Red Steel Reader Review
It's interesting. Since the hype started building about Red Steel back when the Wii had a sensible name, the title has become synonymous with the Wii's launch. Most of the internet chatter, especially the early reviews, has been pretty negative but being a Zelda virgin and without any other must-have titles appearing, I pre-ordered this and Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz. The latter I was expecting to be a banker: inevitably good in both single and multiplayer. Red Steel was the gamble. A hybrid lightgun/first person shooter game often (unfairly) compared to an N64 game in terms of looks. And yet, a fair way into both games I find that its the other way around: Monkey Ball is a huge disappointment, where Red Steel just keeps getting better.
I think perhaps the reviewers were expecting a little too much from Ubisoft's new Wii-exclusive franchise. I should start by saying this ain't no Half-Life. Frankly, it's not even SiN. You may as well ignore the story, because its throw away and flimsy. It's also very, very clichéd. There's not a single level that, stylistically, hasn't been done before in an FPS. From the factories, to the car parks, to the inner cities you can't really escape the feeling that you've been there before. The difference for me is that when I was there previously, I spent an awful lot of time aiming at my shoes. Or at the sky. Never at the enemy though, at least on console.
It may be me, but I've never got on with Console shooters (I'm sure they don't care for me much either, thanks to the aforementioned problems giving them a bad name). As such, Red Steel's control scheme is a blessing: Move with the analogue stick (like every other game from the last 5 years, check) and point where you want to shoot with the remote: brilliant! No inaccurate analogue stick for me, and a game that feels far more skilful and less lucky as a result. This new control scheme is eased into at the start, as your girlfriend guides you through aiming with the help of a restaurant fish tank, in the manner one might talk to a toddler: "Ooh, look at the colourful one on the left. No wait; I like the one on the right." As you follow her instructions and just as you find yourself muttering the well used line "We should start to see other people", the story kicks off. It starts slowly and easily to guide you in to the brave new world of the remote and as a result the first few levels are distinctly underwhelming. They're also pretty discouraging, as is normal with a new control scheme you find yourself spinning on the spot. Or aiming at your shoes. You almost find yourself thinking you should return to Fishtank 101, were it not for the kidnapping of your girlfriend (gaming cliché ahoy!)
But then it clicks, and it works. It's a shame that the enemies aren't the brightest bulbs in the box, but like Serious Sam and other brainless shooters of its ilk, it makes up for the lack of AI by giving you lots and lots of enemies to shoot at. And you find you have to use the cover too. Crouching behind overturned tables and slowly emerging plays a major role in Red Steel, despite none of the enemy's having enrolled in MENSA. The inherent difficulty of having so many enemies to deal with has made Ubisoft include a recharging health bar - stand still for a moment and your health returns - its another reason why using the cover becomes pretty essential. You can't always go in all guns blazing, despite the brainlessness of the opposition, and often a panicky wait behind cover for your health to fill up again can become quite tense and the enemies begin to swarm, in their slightly dim-witted manner.
Unfortunately, after the excellent intuitive controls supplied for the guns, the second part of the combat can only be described as disappointing. Fighting in the Japanese tradition, you're supposed to be adept at sword fighting. And sadly when a swordfight is scripted, you can't just shoot them and run off. Although in many ways, the wiimote should be perfect for swinging like a sword, for some reason it just doesn't cut it (I just saw this in my proof-read, it honestly wasn't an intentional pun!). The sword isn't (unlike the guns) mapped to your movements very accurately, so each swing only succeeds in removing you from the proceedings. The process for dodging shots doesn't feel very natural either, with you having to press a button on the nunchuck attachment and move the analogue stick to dive out the way of attacks. It works, but the result is that each sword fight becomes a chore rather than something fun and different to break up the gun play. I should also add that this is the only part of the game in which you find your arms getting tired: indeed, it's the only part of the game where you find yourself flailing your arms like the tit in the advert. It's actually possible to play Red Steel in a very relaxed position, regardless of how the adverts make it appear.
Interestingly, my brief experiences with the multiplayer show that side of the game to be very different. It's slower, far less frantic, and not too far removed from Golden Eye in the kind of experience it offers. This may be because I've currently only played it two player (thanks to the shortage of controllers available at launch), but I don't think so. Despite it only having 4 maps, I think its one that I may well come back to often. None of the maps play badly, nor are they too cramped or too spacious.
Like all the best brainless shooters, Red Steel doesn't have much of a story and doesn't tax the grey matter. It is, however immensely satisfying. I can't shake the feeling that Ubisoft should have dispensed with the story and made it a Serious-Sam-a-like, but it seems a bit unfair to punish them for making an effort. In the end though, I think they've shot themselves in the foot by trying to give it a credible storyline: they've raised the expectations and moved it away from direct comparisons to games it has more in common with (Serious Sam, Duke Nukem, SiN) and as such its compared to Halo, Timesplitters and Half-Life, against which it doesn't stand a chance. If its brainless fun and a control scheme that's a little different you're after though, then Red Steel could be right up your alley. Just don't expect too much, okay?
7 / 10