I flip-flop constantly on whether or not Iron Danger is a good name for a video game. I’m coming around to the idea that it is. It totally is. On one hand, it doesn’t really make much sense. On the other, I love the honest exuberance of it, the realisation that for the game that has been made only Iron Danger will do as a title. It speaks to the souls of the people who made it – you have to be all-in on something to want to call it Iron Danger, game or no game, and I love people who are all-in. Nothing is sillier than being afraid to look silly, right? Iron Danger it is! (I am told it sounds amazing in a Finnish accent, too, and Finland’s where this glorious game comes from.)
And it works. This is a game filled with danger and iron and fortitude and difficulty and swords and steel and all of that iron-heavy jazz. I’m only about an hour or two in, but I think I’m properly in love. Iron Danger sells itself as a sort of RPG but really it’s a combat game with blades and axes and special moves that gradually unlock. It’s linear stuff as far as I can tell, and the story is pretty skippable. All fine with me. Where it sings is when you’re in a fight.
For reasons that don’t really stand up to much scrutiny you have a special ability in these fights. You can pause things when events turn against you – or even when they don’t I guess – and go back a few seconds, or “heartbeats”, to do something different. What this amounts to is a fantasy combat game in which you have a timeline along the bottom: it’s part Lord of the Rings and part Adobe Premiere. When you’re controlling more than one character you have two timelines. It’s wonderfully hectic.
I don’t know if you’ve played Superhot, the shooter where time only moves when you do, or that counterfactual Berlin game where you bomb around sexy discos in a Trabant (I promise that is a real game) but the feeling is pretty similar. First you get a rush of energy that something so brilliant as this exists. The game has handed you a restriction that feels like pure freedom! Then you basically retreat into your min-maxer inner state, into your armchair director, and you try to get the best out of each situation.
Different party members generally have complimentary skills. So at the mo I have one person who’s weak on defence but has a bunch of flame powers. I use her to keep people at a distance, but also to ignite my bruiser character’s weapon so it does fire damage. My bruiser character can block, so actually they spend quite a lot of heartbeats not doing anything, because they’re waiting for enemies to attack. They have to wait until the last second in this game and then – BLOCK! Perfect. Then give ’em a counter-shoeing before they attack again. Block needs a recharge, which means crowd-management, but hey I’ve got the fire-attack lady a way off so that’s taken care of.
When I make mistakes, things spiral very quickly. You don’t have a great deal of health, at least in the game’s opening, which I’m still exploring. But because of this I quickly settle into a sort of speculative violence mode – will this work? Will this? No? How about this? I feel like a dabbler, like I’m window-shopping for head injuries.
At its very best you get a bit lost in here – you’re three moves ahead with the fire lady and you forget that they’ve now killed off the people who previously would have killed the heavy guy, so he’s not doing much except fighting against enemies who are no longer there because in this wrinkle of time they’re already dead. What you get, ultimately, is a game that lets you work through a bunch of drafts of fights until you finally edit together the fight that you want.
Where does it go from here? In truth, I hope it doesn’t go too far. New skills, new enemies, increasingly complex variations – that’ll do me. That will be enough to dig out what’s truly great about this premise. That will be true Iron Danger.