DEVELOPER: Ubisoft Paris

The Pitch

You’re heading to meet your Japanese fiance’s father when all of a sudden a bunch of Yakuza gang bangers kidnap her and shoot up the restaurant. Seems your flame hasn’t exactly been truthful about her father’s business dealings, as the man is a head of a Yakuza family. A rival clan is rising up and trying to take over the whole gang, so you pick up a gun and a sword and head to Japan to get your girl back.

That’s the basics. There’s also a plot revolving around the clan trying to take control of your future in-law’s sword, which is when it starts to get a little silly. The story gets so boring and predictable by the end of the story that you’ll be wishing that you could skip the overly long cutscenes. The actors ain’t that great, either, lending some very nicely stereotypical voices to the mix.

But let’s be honest here. You’re not playing this game for the story.

The Play

Welcome to the world of First Person Shooters on the Wii. While I’ve already had dealings with the new style of aiming (see my review of Call of Duty 3 here), anyone who hasn’t is in for a learning curve. Get ready to move around with the nunchuck and aim with the remote, as this is the new standard for all Wii shooters to come. Thankfully, the game starts you off slow, with plenty of dumb opponents to gun down as you try not to spin madly in one direction.

The weapons themselves are nothing special. You’ve got a few pistols, a few rifles, a couple of shotguns and a sniper rifle. They all do their job, and you can only carry two of them in the same goddamn way every game has since Halo was released.

The health bar has been ripped off from Halo as well, where if you duck and cover for a minute your health will shoot right back up to 100%. It’s getting a little tiresome to see every game steal Halo’s style (I miss the days when you could carry 60 weapons and a crate of grenades in your pockets) but I guess it’s easier to stick with what works.

The main difference between this and the COD controls is the aiming. In COD to zoom in with your weapon you simply pressed the A button to zoom in a bit and clicked the B trigger to pop a shot off. For Red Steel, you press the A button to stabilize your weapon, push forward with the remote to zoom in, and then can shoot with B. But moving the remote forward and backward to zoom in and out isn’t as smart as it sounds, because most of the time it leads to sticking your arm straight out and messing up your aim. Plus, it’s hard to keep a bead on an enemy while you’re shaking your arm around. (I’ve got steady arms, so it ain’t just me…) You will be shaking your arms around a lot, too.

The sword play is what most people were excited to hear about in this game, but as you probably have heard it doesn’t work as well as you think it would. It doesn’t replicate 1 to 1 motion, which means that when you move the sword around it won’t do it exactly like you. All it registers is up, down, left and right motions… the same way it would if you hit the directional pad. The nunchuck in your left hand controls a broken blade (or Wakizashi later in the game) that is used to parry your opponent’s moves. You can strafe the opponent using the analog stick, and the buttons on the nunchuck allow you to sidestep and do special moves. The remote is used to slash in all the different directions.

When you first get into a sword fight you’ll hate it. You’ll be blasting everyone up and enjoying the nice ragdoll physics as the enemies flop around dead when someone will come at you with a sword. Instead of doing the smart thing and shooting him where he stands for his stupidity, you pick up a sword and proceed to have an honorable fight. The shit is that? Still, it’s a nice change from the monotony of the gun battles, until you realize there’s not much to them. The sword fights only get exciting later in the game when you learn some of the more advanced maneuvers.

As for the shooting, along with the regular blasting there’s a bullet-time mode you can switch on when you’ve filled up a meter. It’s mostly worthless. With it you can target the guns to disarm opponents… and that’s pretty much it. It would’ve been nice to be able to target different body areas. Once you’ve knocked the weapon out of an enemy’s hand you shake the remote up and down like you’re telling him to get down on the floor, and he will. It’s a way for you to get respect points.

The respect system is another mostly useless feature. For letting enemies live after gun battles or sword fights (or by pulling off special movies with your katana) you’ll rack up some Respect Points. All these do is allow you to learn some new maneuvers for the sword. The only problem is that there’s only a few to learn, and you’ll be at the highest level of Respect about halfway through the game if you simply disarm a few people here and there.

The AI in this game is horrible, and for the most part you’ll get shot at because you can’t even see where they’re shooting from. It’s incredibly difficult to spot some enemies in this game, even more so because the little indicator light that tells you what direction you just got hit from doesn’t move when you do. So if you’re trying to run and duck for cover, good look knowing where the enemy is… it’s just going to tell you where it was.

Despite all of this though, it’s fun to play, just giving further evidence of how much of a new experience it is playing games on the Wii. Shooting things feels much more natural when you’re actually aiming, and once you get things down they’re pretty spot on. Fuck a keyboard and mouse. This is the new future for FPSers.

The Presentation

The graphics here are all over the place. At times they’re damn pretty… probably some of the best you’ve seen on the system. The explosions and fire effects in particular are impressive. But as good as they are there’s some that just don’t work… like the pixilated 2d water effects at parts or the enemies who all look the same. There’s also no blood which is a turnoff for a sociopath like me.

The locations are just as strange, with some questionable (and linear) level design. Most levels in the beginning all look like the same boring buildings, and that only changes later when you get into some more outdoors areas. They’re not used to their full potential, though. Like when you get into sword fights in a bamboo forest later on in the game. Everyone knows when samurai fight in a bamboo forest, there’s going to be some motherfucking bamboo getting cut. Not here.

The game’s also got many graphical glitches, evidence once again of what happens when you rush a game out for launch. Lots of times people will get stuck in an animation or die but still stay standing and unshootable. There’s also a few gaps in walls that I managed to get stuck in on multiple occasions.

So while it does look very nice, you just know this little system can pump out better.

One thing the game does great is the music. It’s the perfect mix of orchestral and techno, whipping up a nice soundtrack for frantic gun battles. Along with that there’s some more traditional Japanese music for the calmer moments. The Dolby Pro Logic II works well enough to immerse you in the world.

The Replay

There is a multiplayer mode here (something that was sorely missing from Call of Duty) and you can fight up to 4 players in a pretty entertaining match, but there are some setbacks as well. Like how there’s no sword fighting. Why? This could’ve been great, and would have led to some great physical fights as you both tried to slash and parry your opponent. Still, the gun battles are more fun when you’re blasting at a friend. The lack of an online multiplayer mode hurts, though.

But you’re not going to want to play back through the single player game after you beat it.

The Verdict

While I’ve been ripping on this pretty badly, Red Steel does have its moments. Once you get in the style of shooting it’s incredibly satisfying to shoot people and watch them crash through windows or fall down the stairs. The problem is that the game only feels fresh because of the controls. It wouldn’t even get a second look if it debuted on any other system. If you absolutely positively need a first person shooter for the Wii, I’d say you should pick this one up. That’s very slim praise, of course, but it’s got the better package over CoD 3. If it were just up to the single player modes, COD would win, but thanks to multiplayer Red Steel manages to get just a little bit up on the WWII shooter.

Let’s hope that the inevitable sequels correct all of these mistakes made in rushing these games out.