Genre: First-Person Shooter Publisher: Ubisoft Developer: Ubisoft Paris (France) Players: 1-4

By RyanD (2nd Apr 2010)

Red Steel has been reinvented, with a focus on cool visuals and constant action, but the ghost of the original still lingers, and ultimately we wonder if the Wii can handle this.

This thing needs a tag line, I’m thinking: Red Steel 2: The Aspirationalist, or Red Steel 2: The Underwhelmening. I’m still not sure...

One thing’s for sure, this Wii Motion Plus thing works. You’ve really got to swing it now, trying to get through this game in two days nearly put me in traction. Another thing that’s for sure: When I get a new game home, the first thing I don't want to do is watch an unskippable 3 minute video that instructs me (from the pristine stillness of the Wii Universe), in a docile she-robot tone, how to perform the perfectly obvious task of plugging the damn thing in.

It really is quite odd, Nintendo lead you through it like the thing’s made out of depleted uranium, then the game pops up and tells you to thrash it around like you’re shaking a piranha off your arm.

So far that’s a minus 1 for the Nintendo Lawsuit Avoidance Unit, and a “Thank god, finally” for Red Steel 2.

There he is, good old What's-His-Name. Anyway, let's get killing.

For those that don’t remember, the original Red Steel was supposedly one of the biggest gaming disappointments of the decade. I picked up a copy recently (having avoided it at the time, because the reviews told me it was covered in anthrax), and it’s really not that awful. Well, the engine is pretty awful, and the story is awful, but we’re gamers, we’re used to that, and the sword fighting is just plain broken... Aside from that it’s a pretty average FPS, nothing special (although I did find myself shouting “It’s a shotgun for Christ’s sake!”), but it’s not trying to murder your granny or anything. It’s just pretty average, which was the worst thing Red Steel could have been, having received nearly as much hyperventilated web-attention as the relative hotness of its producer. It was over-hyped, and in the end it copped the brunt of the fallout for the Wii itself not being quite as revolutionary as we’d all hoped.

Understandably, Ubisoft Paris have worked hard to set Red Steel 2 well apart from the original, with a new protagonist: some ninja cowboy guy; a new art style: cool and chunky cell-shading; and a new universe: the pseudo-retro-futuristic-post-apocalyptic-ninja-western. Borderlands, basically, Red Steel 2 takes place in Borderlands. Oh well, I can think of plenty worse places to set a video game.

You know what would look great here? A bunch of dead guys.

The game opens with a pretty awesome cinematic, and throws you right into the action. You’re a big bad dude in a big bad cell-shaded land. This, I immediately sensed, is going to be a lot of fun.

But then we encounter the story, or, to be more precise, the bizarrely hectic lack thereof. It’s complicated, so I gather, but no one seems to have the time to explain it to me. This is just as well, as it seems one trait that Red Steel 2 has inherited from its predecessor is less than stellar translations from the original French, and some decidedly uninspired voice acting. More than that, the story sections feel rushed, almost as though it’s assumed we don’t really care. Half-sensical half-sentences flick stiltedly by, you hit a couple of buttons and you’re back in the suck, and no one seems any worse off, or like it mattered. The protagonist actually speaks several times in the first hour-or-so of play, then promptly shuts up for the rest of the game, that is to say the next 10-or-so hours. I was beginning to wonder if I’d imagined it, then he suddenly started talking again at the end. Odd... In any case, here’s all you need to know: You’re a cowboy ninja, they killed your buddies, go get ‘em Tiger. Everyone is very keen, it seems, to get me out there and into the action. In this story, that’s a good thing.

Something tells me that guy at the back isn't your biggest problem right now.

Right away I got the impression that this is a self-conscious game, which is fair enough, it has a lot to be self-conscious about. The mood is surprisingly light, non-committal, there’s even an occasional sardonic joke at the game’s own expense. The missions are stackable, so you can have several objectives on the go simultaneously, and half of them are optional anyway. They really don’t want us getting bored, it seems, they’d like us to play it whichever way we like, which is nice of them.

