Forget Red Steel. The first one, that is. It was a heavily hyped mess rushed out for Wii’s 2006 launch, one that failed to deliver on all its promises (precise aiming, intuitive swordplay, competitive graphics). Its deficiencies put the first of many dark clouds over Wii’s third party offerings, making the prospect of a Red Steel 2 less than enticing. But that’s exactly why you should forget the first, as this completely overhauled sequel is easily the best FPS on Wii and a wonderfully shocking example of how damn good a Wii-exclusive shooter can be.
Before we get into the story, or the lovely old west visuals or the moody soundtrack, we have to start with the kickass combat. As an FPS, most of the game is spent shooting and slicing enemies, but instead of taking cover or simply holding the trigger down until the bad guys die, Red Steel 2 forces you to use all of its diverse sword attacks, each of which is activated by a different flick of the wrist or swing of the arm.
We know, that sounds awful. But it’s not. This is probably the first action game on the system that uses motion for great effect, enhancing gameplay to a point that’s simply not possible with a standard controller.
Above: Pop a guy into the air with a vertical flick
Above: Leap into the air after him, slashing while he floats
Above: Then send him crashing back into the ground with a downwards thrust
Above: Oh hey, there was a guy waiting behind you – a simple button press and horizontal slash one-hit-kills this sneaky baddie
Above: Another guy tried to rush you head on, easily dispatched with a knockdown attack and then run through
Above: And then the last guy gets his neck broken. Boom, you just killed four guys in one minute, with all the flair of an anime superstar
About four hours into the game, you’ll have a wealth of sword moves at your disposal. The devs knew how outstanding their combat was, so it’s easy to purchase and upgrade each of these devastating abilities to their fullest. With so many motion-specific ways to dispatch enemies, it’s the most empowering sensation we’ve had on Wii. The combination of button presses and gestures is definitely not for the casual – this is seriously hardcore, with a generous number of combos, finishers, counters and sidesteps, each necessary to claw your way through the game’s remarkably capable thugs. Mapping this many moves to a controller just doesn’t seem feasible.
In fact, the combat is so well done that we can’t really make the age-old complaint of “even with all these moves it’s easier just to waggle the remote until everything dies.” Foes raise their guard and constantly alter their stance, forcing you to mix things up. It’s hard to convey in words, screens or even video, but trust us, when you clear a room of 13 enemies without taking a hit, you’ll understand.
It’s not 100 percent flawless though – despite several targeting configurations, we couldn’t find one that always kept us facing the enemy we wanted, leading to a few deaths we feel were unwarranted. Furthermore, the distinction between weak strike and strong strike is literally how hard and wide you swing. This means you need plenty of space and can’t relax while playing, so those with a fear of excessive Wii-waggle will need overcome their phobia. Plus you have to endure plenty of in-game reminders of how to play.
Above: Right, I know
Above: Oh… OK
Above: Jesus, really?
Above: ZOMG real people??
Har har, an easy target for sure. But the lessons are well taken, because they explain the most crucial aspect of the game. And at least they’re better than the original game’s tutorial images.
Above: Remember these idiots?
Now then. How about the rest of the game?
The Old Future West of the East
The first Red Steel was a generic, ugly shooter with a bit of clumsy swordplay thrown in to placate Nintendo’s motion mandate. Red Steel 2, in direct contrast, is a gorgeous cel-shaded take on a futuristic Wild West with a bit of feudal Japan thrown in. Ubi’s learned that you can’t do “real” graphics on Wii, so it chose a style and played to Wii’s strengths. The result is a clean, smooth game that’s possibly the prettiest on the platform, and definitely one that’s been given a lot of thought.
Above: Though you’re always in some kind of desert, there are still moments of color and genuinely impressive architecture
That said, no more than 10 minutes into the game and we couldn’t help but draw direct comparisons to Borderlands (for the sci-fi, cel-shaded desert) and Firefly (for the space Western-meets-Asian-influence angle). Even Steel’s music is invocative of both properties.
Above: Red Borderfly 2!
Above: Oh, huh, yeah those do look alike
We don’t mean this as a knock against Red Steel 2 – these are favorable comparisons, as we love both Borderlands and Firefly. The look and feel is so similar that we’d dare say Steel 2 is Borderlands if it had a single-player story, something it could have really used.
