Review by German Dragon
"Red Steel shows that an an awesome Yakuza game is possible. Now let's see one, because this ain't it."
Red Steel presents what I feel is an amazing formula for a game. Whoever came up with the idea to wrap together a Yakuza story with motion censored sword fighting and gunplay should be offered a medal for his brilliance. I mean that's an idea for a game that I can really get into! I was pumped for Red Steel! As it turned out, though, Ubisoft just wasn't the developer to be put in charge of making such a game. Red Steel doesn't do the idea any justice whatsoever, and the game falls flat on its face, far short of what it should have been, in almost every category.
You'll play the game in the role of this American dude named Scott. He's living in L.A. and is engaged to his girlfriend Miyu, whose father is a huge Yakuza boss. Before Scott can meet this guy, the hotel goes under fire, and all hell breaks loose. Scott quickly learns more about Isao, Miyu's father, and a story that will stretch from California to Tokyo is opened up. It really is interesting at first; the characters are interesting enough, and the story progresses nicely for the first portion of the game. The problem is, the middle third of the game goes absolutely no where, and the story loses all of its momentum. When the story finally does get rolling again, you'll start having fun again, only to be dropped hard at the very end. The ending is extremely weak and you'll be wondering why you've wasted your time playing. Considering that it's an action game, the obvious answer to this question would be for the gameplay. That brings up a second question though. It's really not a good sign when the story of a first person shooter is the one thing keeping you playing, is it?
When you first get control of Scott, you'll probably have to take a few moments to get used to the controls. The control stick on the nunchuk is used to move from left to right, or forward and back. You'll use the Wii Remote to point your gun and turn Scott around. This sounds reasonable enough: its a logical use of the Wii controls. The controls aren't as smooth as they should be though, and you'll spend a good part of the first level fighting with them. After you get the hang of it, you'll be able to play, but you'll never feel like you're in control. It will always feel like your just sort of flowing along, taking the shots that make themselves open to you -- and up until the very last stage, you'll always be in danger of getting screwed during a gun fight due to the controls. You're character will randomly spin away from an enemy. There will also be those times where you'll start to reload your gun (extremely slowly) while an enemy unloads a shotgun on you, because you're nunchuk hand accidentally shifted a quarter of a millimeter downward. Clumsy, you! The penalty for this is an in-game death, and you having to sit through the same cutscene you've already watched 6 times!
In addition to the regular run-and-gun aspect of the game, however, there are also sword fights. The sword fights are a major feature of the game, and one that really got people talking prior to the game's release. The problem is, that they're extremely sloppy and not much fun. Scott has two katanas. One of them he'll use to strike at enemies, and the other he'll use to block enemy attacks. He can also use this second katana to try and break his opponent's sword in half if the time is right. I can't claim to be an expert on sword fighting, so I'm not going to analyze whether this is realistic or not. In truth, it really doesn't matter, because the controls are horrid. The sword motions do not coincide with your hand motions. Instead, there are just a couple of movements that you can do that will cause Scott to attack in certain ways. Even then, the motion sensing is abysmal, and many of your swings will go unregistered. To survive these fights, you'll have to do some dodging and countering, so there is a little bit of strategy to it, but it's still not very exciting. You'll quickly learn to hate the sword fights in the game. Fighting with a katana is supposed to be fun! Sword fights are awesome! But in this game it will get to a point where you'll see an enemy with a sword and you'll sigh; because there's no way around these sword fights. See, you don't just go around the game slashing up people or shooting people. When you get to an enemy with a sword, the game stops and you go fight them. It doesn't matter if you were being shot at, at that very moment. All action stops and you have a sword fight, no questions asked. It really separates you from the game.
There's more to the gameplay than what was mentioned above, but you're probably not going to experience too much of it, because it just wasn't implemented all that well. For example, you can take out your sword during a gun fight and melee someone. That sounds like an excellent idea! The problem is that you have to be almost on top of an enemy for the icon of the sword to appear, allowing you to do it. Not only that, there is a delay from the time that you start this attack to the time that the attack actually happens -- and in this time, your enemy may just decide to move out of the way, if he already hasn't decided to fill your face with bullets due to you trying to straddle him. Another interesting but virtually useless include making enemies "submit" by waving your cursor over them. This will instantly end the fight. But honestly, why bother? It won't always work, and if it doesn't you're a dead man. And on top of that, isn't it easier to just shoot the enemy? I mean you're cursor is already on top of them! These ideas weren't bad, but bad implementation really takes the joy out of them. In fact, the only useful attack aside from simply shooting your enemies is lobbing grenades at them. To do this you hold down a button and chuck the grenade with the Wii Remote. It works, but it would be nice if you could have more control over how far you toss the explosive.
The graphics of the game leave something to be desired. In this day and age, one wouldn't expect objects like filing cabinets to have a polygon count that one can count using their fingers -- they are simple six-faced prisms with textures plastered on each side. It's truly astounding how little effort was put into some parts of the game. Yet amazingly, the game still ends up looking good. How so, you ask? Well in spite of some poorly modeled objects and areas, the game does manage to create some interesting atmospheres and settings. Throughout the course of the game you'll see areas that include bars, a training dojo, an indoor ski resort, and a geisha house. Without fail, these areas look nice -- not from a technical stand point, but by an artistic stand point. In addition, the game consistently delivers great background music. You'll have some fast-pumping tunes for the action packed areas and then you'll have some slow, powerful music for the dramatic scenes. Unlike the story that starts out good and then drops you, the music and setting remain excellent throughout the duration of the game. Aside from the sheer will to beat the game, the environments of it was the only thing about Red Steel keeping me playing.
The game is not particularly long. It can be beat in under ten hours. However, that said, the game is also not particularly good. Those ten hours are a long ten hours. I loved Red Steel at the start; by the end I was begging for it to end. There are two possible endings to the game, and neither of them are good. Red Steel is pretty much just an idea -- a proof of concept, if you will. It's a below-average shooting game set in an amazing situation, and using an interesting new control scheme. The problem is, it's just not that good. The setting and story are the only things that could possibly be appealing about this game. You'll find that anything else about the game that looks good about Red Steel is poor when you actually experience it. The truth is though, you've probably already made up your mind about whether or not you're going to purchase Red Steel. Because despite how less-than-stellar this game is, it really is the only one like it out on the market right now. I'm not going to encourage or discourage buying it. Make that decision on your own. Just don't expect a masterpiece.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 05/14/07
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