Based on an alternate history comic series of the same name, The Red Star pits us against hordes of robots, tanks, and sorcerers in an alternate history version of Russia (the U.R.R.S.). If you're looking for a detailed story about a battle between Red Star loyalists and an evil Dark Lord, read the comic. While the game is set in the same (very cool) world, the story is pretty negligible, and is presented in quick mission briefings which can easily be skipped over.
The missions are short one-way trips through futuristic isometric worlds which switch between forward and side-scrolling progression and offer a nice mix of 2D and 3D gameplay. The Red Star's levels consist of waves of standard enemies and several themed minibosses, which expand on a base pattern as the level progresses. Essentially, you dodge arrays of glowing oblong shapes and blast away at weak spots until the ship, robot, or tank blows up and an arrow points you to the next area. Those less inclined to enjoy classic games, and more engaged by complicated stat management systems and detailed strategies may find the gameplay shallow, but we found it refreshing.
Your assault arsenal comprises melee attacks, ranged attacks, and "protocol" attacks (specials). Basic melee attacks are performed with one button, and advanced maneuvers are activated by holding R1 (which also locks on to enemies for better ranged aiming) and a direction on the analog stick. Ranged attacks are uncomplicated - just press and blast. As we mentioned, R1 locks on to enemies, but you can also use L1 to pivot your character if you want to aim manually. Protocol attacks are high energy, high damage attacks that require a meter to fill before they can be performed, and are unique to each character. They can be used on occasion to clear out a large number of enemies when you're feeling overwhelmed.
Some may find the game too difficult at first, especially those unfamiliar or out of practice with the older gameplay style. However, once the various tricks required to defeat each enemy type are mastered, the game is a lot of fun. And in two-player cooperative mode, it's even better.
While The Red Star attempts to add a little depth by allowing you to purchase upgrades at the end of each stage, it's a straightforward shooter/beat-em-up, and that suits it just fine. The graphics are what you'd expect from a PS2 game, with a nice gloomy futuristic style. For only £15, The Red Star is a great example of why the PS2 still rocks, and why old school gaming is far from dead.