In Iron Danger you can rewind time whenever you need to in order to save your life and land the killing blow. It’s a cool idea and works well enough in practice, but that fun premise doesn’t stop the rest of Iron Danger from being an otherwise pretty middling isometric role-playing game experience.
Out on Steam earlier this week, Iron Danger is pitched as a tactical role-playing game but it feels more like a straightforward turn-based action game. You have a party of characters that need to fight through towns, forests, dungeons and the like, and they obtain ability upgrades over the course of the journey, but they don’t level up in the traditional sense or have equipment that can be customised.
Likewise battles feel a little more like a hack ‘n slash than an XCOM. You lead your party by clicking around the map and then selecting attacks and targeting enemies when they appear. Time is frozen during this decision-making period, but once it’s over, things play out just like they would in Diablo or another real-time dungeon crawler. In fact, a lot of the combat has more to do with nailing the timing of enemy attacks than plotting out the most strategic positioning and coordinating the right sequence of party actions.
You might be in range of an enemy attack and have just enough time to block. After doing that you can respond with an attack of your own. Maybe you follow up with a second attack that stuns or knocks them back, buying you even more time to press the offensive. Finding out what works and doesn’t is mostly a matter of trial and error, and that’s where the game’s time-dilation mechanic comes in. If you mistime something and end up impaled on the end of an enemy’s sword, you can rewind time and try something else.
This is what makes Iron Danger feel a lot like Superhot, the first-person shooter where time only moves forward when your character moves. The idea isn’t to battle back and forth and hope you come out slightly ahead in the end, but rather to fling yourself in a bunch of different directions, tinkering with differing combinations of abilities from different characters in your party until you more or less solve the encounter. The time manipulation in these periods of improvisation is fun to manage and makes for an interesting and novel approach to the traditional click, click, click of a Diablo-like.
At the same time, little else in my three hours with Iron Danger kept me wanting to come back. Levels and character progression don’t leave as much room for creativity as the moment-to-moment combat, and the mash-up of steampunk and medieval fantasy felt hard to parse. The story, which follows an army of invaders on the march who can only be stopped by a girl imbued with magical powers by a mysterious force, didn’t grab me enough to get me to stop skipping much of the dialogue.
Still, I wish more games messed around with time travel mechanics, and at least in that area Iron Danger offers a fun twist on standard RPG combat fare.