Among the ports, remakes and the one Legend of Zelda title present at the Wii’s launch was Red Steel, a first person shooter/sword fighter intended to prove the Wii could be a platform for both hardcore and casual gamers. Unfortunately it suffered from some rather clunky controls due to the Wii not being able to do what it was supposed to.
Now, 4 years and one controller add-on later, Red Steel 2 has been released. While the core mechanics of the first game have been given an upgrade, everything from else has been scrapped. What was once a gritty, realistic yakuza setting has been abandoned for a desert punk setting, a new hero, and a new art style.
Our hero returns to his hometown to find his clan completely destroyed and the town overrun by violent bikers calling themselves The Jackals. From there the game’s narrative paints a fairly typical vengeance plot you see in most samurai and western flicks. As the last Kusagari, a samurai gunslinger, it is your task to find those responsible for the destruction of your clan and reclaim your honour.
Our hero, the Kusagari
The mixed bag of east meeting west, and old meeting new is quite interesting and feels like it was plucked from the head of Quentin Tarantino. It’s allowed the developer to create a unique visual flair to the game, creating towns with wooden buildings bearing automatic doors, and samurais wielding modified Tommy guns. Everything is cel shaded, which fits the Wii’s hardware rather well, and I’d love to see more games take the same stylised approach as Red Steel 2.
Cutscenes look good, though the character models could use some work as some of them can come off as a bit ugly. During your run through the game you never interact with no more than five NPCs, not counting enemies of course, and while they do look distinct some of them poorly realized.
Story progression is strictly mission based, stringing a number of linear corridors and some bigger hub worlds together. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with linearity, but the flow breaks somewhat when you have to trek back and forth from your last objective and the current mission giver.
I would have liked to see more mission variety as well. Most missions boil down to getting wherever you need to be, fighting a bunch of dudes, or activating something. This is especially common for the side quests, which are mostly made up of “Destroy x amounts of y”, or “fight x amounts of dude z”.
The various mission hubs are interesting, ranging from small ghost towns to bigger cities, but the hubs are completely void of enemies when you’ve cleared them out. Visual flair goes a long way, but padding makes the game feel a bit boring, and the lack of access to a bigger world map can make exploration and navigation a bit tricky. There’s always an arrow pointing to your next destination, but there’s nothing apart from your own memory telling you where you are and where you’ve been in case you’re out exploring.
But a game has got to have gameplay, otherwise you’re just watching a movie. The Wii is tailor made for FPS games, and firing your weapon is as easy as pointing and clicking. The various guns you’ll find throughout the game can be upgraded in the usual ways of clip size, reload speed and accuracy, but getting all the upgrades is well worth the effort, as each gun has an additional, special upgrade.
Red Steel 2 goes the extra mile to make you feel like the ultimate badass. You can’t help but trip over ammo and money and you’ll rarely run out of bullets. The game provides an okay challenge, but it loses some steam around the halfway point. I understand why I’m being made to feel like a badass, but the difficulty curve drops a bit too far for my taste.
The bad guys can be taken down in a variety of ways, and you’re encouraged to mix up the use of guns and swordplay. When it comes to the swordfights, the Wii MotionPlus provides some much needed depth to what would otherwise be a massive waggle fest. While it can still feel like you’re simply flailing your WiiMote around whenever you’re in combat, at least it’s flailing with a purpose.
Merely waggling at the wrist will get you absolutely nowhere in Red Steel 2, as the Wii MotionPlus can tell the difference between a strong swing and a weaker swing. The WiiMote is also a lot better at determining the direction of your swing, which is key when performing the various “arts” you’ll be unlocking throughout the game.
One such art already showcased is The Eagle, which lets you launch enemies into the air where you can turn them into bullet sandwiches. The variety these sword arts offer is satisfying, but you can get a bit bogged down with so many manoeuvres and combos, it’s difficult to remember all of them. Thankfully the game provides you with a handy list.
Combat is swift, fluid and incredibly brutal at times, which neatly brings me to my next point: the lack of in-game blood. When I first heard complaints about this, I merely dismissed them as simple whining, but seeing the game in action makes the lack of blood come off as egregious and almost pointless. Rushing an opponent and shooting him in the face, being incredibly brutal and fun all on its own, loses some of its impact without the red stuff.
I understand why the developers did this, seeing as M rated games hardly sell on the Wii, but No More Heroes avoided the M rating despite the copious amounts of blood, so why couldn’t Red Steel 2? The in-game graphics are stylised enough to circumvent realism, and the action is so over the top and silly it shouldn’t be such a problem.
Sound design, however, is awesome. The voice acting can be a bit touch and go at times as certain characters bring on the narm more often than not, but it’s pretty good all around. The guns all sound distinct and quite deadly, and the sword whistles through the air as you swing it.
Red Steel 2 also excels musically. I’m a huge fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, which Red Steel 2 seems to take a lot of cues from. The idle music is a simple guitar and fiddle combo, but once the combat picks up and things gets serious, you’re bombarded with a high energy melody that could have been lifted straight from Firefly, and different enemy types get different musical cues. The music definitely brings an added flair to the already heavy western setting and helps keep combat upbeat and frenetic. Definite kudos to composer Tom Salta.
Apart from the main quest there’s an extra challenge mode, where you replay chapters and try to beat them as quickly as possible. It’s all there to earn you extra money in the main game, but it feels like a pointless inclusion, as you already get tons of money in the main quest already. It provides an incentive to challenge your friends for bragging rights, but there’s really nothing special about it.
Red Steel 2 is a great game. As far as the narrative goes, it’s really nothing new, and the mission structure is a bit lacking, but overall the game is a lot of fun to play. There’s something inherently satisfying with blasting a leaping enemy away with a well placed shotgun blast, then jamming your own sword into his chest. The unique graphical style is an interesting one, and the feeling of being a badass out for revenge never goes away. All in all, Red Steel 2 is a fun and engaging experience that excellently shows off what the Wii can do.