Rental Review: Red Steel 2

Posted: June 16, 2010 in Rental Review

Since my Xbox is dead I’ve decided to try my hand at a few Wii games.  It’s been pretty much collecting dust since I beat No More Heroes (and I can’t find a copy of NMH2 anywhere) as there’s been nothing to catch my interest recently on the platform.  I actually didn’t rent this game, my wife did.  She saw how distraught I was when my beloved box bought the farm and decided to try and cheer me up with a game I could play.  Plus I’d been playing RDR so much she thought the western vibe in Red Steel 2 might keep me entertained.  Let’s see if she was right shall we?

First off, the manual.  It’s decent, though a little thin on story or motivation.  There’s several pages worth of move tutorials that you won’t need as they’re unlocked as you progress through the game and have their own tutorials once the moves are purchased or acquired through progress.  There’s at least two full pages on how to connect the Wii motion plus and again how to use it.  This is slightly redundant as the motion plus has it’s own instructions and again some video instruction upon booting up the game from the home screen.  There’s a lot of hand holding throughout the game, pretty much rendering the instructions moot anyway.  I like the art style present in the manual, even if the cover art seems to forget that the human body has two legs.  Anyway, let’s boot up the game and see what Ubisoft has provided for me…

After the intro sequence (above) there’s a few guys to kill with your blade.  Swinging the sword is as easy as swinging a wiimote so it’s not that difficult.  The timing took some getting used to, what with the timing being a little slower than I was expecting.  There’s a pop-in video demonstration in the corner of a woman swinging the wiimote like a sword in sweeping motions whenever a new move is learned, so they thought of new player when designing the game.  In the first levels of the game, combat is straightforward.  Enemies don’t block very much so strategy is not important yet, but just the timing.  Your character has a gun for ranged attacks as well, but as is the case with most slash and shoot games, the gun is far less powerful than a sword strike.  The gun is useful for stunning enemies or to finish off an opponent who got out of sword range as you were fighting another enemy.

The controls are not as tight as I’d like them to be.  Having left all the control options on their default settings (on medium difficulty) the look/aim function was pretty hit and miss.  The targeting reticule moved in twitchy arcs and even lost fidelity on certain parts of the screen, causing the crosshairs to twitch around some corners making gunplay useless.  I eventually noticed that the sun was shining on one of the IR lights in the sensor bar causing the disturbance, thus necessitating that I wait for nightfall to play.  Either that or move my entire entertainment unit to another wall…  yeah, I’m lazy, no bloody way that’s happening.

Once the sunlight issue was cleared up I got back into it, only to find that the controls weren’t much better.  The combat is divided between shooting guns and waving swords, the former involves pointing the wiimote with accuracy and the latter involves singing the wiimote around with abandon.  Switching from the latter to the former isn’t intuitive and finds your character spinning around as you try and point the wiimote that you’ve been swinging around at the screen to shoot.  You see, turning or looking, involves pointing the targeting reticule at the edge of the screen, if you happen to do this by accident while say; trying to aim after swinging your sword, you may end up pointing in a totally different direction as you wanted to (which is normally where you were already pointed in the first place).  Some times your sword swing won’t register as a sword swing and instead you end up looking at the ground or sky, or worse, spinning around like a top because your swing wasn’t as fast or slow as it should have been.  After three hours or so you get the hang of it, but there are still things that should have been addressed.  Such as a target lock-on of some sort.  When the look mechanic in an FPS is as inaccurate as this one is, you need a lock-on similar to the 3d Zelda titles (yes I know they’re 3rd person, but my point still stands).  Use the Z or C buttons on the nunchuck and have repeated presses of said button cycle through targets.  There’s a soft lock on feature, where the game locks onto whatever target you last hit, but it’s not consistent and swaps targets every time you hit a different guy.  This makes it harder to strategize battles with boss or sub-boss enemies with their cronies as you can’t focus on the main threat, the view keeps changing for no reason other than I attacked a guy somewhere else.

