penny dreadful meets H.G.Wells” art style, the only thing that seems remotely out of place is the overly dramatic music. Progressing through the story is straightforward. In 9 days, represented by single missions in the game, a deadly French baron will attempt to invade London in his mega Ironcast; it’s up to you to take on randomly generated missions, level up and grab as much loot and new abilities as possible so that you can take him down once he hits the capitol. Succeed in this and more missions become available with a twist in the tale.

As with any mech based game, a lot of the strategy comes from managing systems. There are four at play in Ironcast; two weapons, a drive system for mobility and shields. The weapons are obviously used to damage your opponent while drive is used to evade enemy shots and shields reduce the damage you take when a bullet, missile or energy pulse finds its mark. You use these systems by charging up reserves of energy, ammo and coolant from your match 3 grid, drawing lines between coloured gems to make combos of three or more. Your systems are then activated with a tap of the relevant shoulder button – using weapons drains ammo, drive and shields drains energy and both use coolant which, when depleted, will damage your mech. The trick, then, is finding the balance between gathering resources, preparing a solid defence and blasting your enemy, a tactical element in itself as you can target specific subsystems to shut down weapons, drive or shields. There are also other gems on the grid; repair which allows you to fix damaged systems, links which allow you to join two or more different types of gems together and overdrive which you can collect up to three of at any one time and increase the effectiveness of your weapons and systems. It’s a juggling act requiring you to keep an eye on not only the grid but your own systems health as well as that of your enemy. Joining gems and completing missions earns you XP – collect enough XP and you level up, allowing you to choose one of three “augmentations” which provide perks that affect your systems or the grid. You can only have 12 augmentations of various types in play at one time, so you need to make sure you’re prioritising the right ones to make the most of their abilities.

Between missions you visit your garage where you can repair your Ironcast’s overall health, manage your active augmentations and spend gathered scrap on researching new hardware for your mech to improve your systems. Mechanically it’s a simple game but the layers offered by different gear and perks, as well as the randomly generated missions gives it a surprising amount of depth. It takes a while to master; don’t be surprised if you find yourself succumbing to perma-death’s sweet embrace several times in the first few hours of play. Fear not, however; death comes with its own benefits! Earning XP gets you commendations; medals of honour which also occasionally crop up on the gem grid and can be gathered among gem grabs. These can be used between campaigns to buy new pilots and Ironcasts, as well as new augmentations and permanent effects such as increasing your base health or the capacity of your ammo, energy, coolant and repair reserves. As you play with the way the permadeath system works and start to understand the augmentations and tactics in play the most daunting encounters become more accessible and you’ll soon be powering through the invaders towards the final, mysterious boss battle.

VERDICT

Ironcast is an excellent game that can easily suck countless hours from your free time. You could argue that the basic mechanics get a little repetitive, but there is enough variety in the roguelike randomisation of missions to keep you coming back for more. While it plays great on PS4, it’s a shame there’s no Vita version on the horizon; these victorian mechs would make the perfect travelling companion!

9/10

Writes and produces films at independent outfit Shortorme Productions. Records music under the guise of Stage of History. Gamer since the days of the ZX Spectrum. Always on the lookout for something new and fresh.

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