Monday, February 7, 2011

Review: Red Steel 2. Surprisingly awesome game that Wii owners need to play.

(If you like reading the crap that I write, follow this blog on Twitter so you can see blog updates right when I post 'em!  :]

Why is humanity here? What is the meaning of our existence? How do we solve the economic crisis? Why did Ubisoft name this game Red Steel 2?

There are some questions that we may never know the answer to, and given the beating the original Red Steel took in the media and from gamers, why Ubisoft chose to revive the name "Red Steel" for this game is one of those questions. I was actually somewhat of a fan of the original Red Steel, mostly because I found it to be so entertaining, often in very unintentional ways. Any game where you put away your pistol in the midst of a deadly gun battle to draw a sword to duel with a samurai Yakuza downtown LA, is a game that has at least some value......c'mon. That said, it wasn't exactly a game I was looking forward to playing more of, but Red Steel 2 surprises in a number of ways: the original Red Steel was funny and fun to play, but I would never call it a good game. Red Steel 2 is not only a good game but a great one, one that improves on its predecessor in every way and delivers a truly unique experience that makes great use of the Motion Plus. It's unfortunate that Ubisoft chose to name this Red Steel 2, because it's a decision that may have scared away a lot of potential buyers who would have loved this game if they'd given it a shot.

Visuals: One area Red Steel 2 amazes is in its visual presentation, which is, simply put, beautiful. The Wii is not an HD system but I can hardly tell when I have this game running in 480p on a 32-inch HD television. The visuals use a cartoony, cel shaded style that actually reminds me a lot of the film A Scanner Darkly, and that's a huge compliment. The setting's a bizarre fusion of Japan, cyberpunk, and the old West, going from Asian-themed city locations to abandoned desert towns, moving trains, dojos, and all that good stuff. It's all so pretty, and this make-believe setting makes the fusion of swordplay and shooting much more believable than it was in the original game. The characters look great in an over-the-top, cartoony way, and the story's presented in a mixture of awesome FMV and in-game conversations that are infinitely more interesting than the original Red Steel's comic book exposition scenes. It's not flawless, however. There's loading each time you open a door, which can feel a bit excessive at times. The game's effort to disguise these load times (with door opening scenes that make the old Resident Evil games' door opening load times seem subtle in comparrison, and *that's* an achievement) almost makes things worse. Aside from that, there's one bizarre choice that the developers have made: when learning your moves, the motions are demonstrated to you by someone (live action-style) who looks like she came right out of a Wii Fit video. It's distracting (in a bad way) and really took me out of the experience. But these are small marks on an otherwise brilliant visual presentation that sidesteps the system's limits to deliver what I think is one of the prettier games (artistically) this gen.

Gameplay: Red Steel 2 places a lot of its eggs into one basket, with the combat system (particularly the sword-swinging) being the main focus behind this game, and the Wii Motion Plus proves to be more than up to the task. When using the gun, the aiming feels fluid and natural, and when engaging in sword play, there's a number of different moves at your disposal, the amount of which increases as you unlock more of them. For the most part, this really works, and we have an experience that just wouldn't be possible (or wouldn't be nearly as fun) on a regular controller. You use buttons to dodge and to slide up behind your enemies, and you use certain motions to designate the way your character swings the sword. Some enemies require wider, more powerful slashes to remove their armor, some require you to slash vertically, etc. Once the enemy is dazed, you can pull off a finisher to get more points. The large emphasis on points and combos is a pretty cool feature and adds some replay value to the game, and though I found myself wishing there were a bit more variety in the finishers, they're all cool-looking and get the job done.

As far as the shooting goes, with the press of a button you can switch to your gun, and though guns definitely play second fiddle to the swordplay this time around, they can still give you a leg up in certain combat situations and they're essential to opening a lot of the game's "treasure chests." Ammo is plentiful and there are several different guns you can use. There are other motion-based sequences that come up, like an awesome QTE sequence involving a moving car, there's safe-cracking, there are certain dials that you use the controller to turn, stuff like that. Some of these of course come off as being a bit gimmicky but that's the Wii for you. I can never seem to get tired of this stuff.

Red Steel 2 also has a great upgrade system. Whenever you get to a new area, you're told to pay a visit to the "hub" of sorts, where you receive mission briefs (a couple are required, a couple are optional side missions that net you some extra cash) and can upgrade your equipment, learn new moves, gain more HP, and increase the strength of your armor. There's actually a lot to buy and it'll keep you busy until close to the end of the game.

