Red Steel 2 – hands-on

Consider our expectations slashed. Red Steel 2 takes what you thought you knew and carves it up. Travelling to Paris to stink up Ubisoft’s offices with a MotionPlus-enabled sweat, our three-hour playtest reveals a game quite unlike its forebear. Just as Yakuza lop off pinkies, so the knife is taken to Red Steel’s digits – the zeroes and ones of the original code. Bar the sword and gun combo, everything you loved about the first game – the corridors, the other corridors, those last few corridors – has been sliced off.

Try this on for size: Red Steel 2 isn’t really an FPS. Sure, it’s in first person and you shoot, but bullets are just a fraction of a sprawling combat system. DNA is shared with the third-person action of a Devil May Cry or Ninja Gaiden. Just as the brains at Retro Studios squeezed perfect platforming into Metroid Prime’s first-person view, so Ubisoft plonk you inside the eyes of a melee master. Where Samus was a jetpack-powered hoverfly, Red Steel 2’s protagonist – the nameless Swordsman – picks darting athleticism. Yes, he borrows Samus’ sidestep, but only to bolster his repertoire of viper-fast strikes.

A fight is entirely different from a shoot-out – just ask wavy sword guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fighting suggests an exchange, a graceful dance. In Red Steel 2 gunnery is one answer to a multiple-choice question: how the hell do I survive this? Enemies appear. Invisible barriers lock you in (don’t worry, arenas are roomy). Up pops a health bar. No regeneration; it exists for one fight only – next fight, you get a shiny new one. Squint and this is almost a beat-’em-up health system.

Trapped with six goons, the sword/gun combo comes into startling perspective. Enemies split into two ranks: ballsy stabbers (not literally) up close and wimpy gunmen popping you from afar. A pistol happily snipes distant cowards. Shoot a swordsman in the leg and it’ll stun him, opening him up for an instant kill. On the other hand (technically the same hand), the sword deflects bullets, shrinking your area of concern to those in arm’s length. Crowd control is key, mixing weapons to keep groups at bay and constantly moving to find the best angle of attack.

Here’s where MotionPlus earns its keep. Moving the remote and seeing the blade tilt and twist is all very lovely, but the magic lies in its swiftness. That you can swing the remote to draw your sword without your view veering horribly out of whack – as it does in almost every other remote-waggling FPS – offers two simultaneous weapon schemes. Swapping between guns and swords is so fast you can stitch together blade and bullets as you see fit. It’ll never match the arcade precision of a button, but when did a button let you pretend to gut a man? Precisely.

A 360-degree spin shunts nearby attackers. A shotgun punch snags the back-up man off his feet. The pistol catches his faraway friend. You’re driving the blade into stunned goons still picking themselves up from the spin. Combat is flexible, fast and frenetic, enlivened with flashes of cartoon style and slow-mo for the cool bits. Slow motion enables moves that would be impossible in real-time. Slash a man skywards with an upward swipe and Father Time sits back, stretches his legs and lets you plug the flying meatbag with multiple shots. Realism be damned.