Review: Red Steel 2

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Review: Red Steel 2
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I'm not going to sugar coat it: Red Steel 2 isn't a hardcore first-person shooter. In fact, it's not actually an FPS per se, unless you take the acronym to mean "First-Person Sword-er." What Ubisoft Paris has made here is an arcade-style game that most closely resembles a good old-fashioned hack-'n-slash side-scroller -- only viewed through the eyes of its protagonist.

There's some light exploration -- even some hidden areas and items to be found -- but Red Steel 2 is, at its heart, a brawler that relies heavily on combos, special moves and finishers. There's some shooting, but it plays only the slightest supporting role to the main attraction: Swinging the Wiimote around like a sword and looking cool (on-screen, at least) in a stylized, sci-fi western world.
%Gallery-88746%This mash-up of East and West somewhere in the future (or someplace else's past) comes across fast and sharp thanks to equal parts good art direction and technical wizardry that ensures it's (almost always) running at a brisk 60 frames per second. That latter factor really helps Red Steel 2 stand apart visually from most other Wii releases; this is unquestionably one of the prettiest games on the system.

While the aesthetics might not be terribly original, the gameplay is fresh and really cements Red Steel 2 as a solid, fun title.

The whole "Space Western" vibe is lifted straight from the pages (and animation cells) of the classic Japanese anime and manga series Trigun. Save for the fact that he carries a sword and wears a hat, the game's protagonist may as well be the lanky, red trench coat wearing Vash the Stampede from Yasuhiro Nightow's creation. The whole thing kinda reminds me of -- and I'm dating myself here -- the obscure PlayStation title Rising Zan: Samurai Gunman with a dash of Borderlands. While the aesthetics might not be terribly original, the gameplay makes up for it by feeling really fresh.

It's fresh, but it may not be what a lot of people were likely hoping for: Running around and slicing away at enemies with a sword free-form with 1:1 motion tracking. But after just the first couple of fights, I realized that taking this route with the gameplay would have been a horrible mistake.

As it's structured, Red Steel 2 has you tromping around a deserted town, happening upon (or being ambushed by) groups of unique types of enemies. They all have their own individual moves and weaknesses to learn and exploit, and waving a sword around willy-nilly likely wouldn't have felt nearly as cool as the more structured system the developers at Ubisoft Paris came up with.

There are rules, basically, to combat in Red Steel 2. For one, the sword can't really be swung from any angle "just like the real thing," no matter what the box says or what you expect from Wii MotionPlus. Instead, the fighting combines horizontal and vertical strikes with various button combos that trigger special moves -- once you've purchased and learned them.

In fact, from what I can tell, MotionPlus is only really used to judge the strength of swings (some enemies wear armor that can only be broken with several subsequent strong strikes) and in other areas, such as turning dials to unlock safes and operate machinery. MotionPlus also seems to make the shooting (when it's necessary) more accurate, although no matter have much I fiddled with the control calibration, simple things -- like lining up to smash open the various crates and objects that spill money that's used to purchase moves and weapon/armor upgrades -- took way more effort than they should have.

Frankly, the combat feels pretty iffy in the first few fights. Even later, I found myself trying to remember exactly how to pull off certain moves within a very short "action window," often resulting in me getting hit rather than nail the move I wanted. But when I got the actions down, the rhythm of the fights just clicked. I'm talking knocking enemies into the air, leaping up after them and driving my sword down through them as we both hit the ground -- in first-person. Spinning 360 in slow-mo, sidestepping enemies then stabbing them through their backs ... all very fancy -- and fun.

Performing cool moves with the sword against multiple enemies is the game at its best.

Performing cool moves with the sword against multiple enemies is the game at its best. The level design and "puzzles" ... not so much. Ditto for the pacing. The game just doesn't have any real "wow" moments. Some rooftop fights, throw-downs in steam-filled rooms and train car leaping add some spice -- just not as much as there could have been.

If you go into Red Steel 2 expecting a revolutionary FPS experience, you're going to be disappointed. But if you take it for what it is -- a unique first-person, sword fighting action game -- it's really good fun. Apart from thin plot and some so-so voice-over, it's a highly polished title that puts a lot of Wii efforts -- especially the first-person variety -- to shame. Can I recommend it to every "core" Wii owner? Unfortunately, no. It's just not that triple-A, must-play game. But will most gamers get a lot of fun out of it? That I can promise.
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