Though the regular enemies occasionally present a challenge, much of the difficulty comes from the boss fights, and though none are impossibly tough, there are a couple of them that actually required me to stand up and really put my effort into it. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed it, and though I'm glad Red Steel 2 doesn't make you do this all the time, it was actually kind of fun to really "get into" the battles by having to stand up and really put my all into my sword slashes.

The minute-to-minute gameplay experience here is a blast. The combat's great, the character upgrade system works well, there are plenty of side missions available to take on, varied environments, and the story progresses pretty frequently. That said, there are a couple iffy design choices that I have to point out that didn't really occur to me as I was playing the game, but looking back, I can't help but wonder, "wait....wha??" First of all, the environments are all totally deserted. Aside from the enemies you fight and the characters you interact with in the hub stores/dojos, there is not a single person wandering through these environments. This makes sense in the middle of the desert but it's weird (and unexplained) that the cities you explore are all totally empty. If there's one thing that would have added some extra depth to Red Steel 2, it would have been NPC interaction.

Also, money. Everything in this game gets money. You shoot out anything in the environment, break any barrel, open any container, defeat any enemy, you get coins. For the most part, this works fine, as like I said, there's plenty to buy. However, barrels that you break open come back if the environment re-loads, and even item containers (this game's "treasure chests") sometimes refill themselves. The unfortunate result of this is that you get money so easily that unless you make it a point to avoid doing so, you can power your character and his weapons up to their max potential before the game ends, making Red Steel 2's final fights far too easy. The final boss especially comes off as anti-climactic.

So there are some strange design choices here, maybe due to the limits of the Wii hardware, but these are very minor in the grand scheme of things. There's still room for Red Steel 2 to grow into something even better, but for now, this is probably the best sequel I could have imagined for such a poorly-received launch game. Plain and simple, Red Steel 2 is fun, and it really demonstrates the type of action game that's possible on the Wii if developers really give it their all.

Sound: Tom Salta returns to provide yet another great musical score, this time delivering a subtle, and at times even haunting, soundtrack that provides the perfect backdrop to the game's setting. Great stuff. The sound effects are also excellent, and everything from the sword slashes to the sounds of the desolate wastelands, is done very well.

I wish I could say the same thing for the voice acting, but that brings me to...

Story: This is by far Red Steel 2's biggest weakness. No matter how great the world is, no matter how stylish the cutscenes are or how badass the main character is, this series just can't seem to tell a story to save its life. The writing's uninspired, with a plot and dialogue that feel like they were thrown together in an afternoon and submitted on a first draft. The voice actors all sound totally detatched and uninterested in the game's events, and there's really not much in the way of a strong villain. There were times when I thought that *maybe* the dialogue was purposely trying to be campy and over the top, but if it was, it doesn't take this nearly far enough. Ubisoft's told some great stories in many of their games, but this just isn't one of them. I wouldn't call this as bad as Red Steel 1's story and dialogue, and luckily this game doesn't take itself quite as seriously, but it's still a major weakness that needs to be addressed if this series continues.

Verdict: Red Steel 2, despite the name, is not a sequel to Red Steel, but an entirely new game that betters the original in every way and delivers a thoroughly entertaining action-driven experience with great motion controls, an awesome setting, immersive music and sound design, and a gorgeous visual style. What we have here is a game that's always fun to play and demonstrates so well what this system can do from a control perspective that it's definitely a must-buy for Wii owners, especially those who complain that there are no good games on the Wii. Here's one, so give it a shot!

Presentation: A great world with a lot to explore but with a radar that always keeps you on track. Plenty of sidequests to complete, and some stylish FMV cutscenes that blend in well with the in-game graphics. Story is awful, though.

Graphics: Gorgeous art style, varied environments, cool character design. Frequent load times are unfortunate but not a deal-breaker.

Gameplay: A fun, always-evolving combat system with great shooting, all made possible by the Motion Plus. A little too easy at times on the normal difficulty and could use more NPC interaction, but otherwise, no complaints.

Sound: Great music, great sound design, bad voice acting. Come on, Ubisoft, you can do better than this...

Replay Value: With some sidequesting, Red Steel took me around 10 hours, which is a lot longer than I thought it would be. Once done, you can replay the levels and try to get score-based medals. Not bad.
Overall: 8/10
(My reviews go on a .5 scale)

No comments:

Post a Comment