“Hitting things is fun. I really believe that.” Jason Vandenberghe, Red Steel 2’s creative director, isn’t one for PR guff. He speaks with relish of swords, ninjas and magical katana skills. He also does a great impersonation of a sawed-off shotgun, but more on that later. Here and now, we’re talking swordplay, specifically the amount of heft Red Steel 2’s armour-shearing slices requires from your poor arm muscles.
“We used to hit bushes with sticks when I was a kid – that’s the sensation we really wanted to capture. It’s not a fencing simulation, it’s a katana!” He’s not kidding. After Wii Sports Resort’s flighty swordplay, gripping your katana feels like wielding a caber. By all means, gently tilt the hilt to twist and examine the sword on screen, but the hits have to count. Flimsy flicks glance off the goons and their Jason Voorhees-ish masks. If the air isn’t leaving your lungs in small grunts, you’re doing it wrong.
So it’s different from Resort, but not in a bad way. The extra effort makes chops feel deliberate, and encourages you to keep your samurai cool and consciously decide when to strike. You’re not one for role play? Where’s your sense of fun? But don’t worry - Ubisoft has your back. “It’s tuneable,” Vandenberghe explains. “You can dial it back a bit. Just because you haven’t been swinging a sword all your life doesn’t mean you can’t play the game.”
Even if you have been swinging a sword all your life, there’s still learning to be done. If the E3 build was an A minus-level in swordplay, the version shown at Gamescom in August was the full A-level. Vandenberghe sees our mysterious hero as a man of two halves: “The samurai, the archetypical katana hero, and what is the archetypical gun hero, Clint Eastwood, the man with no name.” Finally, we see what would happen if the two had a kid.
The phrase "quick on the draw" has never been more apt than here. Hit the B trigger mid-katana blow and down goes the sword, out comes the gun. There’s no clumsy inventory system to leave you a sitting duck as you rummage in your manbag for your trusty six shooter; just a clean, efficient click. Use the eagle lift – an upward swipe that knocks goons skywards – and you can be emptying your fourth or fifth bullet into an enemy before he begins his descent. It’s kind of how you wish clay pigeon shooting would work.
Then you have the make the call over which gun you unleash on the saps. Revolver fire will snipe cowardly henchman gunning at you from outside the fray, but for crowd control, you’ll want a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun. It’s got real mechanical punch – crisply snapping open to have two fat cartridges fed into its belly – and is used more as a close-range melee attack than your traditional boomstick. Time for Vandenberghe’s impersonation: “DUNK DUNK PICHICK BAM BAM!” Er, perhaps you had to be there.