A slice of the Orient
This is our first review of the New Year and now the heady sway of alcohol and Christmas cheer has gone, it's time to knuckle down. So anyway, the Wii has been out now for a short while in Europe and it's launch line-up was fairly good, amongst the list of games there are some that deserve a mention for having a try at something innovative and fun.
Red Steel is one of those games that attempts to hit a high bar and just misses it, not to say it's not a fun game but it's just a little too unpolished in places. This could be attributed to the infancy of the console and the development behind the game for the platform.
A Japanese Yakuza boss's daughter is kidnapped. Her old man is in trouble and here you are with guns and swords to save the day. It's a clichéd story but it's got some twists and turns in the tale that should keep you going until the end.
The story is told through a mix of in-engine cut-scenes and graphic-novel like frames, only in both types of storytelling the dialogue is stilted and pretty generic.
Right from the get-go Red Steel has got a sharp learning curve that will take some people a while to get the best from the game. The Wii-mote should lend itself to the point/shoot style of gameplay in Red Steel but it doesn't quite mesh up, you can adjust some things but it still feels quite a bit sluggish.
Red Steel is a FPS/Sword swinger, the Wii-mote controls the aiming and the Nunchuck controls various actions like opening doors and movement. The system is clunky at times and the game itself is relentless at first. Fortunately there are no health packs and pickups since it uses a regenerating health meter, take too much damage and you'll need to find cover.
Once you're in cover you can take a few moments to try and catch your breath before dipping out to get shot at again. The game handles zooming in with the Wii-mote; you just need to hit aim and then push the Wii-mote forwards towards the screen. The game does a good job of showing you the controls as you play through the first few levels; it doesn't lead you by the hand and fully expects you to be able to hold your own.
It gets more interesting when you get hold of a sword, but even the sword combat isn't as fluid as it could have been. You can perform a couple of combo moves that will essentially win you any sword fight. One of the nicest features of the game is that you don't have to kill your defeated opponent; you can show mercy and gain Respect that way.
Respect unlocks new bonuses and moves.
Later on there's a freeze-time mode where you can lock onto several enemies and pin-point locations with your gun, this gimmick adds a touch of 'cool' to the game and allows you to perform some pretty slick shots.
The weapons look and feel pretty good, the sword fights are nice but they're often reduced to a simple exchange of blocks and swings without any true sword-ballet motion behind the battles themselves.
On the whole Red Steel is a pleasing game to look at, the level of graphical detail and lighting effects are decent enough and there's a good consistent/quality feel to the game in this respect. I could go into detail about the various graphical tricks and so on, but I can already sense some of you would end up comatose from that, so I won't bore you.
A fairly decent job at level design, nothing really stands out as amazing though. It's a good quality of architecture but it seems a little lack lustre and standard in some of the places. There are a few nice set pieces that go above the call of duty and shine however, so it's not all streets and alleyways.
They did a good job on this aspect of the game, there's a fair level of detail on the various bad-guys and the bosses for the sword fights are certainly quite interesting. The animations are decent enough and nothing looks overly stilted. There are a few choppy sword-fight animations that could have been smoother and slicker.
The AI varies between fairly intelligent (use of cover and tactics) through to downright moronic (charging into the fray without care) at times, it provides a relentless challenge since the game sends in quite a few bad guys for you to blow away.
The physics are decent with some nice explosions and some nice knock-on physics effects, shooting certain objects can cause a satisfying cascade of destruction.
Sound, Music, Voice
It's got a decent level of sound and the weapons all have a satisfying audio feel to them. The clash of steel is nice and the rattle of gunfire is very decently done. The music compliments the game nicely and has the right mix of oriental and modern themes. The major let down is the voice work which is stilted, flat and decidedly un-inspiring.
It isn't helped by the lack-lustre drawn cut-scenes either. Each of these factors wouldn't be too much of a problem on their own, they could be overlooked but when you look at how other developers use the console you realise how short-changed you've been in this respect. Hopefully we'll see better in the future.
It's a fun diversion with up to four players battling it out in a traditional deathmatch style gameplay, there's nothing really special about the multi and it feels a little tacked on. It would have been fun for instance (perhaps hard to implement) to see a cooperative mode where you could progress through the game's story with a friend.
It's a game that hits and misses the mark. It should be applauded for trying something new/innovative on a brand new platform and I don't think it deserves some of the lower scores it's been getting. If I were to cite one particular review I'd say the Gametrailer's review got it spot on for me.
It is a fun game but the initial frustration and problematic controls will put quite a few people off, especially those that want an instant fix and can't be bothered to play further into the game to find out what happens next.
It might be a bit of a clichéd story and the graphic novel/photo kind of storytelling worked in Max Payne, but here it falls a bit flat and leaves you wondering if the game is going to get better. It does, but you'll need to play a fair way into it before the story opens up beyond the initial focus.
The multiplayer is enough to keep you amused for a while but nothing beyond that, which is a shame, but those are the breaks as they say.
A good effort but hopefully if there's a sequel we'll see something truly special.