Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Review: Red Steel 2

Developed by Ubisoft Paris
Published by Ubisoft
Platform: Wii (Reviewed on Wii)

While the original Red Steel might not have been a huge hit in terms of gameplay, Ubisoft show that they can repair the broken aspects of their franchise. Red Steel 2 utilizes the sexy Wii MotionPlus accessory, making katana combats as rich, intuitive, and fun as they can be.

Gone are the pre-determined katana duel events of the original. You can basically slash your sword at your leisure in any direction at three different strengths depending on how wide and strong you swing the Wii Remote. Pressing the B button allows you to quickly fire a shot of your last equipped firearm, for use in long-range battles or to stun enemies. The main character (we never learn his name) is surprisingly good at blocking bullets with his katana. As long as you block, you basically can’t be hit by them. The stance in which you block makes a difference when the enemies perform strong attacks, as indicated by red smoke emerging from their bodies when they perform them. Horizontal attacks can only be blocked by vertical blocks and vice versa. Throughout the game our hero will learn several moves to perform in battles, like dashing forward and stabbing enemies in the gut, or make a graceful dodge and in the air pull out your gun to make a shot, or deflecting bullets. This is a welcome addition to RS2 which I didn’t expect when getting it. These skills along with the weapons in the game can then be upgraded for a cost, which allows for customization and adds an RPG feel to it. After every encounter your life bar fills up to the max, as most encounters really prove to be mortal and a trial. To cover up for the loading times when entering a new area, the protagonist incessantly keeps slamming at the door trying to bust it open. I always thought this was amusing, as he does this on every single door, except on the ones that are driven by gears … Yeah …

I feel like I need to point out that this game has the most crate-crushing, barrel-bashing ways of getting money I’ve ever experienced. It’s a rewarding feeling to just smash everything around you and pick up the loot, but after a while it gets repetitive to the point that you wish you had an ability to just break open all destructible objects in the room you’re in. Thankfully, you can also make a living by killing enemies, and the more special moves you use, the more money you get.

One downside is that this game is packed with glitches. At one point I found myself purchasing an upgrade which I had already purchased, which caused a slight graphical glitch. At another time the “encounter music” wouldn’t stop playing to the point that it would shout down what the characters were saying, even after the encounter had ended, forcing me to reset the game. Other glitches involve minor text issues, but are nothing too serious.

The game has a relatively simple plotline. It goes something like this:

Upon beginning the game you assume the role of a clansman of a clan called “The Kusagari”, having returned to your homeland from an exile. A gang of thieves caught you and stole your sword. You immediately find yourself being dragged through the desert behind a racing motorbike, but surviving this painful deed, you run back to your old master Jian, who lends you his sword so you can go out to pursue the man who stole yours.
After retrieving your katana, you learn that while you were exiled your fellow clan members have all been slain by a man named Shinjiro, in hopes of taking your prized sword, and so the hunt begins. The story from that point on is just basically you trying to catch this bastard.

I’m not so much a fan of this plot which is rather cheesy, but more so the characters themselves. Oh God, the horrible characters. Believe me, the best character in the game is the protagonist, because he doesn’t say anything and is a blank slate. The voice acting could have done with a little more effort, and he’s probably supposed to, but Jian seems to ramble about inconsistent things, like becoming a gardener in the middle of this struggle … However, as the story goes on, you’re assigned side quests which you are welcome to do or just ignore. They could be “Activate 3 communication towers”, “Tear down 10 wanted posters”, “Defeat 4 ninja squads”, and so on. The reward however is always money, and sometimes the same side quests are recycled. I was a bit disappointed that I did not get something for completing all of these, but oh well …

Red Steel 2 is set in a very interesting place, what could only be described as a cross between the American Wild West and Japanese architecture, and you will for example see half of the signs in English and half in Japanese (much like FF VII). Despite this, the game is set in a modern era where computers are present and the characters have radio contact with each other. The weapons however, seem to be on the dated side. Unlike with its predecessor, Ubisoft decided to render this world in cel-shaded graphics, and it looks good overall. Although a minor complaint I have is I would’ve liked the inclusion of blood instead of the yellowish powder that fleets out when you hit enemies. And I’ve always found the Wild West setting to be dire and dull, and it’s not much different in this game, but the esthetic buildings really make up for it. However, that’s just a personal preference.

I didn’t find very memorable tracks in the game, and you’ll spend a lot of time wandering around in silence or to just the sound of the blowing wind. The tracks that are there though are very reminiscent of a Western movie, but there’s also the occasional track where you’ll hear Japanese instruments being played.

I must say that the controls are one of RS2’s highlights. As I mentioned, with the Wii MotionPlus, the sword battles are near perfect. Regarding other functions though, you can set the sensitivity of your sword swinging to Relaxed, Regular, or Athletic, although I found Regular to be adequate throughout the game. You can also set the exact variables of sensitivity of the crosshair, much like in The Conduit.

I would say the game has fair replayability. After finishing a level, you can always replay it from the start from the main menu to try and get a high score, but other than that, there isn’t much to do. There are also three levels of difficulty, available from scratch. Played on the Medium difficulty, the game was still a challenging experience and I often found myself having literally no life left at the end of an encounter (it’s unethical to shoot people in the back, assholes).

In the end, would I recommend this game? I definitely would. Weak portrayal of the characters, mediocre storytelling, but it’s the fighting and having fun that matters in this one. It’s most likely the best first person experience there is on the Wii console, and it’s all thanks to the sword fights being pulled off just right.

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