The differences between Red Steel 2 and it’s 2006 predecessor are scarce to say the least. Both games take have the words “Red Steel“ in the title, both are published by Ubisoft and both feature a protagonist who’s keen on both guns and swords but that’s where the similarities end. Rather than pick up where the first game left off Ubisoft has given this sequel a complete overhaul in an attempt to finally realize the potential that the series once had. The first Red Steel game was a “realistic” First Person Shooter with one-on-one sword duels dispersed through-out. The repetitive structure, spotty graphics, glitchy multiplayer and god-awful controls led to the game being critically panned despite all the hype that was surrounding it at the time. Those of you who were suckered in to buying original Red Steel will be pleased to know that this sequel literally rights all the wrongs from the first game. It boasts a tonne of variety, contains stylish cel-shaded visuals and introduces 1-to-1 accurate controls thanks to Wii-Motion Plus support. Multi-Player is out but I’m sure not too many people will miss it, not having to develop a multi-player aspect to the game means that Ubisoft had more time to polish and fine-tune the solo experience, and the result is… one of the best third-party games on the Wii to-date.
Set in “The Red West”, Red Steel 2 is clearly a game influenced by both Far East Asia and Western America. Place a Japanese town on to the set of a John Wayne movie and that’s pretty much Red Steel 2’s setting in a nutshell. This time, you play as an initially unnamed and silent protagonist who is one of the last members of the Kusagari-Clan. The very beginning of the game see’s your character being dragged to his death by members of a rival clan known as The Jackals. After escaping their clutches you set off on a one man mission to exterminate the Jackals and avenge your fallen clan members. At the start of the game it’s not really clear why you’re going around stabbing to death swarms of enemies but as you progress the storyline becomes clearer and more details about you’re character is revealed. Of course this means that for the first few hours of the game you may feel like you’re just wandering around, aimlessly taking on objectives but those who stick with the game and persevere through the unknown will certainly be rewarded.
By far the biggest flaw with the original Red Steel was it’s clunky and imprecise controls. Everything from turning the camera to zooming in felt wrong and the sword combat consisted of nothing more than mindless waggle. Aiming in Red Steel 2 feels lightyear’s ahead, I was able to switch between targets and pull of head shots with ease, a privilege which was almost unheard of in the first game. RS2 features 3 different control options all with varying degrees of sensitivity, however even on the highest settings the controls weren’t as sensitive as I would have liked. It’s by no means “bad” but compared to top tier Wii shooters like Metroid Prime or even The Conduit it feels like a slight step back. On a brighter note, what Red Steel 2 does do perfectly is swordplay. Red Steel 2 is officially the first third-party game on the Wii to require a Wii-MotionPlus unit to enhance the motion controls. This is a bold move on Ubisoft’s part, especially since only a small fraction of the Wii’s 70 million strong install base actually own a MotionPlus but hopefully this decission will pay off for them in the long run.
Thanks to the enhanced support the Wii is able to detect and in-turn replicate your every move, whether you’re slightly twisting your wrist to rotate switches or fully swinging your arm to dish out damage with your virtual Katana. Horizontal slices, vertical slices, jabs, lifting motions and thrust movements are all easily recognized giving Ubisoft the opportunity to add several motion-based moves and combos, safe in the knowledge that the Wii Remote (for the most part) won’t misinterpret the users actions. The combat system in Red Steel 2 is very formulaic with most encounters starting and ending the same but the array of moves at your disposal should help to keep fights feeling fresh. If you enter a wide open area it’s highly likely that enemies will pop up on screen, if they’re already waiting for you that is. Your life bar will then appear in the top centre of the screen with a counter below it representing how much enemies you’ll have to kill in order to move on. Your life bar won’t regenerate until the last enemy is killed so clever use of your weapons, dodging and parrying is vital to progressing. Every now and again you’ll partake in a “boss battle” who will naturally require a strategic approach to defeat, these bosses provide some of the best moments in the game although several of them can be taken down in a similar fashion.
At any point in the game you can switch between using your gun or sword which opens up a wealth of possible tactics and combos for you to employ. Switching between your two weapon types couldn‘t be easier. To use you’re gun just squeeze the B trigger on the Wii Remote or if you’d prefer to swing your blade of steel simply thrust the Wii Remote in any direction and watch as your slices are seamlessly interpreted on screen. The ability to change between the two very different weapons types is an excellent addition and is one of the key features that sets Red Steel 2 apart from every other shooter on the market but it does also present one of the biggest issue that I had with the game. As your aiming reticule and the camera controls are both determined by the wherever the player is pointing on screen, the moments where you have to swing your sword will often throw-off your reticule and force your camera tilt slightly which can often make you feel disjointed.
To add to the list of changes, the core Gameplay mechanics in Red Steel 2 has been changed drastically and now the game feels much more fluid and dynamic. No longer are you travelling from room to room alternately engaging in shootouts and one-on-one sword fights. You’re now traversing through beautiful open areas taking on objectives which are given to you from a central location. The story is told via in-game interactions, over the air messages and, to a lesser extent, through CGI cutscenes. The cutscenes look nothing short of amazing and at times it’s almost hard to believe that you’re actually watching a Wii game. Unfortunately these stunning CG moments are few and far between and when they do pop up to give you eyeballs a visual treat their presence is relatively short-lived. Red Steel 2 also incorporates a levelling up system which utilizes cash which you earn by successfully completely missions. Once you’ve got a healthy amount of money in your pouch you can upgrade your characters abilities as well as purchase new and more powerful weapons. The problem is, money can also be obtained by killing enemies, smashing objects, shooting flashing targets or by cracking various safes located through-out the game (which prompts a neat mini-game in which you have to hold the Wii-mote by your ear and twist it until you hear it click). The fact that money is so easy to come by quickly dilutes the in-game economic system and as you approach the end of your journey it’s likely that your character will be severally overpowered which takes much of the intensity out of the final stretch of the game.
Red Steel 2’s most noticeable quality is it’s stunning cel-shaded visuals. Ubisoft attempted to craft a cel-shaded first person shooter several years ago with XIII and Red Steel 2 is the natural evolution of that concept. This is truly one of the best looking third-party games available on the Wii and it puts The Conduit’s “gritty, realistic” façade to shame. The characters and enemies are fantastically designed and the blending of both Eastern and Western cultural themes works perfectly. The locations may seem sterile and the Wii’s graphical limitations ultimately does a disservice to the games unique art style but I get the sense that Ubisoft did as much as they possibly could whilst working within the confines of the hardware. The music through-out the game is also fantastic and like does a job in keeping the both the tone and feel of the game. The voice work isn’t at as high in calibre but it doesn’t detract from the game as a whole.
As with all good games, Red Steel 2 does have it’s shear of flaws, but these are minor blemishes on an otherwise highly entertaining product. The lack of things to do outside of the 10/12 hour single player campaign is disappointing but the solo offering is more than strong enough to justify the $50 asking price. With this sequel Ubisoft has officially redeemed themselves from the abomination which the first game was, hopefully this new and improved Red Steel will go on to sell just as well as it’s predecessor and the Red Steel series will continue to flourish on the Wii for years to come.