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Review: Red Steel 2
by Sean Engemann
It’s been a while since playing the first Red Steel game, and frankly none of us expected to see a sequel after our high expectations of the innovative motion controls were shot down with an inaccurate, frustrating gaming experience. But time has passed, and my anger has subsided. Now, after looking into every detail of Red Steel 2 before the launch, and finding myself in the same excited state as I was years ago for the first game, I can safely say... it’s okay. Certainly not spectacular by any stretch, but good enough that I don’t want to launch my Wiimote at the TV, which is a huge improvement.

Those of you who attempted to play the first game will instantly notice some major changes to the formula. The story is completely different, shedding the modern era and yakuza based kidnapping plot for a blend of the Old West with Asian influences and some post modern technology. An odd mix to say the least, but certainly believable for the player, since the graphics are done with gorgeous cel-shading, giving the game a certain comic book feel. The visuals are vibrant and lag-free, yet although this does allow certain breaks from realism, one adjustment in particular left me slightly disappointed. I’m speaking of the lack of blood in the game. While Ubisoft stated that the omission of blood was to allow a softer game rating and therefore cater to a broader audience, watching your enemy turn into a puff of dust after you’ve stabbed him in the chest just takes the edge away from the game. And that’s sad, because wielding your katana has never felt closer to the real thing in a Wii game to date.

Trying to parry bullets in real life should not be attempted under any circumstances. Except on Wii.
Mind you, the sword control scheme isn’t perfect, but it’s a far sight better than the horrendous blade wielding in the first game, and can be used throughout the whole game. Swinging the Wiimote translates to a swipe across the screen, in any direction. You can do soft wrist-flicks for light hits, or put your whole arm into it for heavier blows, which are required to knock the armour off of some enemies. The melee action is fast paced and satisfying, especially when you’ve dispatched half a dozen foes that have ganged up on you. But it’s still a simplified system, and therefore doesn’t present an enormous challenge. While you can swing any which way, your hits are only registered vertically or horizontally. And blocking is even more disappointing, requiring you press the A button... and that’s it. Enemy bullets cannot penetrate your block, even if you’re holding the Wiimote behind your back. Sometimes foes will launch a heavy attack in which you must either block up or to the sides, but I personally would liked to have seen a broader range of parries, requiring some quick timing with you movements to avoid the blow. Despite the imperfect controls, Red Steel 2 is thus far the best use of the WiiMotion Plus, and hopefully other third party developer will see the possibilities and more games using the peripheral will be forthcoming.

The story and characters are the game's real egregious criminals. The plot has a strong base, with the city of Caldera being overrun by a group of thugs who have been brought together by a larger and more sinister power, seeking the secrets of the Kusagari, the town’s protectors. After being banished for unknown reasons, you return to the city to find your clansmen murdered, leaving you as the last surviving Kusagari. Now you must cleanse the city of the invaders, and destroy those who are after your ancestral knowledge. Sounds compelling, right? The problem is that it never fully moulded into an engaging story. There isn’t a strong plot progression as you move from location to location, and the final battle and ensuing epilogue are so anticlimactic, you’re left confused as to whether you’ve really cleared the game, until the credits role and you’re left speechless - and not in a good way, either. The weak characters only add to the story’s demise. None of them are given enough interaction and personal aspirations to make them believable, and the nameless hero is so disjointed from the rest that you never truly feel compelled to aid him in his mission.

This is what happens when you make a guy in a hat angry.
The gameplay is the redeeming quality of Red Steel 2, and the reason it gets a decent review score. The action is fast-paced and often explosive. The progression of your battle abilities is fleshed out very well. You start the game with nothing to fight with, but quickly acquire your revolver, with your first blade soon after. You gain new powers after completing missions and by purchasing them at the various “safe houses”. With new sword and gun attacks, and Kusagari powers - many of which can be linked together to create lethal combos and cool finishing moves - you’ll continually feel as if you’re growing as a warrior. You may find certain combinations work best and use them constantly, but they never feel redundant, and the fast animations and smooth motions make them that much more satisfying. You can also use the money collected to purchase upgrades to your weapons and armour, but the difficulty of the enemies match your upgrades closely enough that you never really feel as if these improvements give you an edge in battle. You collect cash by defeating foes (combos multiply your cash earned), and by destroying everything tangible around town (boxes, barrels, phone booths, booze bottles, and more). Completing your main mission and any side missions you choose to perform also yield a monetary reward. However, most of the side quests feel contrived and often redundant, making you want to skip them after the first few.

The music and sound are fairly good; neither memorable nor unbearable. The mix of Asian instrumentation and Western ditties pair surprisingly well together and fit the setting perfectly. I personally enjoy the clichéd two note bass line whenever you defeat a group of enemies. This may sound odd, but some of the game's instrumental score makes me think I’m playing Diablo, and I swear if I closed my eyes I would think I was in Tristram. The sound effects are spot on, with every gunshot, slash, and piece of scenery destroyed giving a nice, crisp timbre.

Why is it that the guy I'm pointing the gun at doesn't look scared, though the one behind him does?
Ultimately, Red Steel 2 is fun to play, certainly rife with action and visually stunning. Although far from perfect, the controls are among the best the Wii has seen, and you will definitely break a sweat if you want to cutting a swath of destruction through town (for the greater good, of course). The story will leave a sour taste in your mouth, and although the hero looks cool, you’ll be left wishing he had a tonne more personality. However, it looks as though Red Steel will become a trilogy, so hopefully the final iteration was will take all the criticism into consideration, and be a flawless finale.



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- Sean Engemann

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