Cold Iron, a multiplatform release for VR, promises a puzzle shooter experience. It’s also available on HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, but we’re reviewing it on Playstation VR with the help of a Move controller.
When I first heard “puzzle shooter in VR”, I couldn’t help but think about games like Portal, which would no doubt be great in VR with minor changes. Cold Iron turned out to be nothing like Portal at all, but it’s still pretty good fun and definitely in a sub-genre of its own. It’s heavier on shooting than it is on puzzling though, which shouldn’t be too surprising when you consider that this is a wild west gunslinger type of adventure.
Mainly consisting of ‘high noon’ type shootouts, Cold Iron has you facing off against a variety of enemies in gun duels where you don’t get to draw your gun until the bell rings. That sounds pretty straightforward, and initially it is just that – a case of ‘whoever has the quickest hands in the west wins’. It reminded me of that Mad Dog McCree experience that you could have in many of the videogame arcades of the early to mid-nineties, but in that game duels were just a part of a game that was mostly an on-rails shooter. I was quickly wondering how Cold Iron would keep the relatively simple procedure of the duel interesting without resorting to a reaction time game.
This is where the narrative, and the puzzle element, comes in. Cold Iron is actually the name of the gun you use, which you inherited from your father – a former gunslinger himself. Armed with his weapon, you set out to avenge his death – but quickly learn that weird things happen around Cold Iron and the foes you face off against. These aren’t just armed cowboys that just stepped out of a saloon – you’ll be challenged by dark magic as well.
This can mean that enemies suddenly appear alongside clones of themselves, and you only have a split second to figure out who the real enemy is that you need to fire upon. There are also puzzles where visual hints will tell you where the enemy will emerge from – but you have to ‘crack the code’ fast enough to stand a chance. In other levels, things get even stranger as you face off against robots and other non-humans. Cold Iron tries very hard to keep things interesting, and it succeeds – although the total runtime for the game is relatively short once you figure out the solutions to the ‘puzzles’ and your reaction times and aim are up to snuff.
The game is not entirely a mix of various duels – a more traditional VR experience can be found in the bonus levels which are essentially variations on the wave shooters we see regularly on the various VR platforms. Not groundbreaking in any way (especially compared to how well the dueling works), they do function well in breaking up the series of showdowns.
These showdowns are definitely the main attraction though, and strung together nicely through the use of an excellent narrator. However, it’s the combination of quick reflexes, a steady hand and the ability to quickly decipher the hints that are thrown at you that really make the game fun to play. Sure, things initially become frustrating fast when you treat it like a test of your reaction time – but when you figure out the game dynamics and pull off a win (you have to win the majority of rounds against each opponent) the feeling becomes more satisfying the more complex an opponent is.
Cold Iron isn’t the most audiovisually impressive VR game out there, but it does succeed in crafting something quite unique. Better yet, it’s an experience that only works through the immersion of VR – and there can never be enough of those.