First posted on 01 July 2013. Last updated on 04 July 2013.
The game is available at GamersGate.
In Iron Roses, you play the role of Alex, an unemployed rock musician who has just incurred the wrath of her roommate Lynn for running late again on her rent. After a screaming match with Lynn, Alex finally agrees to seek employment to try to make some money. She heads to the local nightclub to apply for the janitorial position, where she encounters her old friend Bomb, who is the former drummer of her once successful band, the Iron Roses. Bomb tells Alex that the nightclub is hosting a "Battle of the Bands". The competition reignites a fire in Alex's heart, sending her on a quest to reunite the Iron Roses so that she can win the competition and perhaps even pay her rent with the prize money.
Cateia Games, the developer of Iron Roses, is a Croatian game development company whose other game credits include The Legend of Crystal Valley, Hotel, and Kaptain Brawe: A Brawe New World. Though the developer's games deal mostly with fantasy or exotic themes, they are particularly lauded for their excellent writing and art design. To this end, Iron Roses remains consistent with the developer's reputation. The game never takes itself too seriously, and the writing is very often hilarious and self-referential in its satire, regularly poking fun at itself for being a video game. Unlike the developer's previous games, Iron Roses is fully voiced by a competent cast. Though there is certainly a bit of overacting on occasion, the light tone of the dialog, the strength of the writing, and the satirical nature of the setting all offset any expectation that the game is meant to take on a more dramatic effort. Alex, who is characterized early in the game as a seemingly lazy scrounger, quickly worms her way into my heart with her aggravated reactions to the world around her. When I groan quietly at the game's tired fetch quests and mundane tasks, Alex groans at them with bravado, often with a witty comeback or an underhanded insult that quickly turns my cynicism into laughter. As the game progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that Alex is not unmotivated—to the contrary, she is wholeheartedly determined to make her pipe dream into a reality, no matter how much frustration that the ancillary characters are causing her. In spite of their own personal flaws, these ancillary characters can sometimes be just as endearing and hysterical as Alex. For example, a particular scene in which Alex argues with the bouncer of the nightclub has me in fits of gut busting laughter, as the sarcastic bouncer is offended by Alex's presumptions, which leads him to claim that he moonlights as a scientist. Another scene reveals that Alex is terrified of her crotchety landlady, and in order to sneak past the landlady and into her own apartment, Alex has to rummage through a dumpster to find a rotten tomato, which she then hurls against the landlady's window to serve as a distraction.
All these humorous interludes aside, however, the overarching story does not quite merit the sum of its parts. While each individual scene is usually quite well done, there is no intersection of plot threads. Further, very little is resolved by the game's disappointing ending, such as the relationship between Lynn and the bouncer. As well, a particular quest seems geared towards further development of Alex's character, which has me quite intrigued initially, but it turns into another dead-end when it is resolved in just a single line of dialog.
Visually, the game uses a combination of 3D character models and 2D pre-rendered environments. Alex's apartment looks a little too clean for that of an aspiring rock musician (though possible because of her overbearing roommate). Once she leaves the apartment, though, the true visual aesthetics of the game kick in. The pre-rendered environments are beautiful—not in the conventional sense—but in the heroin fueled, washed-up rock star sense. The streets are littered with grime, shady characters loitering outside of shops, and dumpsters overflowing with trash—a real sense of satire of the archetypal failed musician abounds thickly throughout the game. For a story all about musicians, there is a noticeable absence of music. Instead, the soundtrack is substituted by the blaring of car horns, revving engines, and screeching tires that lend a tangible quality to the urban environments. Only a small handful of songs are heard throughout the game—in the nightclub, at the music shop, and during the rehearsal and the concert.
Unfortunately, the gameplay is so insubstantial that it barely even exists. The core mechanics are polished enough, but it seems that such is too easy of a task when the developer has decided to shun the concepts of challenge and depth completely in this game. Cateia Games has stated publicly that they steer away from making games that can cause the player to give up in frustration. However, it seems to also ignore the opposite end of the spectrum, in which the player is given victory on a silver platter for completing the simplest task, with no sense of accomplishment is achieved in the end.
The point-and-click element is often interrupted in favor of mini-games of sorts, the most common of which involves finding hidden items in cluttered environments. These mini-games feel lazy, and pressing the Enter key usually highlights all the interactive objects immediately on screen. Other mini-games are translations of day-to-day pedestrian tasks, such as removing viruses from a computer, none of which are very good. All of the mini-games are simple, requiring frequently just a mouse click on a prompt, depending on the situation. A particular mini-game, in which Alex has to wait tables, shows some potential but finishes just as it begins to get challenging—there are still customers calling out for food when the mini-game is quick to declare victory. The difficulty curve does not rise as expected near the end of the game. In fact, the final stages do not even involve any gameplay. The end victory is perhaps the game's biggest disappointment of all.
Despite the surprisingly high production values, Iron Roses feels incomplete. The story lacks resolution, and the gameplay is devoid of any challenge. Even with the appropriately snarky writing, it all ultimately unravels to reveal Iron Roses as little more than a promising premise.