Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tale of the Six-Shooter Samurai

Red Steel 2, yeah. Where do I start on this one? How about this: Red Steel 2 is an FPS game for the Wii (yes, the Wii) that came out last month. Sequel to the Wii launch title, Red Steel, this game has almost nothing to do with the original.

Not that that's a bad thing.

In the original, the player played a former-Yakuza bodyguard trying to save his girlfriend, the Yakuza heiress he was formerly protecting, from a usurper. Usually, you shot guns at people, occasionally stopping for a one-on-one duel. It was good as a proof of concept, but not much else. The movement and looking controls were janky, sword-fighting was unresponsive, story was absurd, graphics, while not bad, could've been better.

Red Steel 2, you play an outcast from a samurai clan returning to avenge the destruction of said clan. You shoot stuff, and you hit stuff with a sword, usually in quick succession. Often. Like Metroid Prime 3, this isn't proof of concept, it is simply proof. Proof that the Wii controls can do an FPS, and do it well. Controls are good all-around, story is still absurd, but at least it fits with the game's style, and the graphics are good (for a Wii game, and having to use that caveat sucks, but this is an XB360 and PS3 world...).

I think I'll start with the graphics. Knowing the Wii's limited graphical power, the developers went with a stylized, comic book visuals. In terms of actual aesthetic though, I would have to describe it as Borderlands-lite. If the Wii had more horsepower and kept with the stylization, I'm sure Borderlands is what Red Steel 2 would look like. The whole aesthetic is a combination of American western, Japanese samurai, and high-tech. Most building fit western, with major locations being traditional japanese, while high-tech is mixed in throughout. The enemies wear psuedo-modern/high-tech takes on traditional japanese samurai/ninja gear. The player character is a straight-up man-with-no-name in a double-breasted duster straight out of a 70s Western movie (and that is so absolutely badass). The main antagonist, as well as the friendlies, are over-the-top stereotypes as well. Included are a hilly-billy crossed with a stereotypical old japanese man (dressed in an unbuttoned hawaiian shirt and western hat no less). A southern-belle dressed like a goth-punk. The teacher character is an old sensei who looks like he was pulled from a 70s kung-fu movie, and was written and dubbed like a 70s english dub of said kung-fu movie (also freakin' awesome). The antagonist, he's just your stock evil scarred man character, not as interesting as the others, but it still works in context.

Primary complaint here is that you're in towns that are supposed to have people in them, but you only see the enemies. Even the friendly NPCs are relegated almost entirely to cutscenes, so the world feels pretty empty. On the gameplay side, it isn't helping that while the graphical style is great, the design of the levels are mostly uninteresting.

Gameplay though, that's where a game like this needs to succeed. In my personal opinion, Red Steel 2 delivers what Red Steel 1 promised: First-person shooting and sword-fighting. At the same time. Firing your gun is as easy as pushing the B button, swiping with the sword is as easy as any amount of Wii-mote flailing. Though its not that simple, those are basically what you do. Point the Wii-mote at the screen to aim, move the cursor to the edges of the screen to turn your character. Pressing B shoots the gun you have equipped. Holding a direction and pressing A will dash you in that direction, while holding A will pull out your sword to block. Swinging the Wii-mote will swing your sword in roughly the same direction as your swing.

Its not perfect, but actually, it doesn't need to be. One of the primary problems with alot of games that use the pointer is that the pointer is TOO precise. By that I mean that its so precise that it even picks up the involuntary movement and jitters of most people, so trying to hold the cursor still simply doesn't work. Only now are developers starting to work out how to keep the game from recognizing these movements and only see the deliberate ones, and this dev team has figured it out. Cursor movement is smooth, precise, and if you miss a shot, then either the enemy blocked it, or your aim just sucks.

The other big problem is the flailing that is typically seen in almost all games that use the Wii-mote's motion sensor. Yes, you need to move to swing your sword, but you can't flail, or you'll die. I know I should have mentioned this sooner, but Red Steel 2 requires the use of the Wii-Motion-Plus accesory, and the swordfighting is the entire reason why. It makes swinging the Wii-mote be more properly displayed onscreen. You don't need (or want) to flail because the WMP reads not only the direction, but also the force behind the movements. Flailing will give you weak slashes in random directions, and while that may be okay for the lowest of the low enemies, you will need hard, deliberate strokes (yes I see the double-entendre, moving on...), many times in particular directions, to see your way through tougher battles, as well as when using many of the combo moves in the game. It needs to work, and it does as long as the player realizes that flailing sucks.

Sound, well, I don't actually have alot to say there. The voice-acting isn't bad, but its not necessarily great either, most of it being merely adequate in service to the plot and setting. The only real standout is Jian, the sensei character, who as I stated earlier, is written like an over-the-top 70s english dub of a 70s kung-fu movie. He likes talking about how you, an outcast of the clan, is being successful against the enemies when the clan failed, and how it shames him. I find it rather humorous. Music, on the other hand, is quite good, primarily being heard during battle. It brings in a nice mix of ethnic japanese and american western string music in many various compositions. I, however, am not terribly knowledgeable in music terminology or criticism, so suffice it to say, the music is good. As an aside though, the song "Storm" by the "Yoshida Brothers" wouldn't be out of place in this game.

Red Steel 2 does have some issues, but they're pretty minor (in my opinion). The game tries to act like its non-linear when in truth its just as linear as any other, with objectives spread over an area map that you might go through 2 or 3 times before being shunted to the next area (through a clearly marked "point of no return" screen). The game is supposed to (at least partially) affect the difficulty based on player performance, but it doesn't really work, as even the lowest rank enemies end up appearing throughout the game. You can get up to 4 guns, but only the first one is required to finish the game, and 2 of them aren't even all that useful (the machine-gun and lever-rifle). After battles where you finished the final enemy with the sword, the character will typically look up because chances are that was were the aiming cursor ended up from the sword slash. Those are things I noticed, I'm sure other people found others.

I think I covered all the major things. Red Steel 2 isn't perfect by any means, but I think its one of the better core games on the Wii now, and someone looking for an original take on an FPS should definitely give this game a shot.

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