The story seems to play out as a series of mission based objectives such as; activate radio towers or clear out the temple, all while killing as many baddies as possible.  There is lots of destructible boxes and safes strewn about the environment which contain money for buying new upgrades and weapons, but hitting them isn’t as fun as it should be due to the lock-on mechanic taking over your camera and you end up looking at the ground or a blank corner more often than not.  It’s not until later on in the story mode that I begin to notice that the game is not entirely linear and you can explore all the areas at your whim.  I thought the game was moving rather quickly until then but am slightly puzzled as to why the developers didn’t make more noise about it earlier.  There should have been more exploration based missions at the start of the game to let the player know they’re not on rails.  I just kept going towards the green doors on the map as the red ones are locked.  Silly me I guess.

Interspersed with the slahsy, shooty gameplay are a few puzzle elements, but again they’re hurt by the poor camera control.  It’s difficult to see the fact that there even is a puzzle, never mind how to solve it while looking at the ground.  What puzzles I saw though were fairly creative and well thought out,  it’s just a shame that they’re so difficult to navigate.  On that note, there’s the doors.  When traversing the area certain doors must be opened to gain access to other areas to solve a puzzle.  Sometimes you will have to go through a door or two several times while puzzle solving and they’re very slow.  I only remember seeing actual loading screens when entering a completely new level, or starting the game, but the doors are slower than these.  When you have to enter them a few times in a few minutes the loading time adds up, which sucks because all you’re doing is staring at a door for several seconds.  I counted a few well over 30 seconds of waiting, only to press a switch and need to go back through it- only to wait another 30 seconds.  Couldn’t this be streamed in?  Is the Wii this slow?  I don’t recall anything in Super Mario Galaxy taking this long to load.  This isn’t good level design.

After quite a few upgrades to my weapons and several hours of combat under my belt I started to get pretty good with it, despite the controls.   The moves were stylish and flashy and the more advanced enemies block your strikes and adapt to your abilities making it fairly fun.  I still couldn’t get over the fact that I felt like this game would do better as a 3rd person stylish action game like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta and not a Halo with swords style FPS.  The moves are so flashy and satisfying, but I can’t see them, just a disembodied hand with a sword or gun.  The input lag with all the sword swinging was the main hurdle.  In an FPS there needs to be no input lag as you’re inside the character’s head, whereas in a 3rd person game the action is slightly more disconnected and the lag would be acceptable.  The sword will swing right after you’ve swung the wiimote, in the same arc, but it just doesn’t feel connected- at least, not directly.  This hurts the game as a whole as I didn’t feel like the badass I was supposed to feel like.

All in all I really liked the western/ninja vibe from this game.  It has promise in it’s action and puzzle sections and the story is fairly thought out if somewhat under acted.  I just don’t see why Ubisoft decided to make the game as an FPS in the first place.  It plays like Bayonetta, but without any ability to see the flash of the combat.  Relying on the cutscenes to show how cool the moves are isn’t going to cut it anymore.  There’s no tangible reward for combat other than being able to continue moving.  If one was able to see what they were doing and how bloody cool it looks, whenever they wanted, this game would be a winner.  I realize this is a reboot of the original Red Steel, but I never played that one.   I heard it wasn’t what was expected either, but I’ll reserve judgment on that until I have some experience in the subject, but for now Red Steel 2 could be so much better than it is.  Seriously, Ubisoft:  try another game in this universe, maybe a prequel involving the Kusagari clan in some way.  Maybe have the Sensei from Red Steel 2 be the main character (back in his youth) and make it a 3rd person stylish action game.  It will sell, it will be awesome, you already have the assets…  Please?

BUY – RENT – PASS

Played for 12 hours, made it out of Calderra to the mine, after the Kusagari Temple.  Played on Wii with standard Wiimote + Nunchuck and a Wii motion plus.

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