“Red Steel” review

by on Mar.04, 2010, under Wii Game Reviews

Game: Red Steel
Developer: UbiSoft

We take a look at one of the debut titles for the Wii console. Read on for the full review.

At its heart, Red Steel is your average first-person shooter set in the current day world of the Japanese Yakuza. You play the role of Scott-san, the presumably All-American boyfriend of a Japanese Yakuza boss’s daughter who gets kidnapped within the first five minutes of the game. In a fit of predictability, your mission is to track down your girl, whilst filling the streets and seedy buildings of Los Angeles and Tokyo with piles of corpses (sans blood) and shell casings. In addition, you also get to wield a Katana in some set-piece battles which gives you the opportunity to indulge in some casual sword play. There are roughly a dozen hours of intense combat within the story arc and there are some multi-screen death-match options as well, if you have a spare set of controllers.

Controlling your character is a simple matter of using the nunchuk thumb-stick to manoeuvre you through the game environment, while the Wii-mote is used to point your in-hand weapon at your opponents. It will take a few minutes of play to get used to the aiming system but combat is slow and forgiving at the start to help you through this learning curve. Later in the game you gain the ability to “zoom” in on targets and also access “bullet-time” features that seem to be de-rigueur in all current FPS titles. To implement these moves, you’re required to thrust forward with the controller. The unfortunate side-effect of all the Wii-mote actions is that you can end up with a very sore wrist after even 10-15 minutes of play. You can adjust the sensitivity of the Wii-mote via an options screen but this didn’t resolve the issue. The Katana combat sequences almost become a welcome relief when they appear at regular intervals and a cynical gamer might think that this is a deliberate move to get the gamer moving the Wii-mote in a different axis thus relieving some of the pain! Sword play is executed by swinging your Wii-mote in precise arcs to emulate the motions of your weapon. Some special moves can also be learnt as the game progresses involving some additional movements of the nunchuk. While the added effects of these manoeuvres can be verified on screen, timing the motions necessary to trigger such a move are tricky at best. Oddly enough, dropping the sensitivity for the training sessions in Japan made them easier while the rest of the in-game combat sequences really require the most sensitive settings to be active. The special moves are pretty much disposable anyway as you can win the majority of fights just by performing the occasional block or dodge move while swinging the Wii-mote around like an insane traffic cop.

The sound and audio tracks within the game are quite impressive; Tom Salta has provided a nice ambient soundtrack and the weapon and environmental sound effects are of the usual high standard expected in a video game. While the visuals are impressive for a Wii console title, this is not necessarily a ringing endorsement. Let’s face it, the Wii was never designed to pump out the incredibly detailed textures and polygon counts that the PS3 and Xbox 360 do and the only option Nintendo can realistically undertake is to concentrate more on game-play, which is a gutsy decision at best. Nevertheless, the game’s visuals are quite crisp and appealing and the wide-screen support provides some extra screen real-estate for those of you blessed with a suitable TV. The game is interspersed with cartoon panel cut-scenes of below average quality; they do the job of progressing what story there is but add little else to the flavour of the game.

Game-play is highly immersive in nature but this may have more to do with the Wii controllers than anything else. Standing in front of your TV while gesticulating madly with your Wii-mote is enough to get anyone highly involved; it also provides ancillary amusement for any nearby spectators. Unfortunately there are a number of problems with game-play in general. As with all console games, check points are implemented to save your progress. One has to question the location of some of these locations as many of them are positioned in such a way as to force you to re-fight incredibly difficult battles ad-infinitum. As there is only one difficulty level (that would be the one called “default”) there’s no way around this design decision except to persevere and “rinse and repeat” until done. When you complete a particularly tricky katana duel, you’re given the choice to spare the loser’s life to gain “respect points” which appear to offer little to no in-game benefit. After a handful of the more frustrating of these duels you’ll probably end up slitting their throats just to vent some of the angst you’ve acquired. You can only carry two gun’s at any time but ammunition is readily available from the opponents you kill as well as in strategically placed arms caches which signify that you’re about to enter a particularly challenging part of the game. Level design is totally linear in nature and in no-way awe inspiring. The only exception is the Tetsuo’s Game’s sequence in the middle of the storyline, which is undoubtedly the highlight of the game and features one of your nemesises fixations with bunnies.

The biggest problem with the game (and it warrants its own paragraph due to the size of this boob!) is the end-game. It involves a boss fight (no surprise there) that is supposed to be the monumental climax to the entire story. To add to the flavour, there are a couple of endings (one favourable and one not so satisfying) that you can trigger based on how you perform in this epic battle. The trouble is, once you have triggered an ending the game reaches a check point and ends the game. If you try to restore that (or any other) save point within the game, you automatically go to the end credits. Thus, if you want to see what the alternate ending is, you have to (you guessed it) play through the ENTIRE game again!

This can only be described as one of the cheapest tricks possible to milk extra game time out of a title and totally unforgivable. I can safely say that even if the game was an incredible synergy of game-play and audio/visual special effects (which it isn’t!) I’d still be miffed at having to return to the beginning of the game to listen to my girlfriend gushing on about how exciting the fish tank is on Level 1. There’s no excuse for this in any game and any developer forcing us to play through a half-day’s worth of mediocre game only to be hit with this bombshell should commit seppuku at their earliest convenience. It’s unfortunate that such an end-game design decision was made, as it unquestionably tarnishes any review that is going to be written about the game. Even a self-imposed three week “cooling off” period hasn’t lessened my feelings about this gaff, so UbiSoft are just going to have to wear it and perhaps implement something a bit more sensible in Red Steel 2 (which is currently under-development.)

Overall, Red Steel is a mediocre investment in time and money that probably did more to get gamers interested in the FPS aspects of the Wii console prior to the actual release of the game. With other more impressive shooters like Call of Duty 3 now available, one has to question whether anyone that played through this game is really going to want to bother with a sequel.

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