In amongst the laissez-faire attitude (the game is French), one does encounter a surprisingly anal insistence on training. Every new move is painstakingly spelled out to the player, who must demonstrate three times in a row that they’ve got the hang of it before they’ll be allowed back into the action. I get the impression Ubisoft wants us to be absolutely clear on how the controls work. They’ve obviously spent a lot of time on them, since that’s where the last game failed so miserably, and this is exactly where we encounter the essential conflict, the dichotomy at the core of Red Steel 2.

When it works, Red Steel 2 is really, really good fun. With the extra sensitivity, and weight, of the Wii Motion Plus, the experience is often surprisingly visceral and aggressive. Once you’ve unlocked a stack of moves and upgraded your weapons, there’s a whole host of combos that are extremely satisfying to pull off, as you mow through the hundreds of enemies the game serves up. The sword-and-pistol combination is a good one, and Ubisoft Paris have put some real time and inspiration into a suite of moves and upgrades that allow the player to focus on either their favourite one, or combine the two in unique and frequently awesome ways.

This'll only hurt for a second.

There’s one thing they can’t escape, though, no matter how they try. Red Steel 2 is still a Wii game, and it’s getting pretty obvious that the Wii is only capable of so much. For a start, locking the camera movement to the same input you’ll be using to swing around like a sword is catastrophically problematic, and there’s just no way around it. So many times I found myself saying “No, not there, there! No, wait. That way!” But what choice did the developers have? There’s only one joystick, and only half the buttons of a Playstation or Xbox controller. To counteract this apparent paradox of anti-fun, Ubisoft Paris have incorporated a metric Shitload of auto-lock, snap-to and camera-assist technologies, which are helpful almost half the time, and bugger everything up even more the rest of the time. You’ll be lined up for a shot on an ExplodingBarrelTM, but just as your enemy is getting near it the reticule will snap onto the guy, and pull the camera around with it, leaving you flailing about like a twat, trying to get your sword out and switch enemies, because there’s one right next to you, but by now you’re staring at the ground, spinning around in a circle...

As I say, when it works it’s awesome, but when it doesn’t it’s just painful, because you can see how hard they’ve worked to control this ungainly beast.

The same thwarted ambition can be seen in the often spectacular pre-rendered cutscenes. The action is inventive and exhilarating, with some nice details in the art, and all those lovely post-effects like depth of field and motion blur, but once you’re back in-engine, for all the game’s style, it looks a little bit cheap, a bit blocky, a bit last-gen. There’s a couple of nice Quick Time Event set-pieces, but they’re kept pretty simple. Similarly, there’s a long section in an underground catacomb that entails a lot of fast-paced, vertiginous running and jumping. In first person it looks impressive, very Mirrors Edge, but unfortunately the jump mechanic in Red Steel 2 is only as sophisticated as walking up to an edge and hitting the A button on the appropriate glowing jump-zone. It’s not just ridiculously easy, it’s actually impossible to fail, and therefore completely redundant. One can’t help but get the impression that something more was intended here, but either the Wii hardware or controls just weren’t up to it.

Now let that be a lesson to you, Dead Guy.

So here’s the problem, exactly how much do you get out of waving your arms around? For me, especially with the Wii Motion Plus, the answer is: Quite a lot. It’s probably the most motion-control fun I’ve had with the Wii yet. But the real question is this: How much more fun could you have if this game was developed for a higher powered console, with a peripheral that never gets in the way? Maybe then the most awesome moments in the game wouldn’t be hamstrung by assists, or relegated to a pre-rendered cutscene. It’s a puzzler, to be sure, and I for one don’t know the answer.

For all its failures and half-successes, Red Steel 2 does show that a game can be daring and have some real fun without being pretentious. Did you hear that, Cliffy B? It is possible. Cliff would no doubt reply that it’s also possible to take yourself seriously and make a stable game that lives up to its own hype, a goal that the Red Steel team are closer to, but still yet to accomplish.

Single Play
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Red Steel 2

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Red Steel 2 (WII)
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