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Red Steel Review

By Jeff Buckland, 12/15/2006

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Red Steel was the first game to be revealed for the then just-announced Nintendo Wii. Ubisoft pimped it as a Japanese gangster-style first person shooter where you get to shoot your enemies with pinpoint accuracy then close in for the kill with a sword or two for a blood-pumping duel. But somewhere along the way, it seems that Ubisoft ran out of time and weren't able to deliver everything they were promising. The end result is that Red Steel lacks a lot of the things that us gamers were hoping to see in the Wii's first FPS.

You play as an American enforcer named Scott whose Japanese fiance is the daughter of an important Yakuza boss. After a couple of major betrayals, you'll find yourself fighting to rescue your kidnapped fiance, but not before her father starts you on a path of learning true swordsmanship. What this eventually leads to are sequences of shooter action with the occasional sword duel. Sure, you can whip out your swords at any time for up-close kills, but that part works no more elegantly than pressing the B button to melee in Halo 2. It's the duels where the swords really come out and you get to fight a longer battle.

But what has got to be the biggest draw for Red Steel winds up becoming a big gimmick that doesn't make good use of the Wii controller at all. When you've got your sword out, moving the Wiimote around doesn't translate 100% to moving your sword. All you're doing is flicking the 'mote around in the air and getting a few canned sword swings, which are only loosely connected to how you flicked the Wiimote. You can flick the Nunchuck to parry the enemy's attack, and dodge around your opponent by using the stick on the Nunchuck. What I realized early on, however, is that none of the controls for sword dueling actually need the Wii controller. Everything could have been done, with no compromises whatsoever, with a normal game controller - even a GameCube controller. Just assign the different sword swings to different face buttons, and this could have been a GameCube title.

And the graphics only make this more obvious. I know that the Wii is not meant to be a powerhouse, but Red Steel absolutely looks simplistic enough that the GameCube surely could have handled it. From repetitive enemy designs to plenty of tight spaces without any technically impressive design (although I do dig the Japanese atmosphere overall), this game looks not only rushed, but I am wondering if the Ubisoft Paris studio should be making first person shooters at all. Their last FPS, the cel-shaded XIII, was a disappointment, and this one follows a little too closely in its footsteps.

Even the title of the game is totally misleading. You'd think that with a name like Red Steel you might see some blood during the sword duels, but you don't. There's pretty much no blood in this game at all, which probably helped Ubisoft get a Teen rating for this game.

Of course, most of the game is spent exploring linearly-designed levels and shooting people with your guns. You can pick up a decent range of small-arms weapons, and the usual functions of reloading and switching guns is set on the Wiimote's d-pad. The stick on the Nunchuck works just like the left stick does in most shooters - it moves you around. Turning, and aiming, though, is controlled by you aiming the Wiimote at the screen. Put the cursor near an edge of the screen and your head will turn in that direction. Unfortunately, your enemies aren't the most exciting sort around, and they have only basic AI and rarely work together to kill you. Most of the difficulty you're going to have is getting used to the controls, and once you get over that you'll realize that the enemies are actually not that much fun to kill. Sure, you can do amusing stuff like turn your gun to the side to kill people gangsta-style, but there just isn't enough between the gunfights and sword battles to carry the game.

Red Steel is more like a concept game than, well, a game. It shows how first person shooters will likely work on the Wii, and while they tried to infuse a lot of style in, the guys at Ubisoft just haven't really delivered that. I think it's an overall good sign for the future of action games on Nintendo's console, but as a game this one simply has almost no replay value and its action isn't as refined as I expected it to be. Even if you've got a Wii and are itching for a shooter, this one should probably be avoided.

Overall: 65%



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