Review by horror_spooky

Reviewed: 12/11/08

Die by the blade

The launch of a console can often provide some of the most memorable games of the entire generation to ensue. Going all the way back to the NES, Super Mario Bros. was packaged with the system, and it single-handedly revived the video game market from the crash of 1983 and set the bar extremely high for all games that followed. The SNES capitalized on this success with the release of Super Mario World, which did for the SNES with the original Mario did for the NES and defined platformers for the entire generation. Super Mario 64 continued this legacy on the Nintendo 64. While neither the GameCube nor the Wii saw a launch title with the power of Mario, the GameCube did have Luigi’s Mansion and the Wii does have its killer application, and that is Wii Sports. However, there was another game that was extremely hyped before the launch of the Wii besides Wii Sports, and that game is a now somewhat obscure first-person shooter called Red Steel.

Red Steel is, like previously mentioned, a first-person shooter, but its main gameplay mechanic is the use of swords throughout the game. This is the main reason why people wanted to even play this game as the capabilities of the Wii remote could create a sword fighting experience like none before it. I mean, seriously, doesn’t it just make you drool at the thought of using swords in a video game and actually slashing at your opponents instead of just mashing on buttons?

Unfortunately, there are definitely some problems with Red Steel’s swordplay. To slash left, you swing the remote left. To slash right, you swing the remote right and so on, but the controls are sometimes unresponsive and on top of that, some of the more complicated moves are nigh impossible to pull off in a battle. These sword battles also can do a number on your arm and the longer ones are pretty damn strenuous.

You aren’t limited to just slashing your sword though. In your other hand, your nunchuck hand, you have a smaller sword that you use to parry your opponents’ attacks. When they try to hit you with a weak attack, you can swing the nunchuck in order to block, leaving your opponent open to a flurry of slashes. If your opponent tries a strong attack, an attack you cannot parry, you can also dodge by holding the C button and moving the control stick either left or right.

These battles work like a fighting game in that you have a health bar that if it is completely depleted, you will lose. The rest of the game uses a mechanic very common in video games nowadays every since games like Call of Duty and Gears of War popularized it and that’s regenerating health. Instead of walking around looking for first-aid kits or something, your health recharges while you’re not under fire.

This is where one of Red Steel’s flaws comes into play, and it’s a technical issue. When enemies are firing at you, a red arrow pops up on the screen to show you what direction they are coming from, similarly to the previously mentioned title Call of Duty. What’s wrong with Red Steel is that there were times when someone would be shooting and the arrow would tell me it was coming from the left when in reality it was coming behind me. This can cause unneeded annoyance and is only there due to laziness on the developer’s part.

Otherwise, gunplay is actually quite solid. You hold two weapons at a time, and while it may take a while to adjust to get to where you don’t keep accidentally tapping the reload button as opposed to the switch weapon button, it works out well. There are a variety of guns at your disposal, from pistols to shotguns to machine guns, but the game could’ve used more of a weapon variety.

You can lock onto enemies by pressing the A button and zoom in on them by moving the Wii remote forward. This does seem like a useless function, but it doesn’t hinder anything. The reticule on the screen sometimes bounces around randomly, but this never became too much of an issue.

Different gameplay mechanics are constantly being thrown into the mix in Red Steel, and while it does give the game somewhat of a “not complete” feel, they at least keep things fresh. Eventually, you earn the ability to stop time if you aim and move the remote forward faster. In this mode, you can now tag enemies you want to kill by labeling them with a bloodstain using the B trigger, and you can also choose to shoot their hands in order to disarm them rather than kill them.

What would the point of this be exactly? Well, by disarming your enemies and not killing them, you can earn respect points. You earn the some of your respect points by sword fighting and pulling off combos, but the majority of your respect points come after a sword battle is complete. You will have a choice to either save whoever you were just fighting or finish them. You choose by either swinging the nunchuck or the remote, and if you decide on saving them, you earn more respect points.

The point of respect points factors into a gameplay mechanic that also doesn’t show up until a little later in the game, which can make trying to earn these respect points at the beginning seem a little pointless. Regardless, you eventually can be given your own personal arsenal by earning respect points and then completing a target range shooting challenge in the vein of the mini-game found in Resident Evil 4. If you hit 80% of the targets, you earn a gun that you can now collect anytime you want. What’s weird is that you only get a little bit of ammo at a time, meaning that if you want to use this feature at all you constantly have to stand around and wait for the weapon to respawn.

The game’s focus also shifts towards the middle, and you go from just doing mission after mission into a nonlinear form of choosing a certain person that you want to do missions for. You are told the recommended skill level (judged by your current respect level) to tackle each mission, but you can choose which one to do in any order. This system will probably remind most of you of Grand Theft Auto.

You aren’t limited to only using guns and the occasional melee weapon though. There are also grenades at your disposal, but they are nearly impossible to utilize effectively in Red Steel. You have to hold down the down direction button on the d-pad and then gesture with the nunchuck as if you are throwing a grenade. This makes throwing a grenade effectively nearly impossible. By gesturing in the opposite direction with the nunchuck, you roll the grenade on the ground, but the distance the grenade rolls seems random. This can lead to some pretty bad swear-inducing deaths caused by your own grenades.

A lot of Wii games are criticized for having actions which could have used a button needlessly being replaced with waggle motions. Red Steel is a great example of this. You use the nunchuck for pretty much everything. If you want to pick up a gun, you have to shake the nunchuck. If you want to open a door, you have to shake the nunchuck. That’s not to say the nunchuck doesn’t make things more interesting. At a few points in the game, mostly in the beginning, you can flip over tables to provide makeshift cover by flinging the nunchuck upwards, but this mechanic disappears about in the middle and becomes absolutely useless.

