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Crimson Sea 2

Could well be the game to fill that hackandslashing hole in your life.

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Ever seen those hateful adverts that encourage idiots to take legal action if they’ve ever had an accident that wasn't their fault? ("I got struck by lightning! I'm suing God!"). KOEI had better watch out for rabidly litigious gamers slapping in writs as they slap their withered RSI-wracked wrists, blaming the company for getting them hooked on a succession of button-mashing hackandslashers. The latest in its long line of these repetitive, but entertaining and action packed games has just caused our carpal tunnels some consternation, so we'd better make this quick before those shooting pains go to our head and get us started on the problems with Premier League referees.

Set two years after the Xbox-exclusive original (and now this one's PS2 exclusive, oddly), you once again take control of Sho, an anime-by-numbers hair model who's part of the half-alien half-human Vipa race (Dante-from-Devil-May-Cry-alike in more ways than one). As is the way of things in games of this nature, a beastly combination of insects and lizards (called, imaginatively, the Menace) are on your case, and breeding like crazy. Your task? Beat them to death! Shoot off their evil faces! Endlessly! Until you get bored of exclamation marks!

Sho you right

So, er, the 'IAG', the agency "charged with the protection of the galaxy" is in trouble and is literally 'reeling' from the surprise attack. Commander 'Live-D' gathers all the old G-Squad hands (including Feanay, a playable female character you can switch between as the game progresses) from the last attempt to save the universe, and they're looking to you to do your bit for half-man-half-alienkind. That's the kind of crazy Vipa-inhabited world we'll live in in the future. What kind of sick bastards shag aliens anyway?

But for all its earnest sci-fi wafflings, Crimson Sea 2 is easily one of the most straightforward pick-up-and-play games on the shelves right now. It might blether on about the lead character's need to save his world from the Menace in a very dry, not very interesting way, but the gameplay follows a well-worn, established formula very quickly. Much like the Chaos Legions and Devil May Crys of this world, the name of the game is kicking the arse off anything that gets in your way, facing off against the occasional Menace boss (Dennis, anyone?), gaining experience and building up your combat arsenal as you go along. It's one of those games you play almost despite yourself. It's not doing much new, it's hardly what you'd describe as original, technically it's nothing amazing, yet it's solid, formulaic, addictive fun.

Throughout the game you're able to take on (and re-attempt) missions that appear via a small central hub. Generic anime characters stand around gormlessly, occasionally offering fairy humdrum plot information should you wish to chat to them, but the chances are you'll dive straight into the mission selection screen and get on with the business of swiping the oncoming hordes with your blade or loosing off a few rounds of whatever firearm you have equipped at the time. From the beginning you're fairly hamstrung in terms of firepower, range or reloading capabilities, but as you make your way through downed enemies occasionally leave behind an 'Origin', which acts as the means of powering yourself up, RPG-style over the course of the 60 levels.

"Try not to flirt with the doctor - she's a busy woman"

This experience-based system - as ever - proves irresistible, and you can't help but get drawn into tinkering with your abilities, upgrading everything from the power of your 'NeoPsionics', which loosely translates as a wide area smart bomb, while racking up 30 combos in a row (or enemies in general) lets you flex your 'time extend' ability to induce brief Bullet Time and wreak havoc on everything around you. Yes, another heavy action game saw the potential in letting the gamer slow down time, although in Crimson Sea 2's defence, it's not a central part of the game and there are plenty of other cool ways of taking the enemy down that bear a much greater resemblance to DMC than anything else.

As a spectacle it struggles from the off to inspire a huge amount of excitement thanks to fairly generic anime character design and environments that are largely devoid of any kind of flair or ambition. For the most part, you move from one bland corridor to another, into larger circular rooms and back again, and there's not a great deal to break up the pattern as the game progresses. In terms of the actual enemies, they're pretty fearsome in the way that giant insects tend to be, and their lizard friends are equally vile, detailed and well animated. It seems harsh to overly criticise them; they're perfectly acceptable really, but after a short while of moving from room to room performing the same kind of attacks you can't deny that things do get a little samey. So long as you accept that relentless combat against ridiculous odds is exactly the point, you'll have an enjoyable blasting session. As the game ups the ante in terms of the enemy, and you can sufficiently upgrade your neo-psionics, blade and gun, it's satisfying and well worth persisting with, if only to see just how mad things can get when the game really piles on the pressure.

One thing on the game's side is solid controls, offering a decent lock-on mechanic that saves the player from ever worrying about what could otherwise be a rotten camera system. Simply tapping R1 locks on to the nearest enemy, while L1 switches between targets and allows for strafing; combos are simple and easy to pull off, and the whole slash/gun/neo-psionic attack strategy has been well thought out, and offers a large amount of flexibility.

It's not Crimson, and there are no Seas in sight

In terms of the game's new additions, the introduction of the scantily clad Feanay, the second playable character, makes for a welcome change, but little difference to the actual gameplay aside from a few character specific missions. The all-new split-screen multiplayer modes are a bit hit and miss, but still welcome nevertheless. The versus mode doesn't really come off as you'd expect, the co-op mode is great relentless hacking fun albeit limits the attack abilities available to you, removing neo-psionics or time extend presumably for practicality's sake. Challenge mode, meanwhile, is something of a high score duke out, and although none of them could be deemed essential, the all-round package is all the better with their inclusion.

Crimson Sea 2 isn't a game that you'd approach expecting it to be some sort of radical advancement of console gaming, but in it's own right is a solid genre offering that devoted fans will get a lot out of. It makes little to no difference if you've played the previous version or not, and is one of those instantly playable and long-lasting games that hackandslashers needing a fix while they await the new Devil May Cry would be well advised to check out.

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6 / 10