The sun had just hit its zenith. The street was empty, save for me, Riverboat Diaz, and a curious chicken atop the roof of the saloon. It was a hot day and sweat dripped from my brow, yet the grip of my pistol was ice cold to the touch. I squeezed my hand tighter and thumbed the hammer. Only one of us and the chicken were walking out of here alive, and I had dinner plans. Diaz whistled, trying to throw me off, get me to draw early. Not today, Diaz. I was going to win this fight fair and honorably. Four heartbeats, the bell, and Diaz slumped into the dirt. A fraction of a second, a blink of an eye, and Cold Iron had claimed another victim.
Cold Iron is a reflex-based gunslinging VR game without the risk of literally taking a bullet. It’s a brilliant concept, but one that I wasn’t sure would carry through an entire game. I worried that the whole thing would just be shorter reaction times until I reached a point where I threw out my rotator cuff (or elbow, or wrist, or any other number of medical maladies) and couldn’t carry on. After the first couple of duels, however, various puzzle elements are introduced that make each subsequent duel more interesting.
In one instance I had to determine where an enemy would appear based on color-coded hints. Another duel presented copies of the same enemy, forcing me to target the right one by quickly noticing the subtle differences. Farther down the line, I was tasked with shooting multiple targets in the right order. Missing one was tantamount to penalty (usually death). Cold Iron is an idea born from expanding on simplicity. It expands the themes of a cursed gun thirsty for blood and classic Western gunslinger duels into an entire game, though it isn’t without its downsides.
Cold Iron is tough. Quick reflexes and a steady hand are both required in order to quickly draw the pistol and hit the target. I rarely found myself getting bullseyes required for top-tier scores (and, of course, necessary for that Platinum trophy). Either my aim was bound to suffer, or my draw times were going to be too long. When you mix that with the rapid puzzle solving that needs to happen, Cold Iron can quickly get overwhelming and frustrating. The difficulty curve starts off fairly steady, but it quickly ramps up. By the end, aim was the least of my worries. I only wanted to make sure I was getting my shot off in the ridiculously minuscule amount of time I had to fire.
One single Move controller is all that is required, though it seems like they could have made the DualShock 4 work as well. At this point, if you own a PSVR headset and don’t have the Move controllers, you’re missing out on most of the best experiences. It’s likely that most anyone interested is already going to have a Move controller on hand, so no DualShock 4 support isn’t a dealbreaker.
Story of a Cursed Gun
There’s a fun narrative arc in Cold Iron that ties the seeming randomness of the game together. You, the gunslinger, are seeking revenge on your father’s killers while using your father’s gun, Cold Iron. The weapon, where the game gets its name from, is thirsty for blood and hides a dark secret. Only feeding Cold Iron through duels across realms will unveil its true nature. Duels take place from the Wild West to a mystical forest, and Cold Iron will even have you staring down a tank in a ruined, post-apocalyptic future.
The gravelly-voiced narrator really ties the whole thing together as a Western themed shooter, even when dueling against living trees and cyborgs. In fact, I wouldn’t mind him narrating every aspect of my life. Much like Dino Frontier, it’s the superb voice acting that really helps to sell the themes of the world and immerse me right in that Wild West feeling. He tells the entire thing as if it was a story the player had recounted to him, making comments when I would fail like “So that’s where you got that scar,” or “I would have left that one out if I were you.” I only wish the soundtrack had been more spaghetti western and less whatever it actually was. The main theme was great, but the music during duels changed a bit. There were notes of an old western style, but it trended on the side of goofy and upbeat, which kind of killed the tense vibe one would expect from a duel.
Tension in the moments before the bell dings is probably the highlight of Cold Iron. The audible heartbeats as I waited for the moment I could draw and fire left me far too long to think about things, and I can only imagine that this is what actual cowboys felt in the moments before a duel–only, their lives were actually on the line. Cold Iron just captures that feeling so perfectly, even as it morphs from apprehension into dread during the more difficult latter half of the game. Visually, however, Cold Iron does leave something to be desired. Most of the worlds are filled with flat textures and jaggy edges, which seems to be symptom of the PSVR version. When the duel is between me and my opponent,though, the wider world seemed to melt away. My gun and my target were all that mattered.
Surprisingly, for a game that’s about pulling your gun and shooting it as quickly as you can, there’s a good amount of replayability. Various challenges will net statues in either bronze, silver, or gold, and there are a number of Easter eggs to find, such as hidden chickens in each level and a secret alternate way to take down the first world’s boss. (I still haven’t found it yet, so if any of you do, please let me know!) One challenge will even have players playing through the length of the game without dying. I think it’s possible, but the prospect makes me nervous, especially getting to the end. As mentioned above though, I think that some of the challenges begin to enter unfair and frustrating territory in asking players to get S ranks, which feels nearly impossible, even on the early duels.
Cold Iron is a fascinating and unique game that could use a little bit more polish. I’d love to see additional puzzles and worlds added in the future, and maybe some kind of tutorial or power-up that could assist with better aiming for those elusive bullseyes. The test of skill is reason enough to play again and again, with the challenge of a reflex puzzle-based shooter persistently pressing for just one more duel to try and do slightly better than I did before. Textures and difficulty aiming aside, I always wanted to hear that bell one more time and watch my enemy slump into the dirt. Or maybe? Maybe it’s just the curse of the gun that won’t let go—the grip of Cold Iron on my soul.
Cold Iron review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.