When Ironcast was first announced, my mind went straight to, oh not another match 3 puzzle game, but the more I saw of Ironcast, the more I was intrigued and now I am happy.
Ironcast is set in a fictional version of England, during the late 1800’s, when it is at war with France, the war has come to a stalemate, neither side is gaining any ground, though for the war to be won, technology had to be improved and now both sides have Ironcasts, large pilot driven machines, capable of immense destruction. You take on the role of a pilot, dsad and work alongside the leader of your faction to help your side win in combat, each mission you take is different, not only from the objective, but sometimes you are not even required to win. The missions can be difficult, but more often, it’s about how you approach things that really define the difficulty and as the game offers permadeath, once its game over, it really is game over.
Each mission you undertake, happens as a mix of a match-3 style and turn based strategy style, combining the two means that you are always having to think about all your moves and not just the next one. Each decision you make is weighted by the power you have access too, if you want to fire either of your weapons, then you need to have ammo, but you also need to have coolant, if you wish to walk or raise your shields, you need coolant, but also energy to power the Ironcast. The combinations can be confusing at first, but once you learn and understand how each of the four elements are tied together, you can make some very cool movies, this of course, then leads into the other side of the equation, taking on your enemy.
Every Ironcast, your own included, has four targetable points, the two weapons, the drive shaft and shield generator, each can be targeted to deal more damage and help provide you with an edge, take out the enemies shields and they can’t defend against your attack and so on. Each move you make can be repeated by the enemy, so you will also need to ensure that you are repairing your Ironcast’s abilities as you can. Therein lies the games strongest point, but also its weakest, the match-3, that takes place within the middle of the screen, as the gems that fall are random, you need to ensure that each time you can collect, you make the best of what you are given. However, there were times when I would be only a few attacks off destroying the enemy, only to have myself killing time until I had enough purple shot gems, fall into a place where I could match them.
You are able to match only two if you like, but the more that you can match, the more gems you get and also the more XP you can earn, which is important, as you need to level up, in order to gain more health for your Ironcast. The reason why that is important, is that between each level, your Ironcast does not automatically repair itself, you need to do that and that draws in the other aspect of the game, levelling up your Ironcast’s abilities. Each Ironcast has a set ability from the start, along with weapons and such, but as you progress and level up, you will unlock blueprints for new weapons, drive and shield systems and more, adding them to your Ironcast will give you a stronger advantage in any fight to be sure, but the cost of building them, comes form Scrap, which is also what you use to repair your Ironcast.
Give the risk and reward style of option that Scrap presents, I found myself not actually upgrading anything but my weapons, purely due to lack of Scrap. You earn some when you complete each mission, if you destroy the enemy Ironcast, you will earn more, but sometimes between what you earn, you may not have enough to repair and upgrade after the mission, so deciding what to use your Scrap on is going to take a lot of thought. The gameplay that is offered is very deep, there is no denying that, but with multiple systems at play, some gamers may feel overwhelmed with things to try and manage, even adding an auto repair for an easy time, will help a lot of people out.
The game has a slick presentation, the design of the world and the Ironcasts is very much Jules Verne inspired, but not heavily taken from, there are touches of Steampunk throughout, thankfully again, not too many. The result is that the world blends a few styles together and thankfully, manages to create its own, without looking like baby’s first steampunk game. The pilots are only really seen in the little chat sections before and after battles, but each has enough personality that sneaks out, to help set them apart, if only just. Of course, for any game that has giant machines used in combat, they are going to take a lot of attention, the overall design blends giant boilers and mechanical legs, but with each look, there are more details to find, a nice touch.
Audio wise the game is a little bit of a letdown, the music, what there is never grabbed me, in fact I can’t recall a single tune from the game, not a good thing. The Ironcasts themselves are suitably heavy in how they sound, giant clanks and whirs as the machines move around helps sell their weight. The pilots and base commanders don’t speak, just come through as garbled chatter, which helps keep bad voice acting from ruining things. The biggest issue with the game is the load times can be on the long side, initial loads being the worst, but once you are in, things move a lot faster.
Ironcast is a fantastic puzzle and strategy game, it offers players a variety of ways to approach each mission, but as you are dependent on the right gems falling at the right time, it can feel like at times, you are simply spinning your wheels.