Fine, here’s the bit about the story
You’re the last Kusagari. Some bad guys have killed your people and now you, as a former outcast, must take up your sacred sword and exact your revenge on the evildoers that made you extinct. There ya go!
Above: Here's the bad guy. You are now motivated
You’ll stab, blast and slash your way through 8-10 hours of hyper-violent (yet T-rated) vengeance, most of which is handled through missions acquired on various bulletin boards. There’s no persistent overworld or hub area, so it’s totally linear – each area has its own board with its own missions, so once you leave an area there’s no going back. You have to fulfill the story missions to advance, obviously, but there are also several side quests that are great for filling your pockets with cash for the upgrade stations. Sadly, most of these optional missions are repeated in each area (tear down “Wanted” posters, fight gangs, find X hidden items), but they’re laid out in such a way that you’ll complete them all without much extra effort.
Above: Take a mission, kill some guys, come back etc
Normally we’d deduct points for a game relying on such simple tasks over and over, but again the combat is so engrossing and always evolving that we loved the chance to use new abilities or earn money to buy upgrades for the far-less-interesting guns. It’s true that everything boils down to “kill some guys, find some stuff,” but the same could be said for every other FPS on the market, and at least here there the fights are engaging enough to make us forget how linear and plain the arc really is.
But it’s not like there’s no excitement in the story – the tale does set up some honestly enthralling moments, like scrambling across a speeding train while ninjas jump all over your ass, fighting a boss with a lengthy QTE as he tries to buck you off his truck or the tense one-on-one duels with rival clans. The first-person view, range of moment and shaking camera reminded us a bit of Mirror’s Edge, though you’re not nearly as nimble.
Little stuff that adds up
While the combat, visuals and controls are tops, there are naturally a few unrelated issues that keep Red Steel 2 from scoring any higher. First, the map is borderline useless, as there’s no way to look at a full view of the area you’re currently in. Over time you can learn the lay of the land and follow the green arrows to your destination, but if you’re scouring for four totems or 10 wanted posters, odds are you’ll end up walking in a big circle. Highly irritating and easily fixed with a basic map option.
Above: There’s also a lot of loading, so get used to this door
Then there are the “whooa look at me, I’m using motion controoool!” moments that reeked of old ideas. Stuff like flipping levers and cracking safes, mini-game type things that handle just fine with the new MotionPlus accessory, but stick out against all the other, better implemented controls.
Above: Flipping switches will always be boring. Sorry
Aside from a bit more mission variety, there’s little else to complain about. In a sense this is the game Wii’s motion control promised all those years ago, and had the console launched with this game instead of the original, the third party scene could very well be a different place. We’re not trying to oversell the experience here, as this is no BioShock, Modern Warfare or Halo – but judged solely as a Wii game, this is flat-out exceptional, and more importantly, it's just plain fun.
Is it better than?
The Conduit? Yes. High Voltage touted impeccable FPS controls and a multiplayer arena just as robust as the big consoles with their 2009 shooter, but in the end all it’s remembered for are bland environments and the fact no one really wants an online FPS on Wii. Steel has better controls, prettier graphics and is simply a better game.
Red Steel? Oh god yes. We don’t want to beat this dead, rotting, barely recognizable corpse any longer, but there’s just no comparison between the two. Ubi might as well have called it “Sci-Fi Samurai” and removed all connections to the abysmal original. Don’t let the stigma of this three-year-old turd scare you away.
Metroid Prime Trilogy? No. For all its achievements, Red Steel 2 doesn’t compare to the atmosphere and length of any one Prime game, let alone all three. However, the aiming and shooting controls, something that Prime has held over all over FPSes heads for years, are about the same, which no small feat for Ubi. Obviously Prime’s a larger, less linear experience, so consider that too.
Just for you, Metacritic!
The first let so many down, while part two succeeds in just about everything it set out to do. Maybe it’s the bundled MotionPlus, maybe it’s just better programming, but we left Red Steel 2 thinking it could be the most improved sequel of all time. If you’ve given up on Wii shooters, here’s a reason to rethink your stance.
Mar 22, 2010