One area where the nunchuck screws things up is with slashing people with your sword for quick kills outside of battle. If you get close enough to an enemy, a sword icon will appear on the screen and you are prompted to swing your nunchuck to get a quick kill. For some reason or another, the developers thought it was a good idea to map the reloading action to both a directional button and the motion of swinging the nunchuck. This leads to moments where you will try to slash at an enemy but instead end up reloading your pistol. I don’t know what was going through the developer’s head but this design decision makes absolutely no sense.

Objectives are well varied throughout the game and you won’t really get bored with what you’re supposed to do. Sometimes you need to fight a series of bosses via sword battles and other times you simply need to find a keycard. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but it gets the job done.

With the exception of BioShock, to truly be a great first-person shooter game, you need some sort of multiplayer component to compliment the campaign. Red Steel does support four-player split-screen multiplayer, which is a pretty neat accomplishment given the way the Wii’s controls work, but it is very barebones and hardly worth mentioning.

You have a few levels to choose from that are based off some areas in the campaign. You then choose your character, of which there is a nice variety, and then choose what kind of match you’re doing. There are only three options: deathmatch, team deathmatch, and killer.

Unless you are a very, very new to gaming, you should have grasp on what a deathmatch is. Just in case you don’t know, it’s basically where you and three other people walk around the maps trying to kill each other. Red Steel’s large maps make this not nearly as fun as it has been in other first-person shooters, but there is still a little fun to be had. Team deathmatch is exactly the same as deathmatch, but since there can only be two teams of two team deathmatch really doesn’t amount to much. Killer is a unique mode where it’s everyone for themselves, except you have objectives you need to complete, which are given to you by holding the Wii remote to your ear so your opponent’s can’t hear. I think this was a pretty neat idea, but it fails to really do enough to make up for the lack of multiplayer options. To top it all off, these multiplayer matches are extremely limited in the customizability department.

I don’t think the developers spent a whole lot of time with the multiplayer as it ultimately feels like a butchered version of the campaign. The guns are all broken (I killed someone that was clear across the map from me with one shot of a shotgun) and there is no swordplay whatsoever. If you get close enough to your opponent, you are prompted to swing the nunchuck like before to do a quick kill, but instead all this does is knock your opponent out so he’s easy pickings. I fail to see the point of this since they are left defenseless and their death is inevitable after you whack them in the face with your sword.

Taking inspiration from classic kung-fu films, Red Steel’s story is decent enough. Scott, the game’s protagonist, is going to get married to one of Japan’s most reputable gangster’s daughter, and he is set to meet her father. Unfortunately, a rival gang attacks their little get together, kidnaps his fiancée, and he is forced to go on a long road of bloodshed, betrayal, and sadness in order to save her. For a while, the story is quite entertaining and has a nice amount of twist and turns here and there, but there are some plot holes that definitely take away from the overall experience. With all of the weird Japanese names and characters switching around constantly, some people get lost in the shuffle which also creates some problems with keeping up with the plot.

Super Mario Galaxy used to be the game I thought looked the best on the Wii, but I think Red Steel either surpasses it or is a very close second. The water effects are on par and are absolutely gorgeous, plus the amount of destructibility is amazing. Everything breaks apart around you during intense firefights and the explosions that result from destroying cars are breathtaking. The textures are brilliant as well, reminding me of some high-end Xbox 360 titles like the Condemned series. Character models are equally as impressive, showing plenty of polish and the animation is very well done. With all of this awesome stuff going on for the graphics, it does falter in other areas, those being mostly technical ones. The game has a tendency to lag every once in awhile and there are some glitches spread around, plus times when the game would freeze. However, it’s still awesome to see visuals like this, and they more than make up for the technical flaws that Red Steel has.

I wish the praise from the graphics could continue on to the audio. However, it cannot. The voice acting for some of the characters is really good, but most of the women in the game get the shaft. Nearly all of them are played by the same woman and her voice is especially grating. The voice actor laces everything with a very stereotypical Japanese accent that is rather offensive. If that weren’t enough, the sound would sometimes become very soft and at others the game would make a weird clicking sound. The music is decent, not amazing, but it does get you pumped up when need be.

Another area where Red Steel is lacking is with the replayability. The game can be beaten in about seven hours, which is a little shorter than most games nowadays, but then there’s pretty much nothing for you to come back for. There are no higher difficulty levels and the multiplayer is dreadful, but at least there’s an alternate ending if you’re interested in that. The only thing you can really do though is keep playing the same levels over and over to increase your rank, but I fail to see the fun in this at all.

Red Steel had the potential to be one of the must-have Wii titles and definitely would have helped during launch. The game does so much right that it’s a shame its shortcomings are large enough to bring it down so significantly. The action is intense, the charm is plentiful, the graphics are amazing, and the plot isn’t too bad, but the very lackluster audio offering, the dreadful multiplayer, the technical issues, and the overall lack of replayability definitely kill this one. With a sequel set to be released to complement the launch of Wii Sports Resort (and with that the MotionPlus accessory) it will be interesting to see what directions Red Steel 2 will take us, but for now, I am sad to say that Red Steel is a game that some hardcore first-person shooter fans may enjoy, but most gamers may not be able to see past its flaws.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Red Steel (US, 11/19/06)

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