Last year Dreadbits Victorian Steampunk, match-three game Ironcast hit PC. It was a game that well received all round and it was one I reviewed at the time giving a favourable score of 8.0. I said that its gameplay was incredibly addictive with a good amount of strategic possibilities but the luck based element was frustrating and the overall presentation was somewhat lacking. So with Ironcast heading to PS4 it’s time to revisit the title and see if this is just a straight port or if they’ve thrown in anything new.
The story places us in 1866 where the French have developed a new super energy source they’ve called Volite. A power source that sees the dawn of shield technology and energy based weapons. Instead of sharing this discovery with the world though they have chosen to keep it for themselves sparking a war with the neighbors across the channel, Britain. As they war waged on over the decades both sides developed a new weapon that they hoped would give them the edge and end the conflict. The titular war machine Ironcast. 20 foot iron walkers that were much more reliable, faster and stronger than any tank. This is where we come in. Piloting one of these steampunk mecha we’re given just 9 days to quell a French invasion of England. The story remains unchanged from the version that released on PC around one year ago and unfortunately the same flaw has carried over. It’s dull, which is a shame as the concept sounds very interesting. All we are given is a couple of newspaper clippings, and short permission conversations to fill in the plot, and unfortunately it leaves you wanting more. Not that the story is completely necessary though to the overall flow of the game.
Ironcast plays out very similarly to Puzzle Quest games. You are given 3 turns per phase to match up 3 three or more of the same coloured nodes. These generate consumables for your mech including ammunition, power, coolant and tools. Power and coolant go hand in hand with both being required to turn on the mechs defensive capabilities with the latter then continuously drained over the proceeding phases as systems remain on. Tools are required for repairing any broken systems you might have and the ammunition should be pretty obvious. Special nodes also exist to add to the fun and give the game an extra level of depth. Overdrive nodes increase connections efficiency, link nodes allow you to connect multiple resources and scrap nodes gain you some extra materials for upgrading your walking tank.
Each day the French invasion force makes further ground towards London. To counter the attack you need to gain man power and upgrade your mech enough to fend them off. Three missions are procedurally generated each day with different objectives, rewards and varying difficulties. One mission you could be halting a French supply mission, the next saving shipments of precious tea leaves crucial to keeping up British moral. It means that no two playthroughs are the same but it also mean you can make it as challenging as you want. You could go for a harder mission for example; it’ll net you more manpower and resources but run the risk of taking extra damage to your mech or just taking an early game over.
Between missions you’ll spend your time in the hanger prepping your mecha for combat. This is where the games RPG elements make themselves known. Using scrap you can make repairs to your machine, or if you’ve gathered any blueprints from missions, use it to create new weaponry and defences. Obviously the higher level missions have the greater the equipment drops but you do rely quite a bit on luck to get the rarer pieces. You can also bolster your defences simply from levelling up. From levelling you get a choice of three augmentations which give you either passive skills for your character and mech or abilities for you equipment. These skills can help to sway the tides of battle but again obtaining certain ones come down to luck as these are randomly generated every time you level.
Ironcast embraces a rogue-like ruleset. If you die you’ll have to start over. Losing you progress for one small slip up or one unlucky grid setup can be rather frustrating, but here you’re given an extra little incentive for trying again. Instead of the PC’s Global XP system this time around you get Commendation medals. You can obtain them by completing missions or combining them into your resource collection. Before starting the story over you can use medals to purchase new characters, Ironcasts, abilities and upgrades. So on top of learning from past mistakes you can also come back stronger or go for a different approach. Getting just that little bit further can then give you a huge sense of progression.
The steampunk art style is quite nice but it can be rather bland in some places. You could wind up battling on the docks of Southampton, or fighting on the streets of Guildford, but the environments do little to draw you into the world. The train-like mecha and aristocratic characters have more of a charm about them but they get boring to look at after sometime. The music and sound design does much better with some satisfying laser shots and creaking metallic clunks. The soundtrack also has some interesting tense scores to add a sense of drama to the otherwise dull looking mech on mech combat.
Ironcast is basically unchanged from its PC debut last year but that’s not bad as there was nothing particularly troubling with it in the first place. The steampunk art style is a nice approach but it hasn’t been pulled off to well coming across more bland than enticing. The gameplay more than makes up for it though; kept fresh by procedurally generated missions and rewards it ensures that no two playthroughs are ever the same. Ironcast offers up plenty strategic possibilities for players to mess around with but be warned that luck plays a heavy role in progressing to the later stages.
This review is based off a review code of Ironcast provided by Ripstone.
This review was originally published on the site GamersFTW which unfortunately has now been taken down. It’s been published on my personal blog, DanielVaughanReviews, out of respect for the developers/publishers that were kind enough to give me review copy of their game.