The original Red Steel was rubbish. Everybody knows it. Mediocre gunplay and first-person swordfighting that simply didn't work, the launch title Wii game was full of ambitious ideas that unceremoniously fell flat. With the introduction of MotionPlus, however, Ubisoft wants another crack of the whip and attempt to make motion-controlled blade-swinging work.
With a totally new setting and even a complete artistic overhaul, Red Steel 2 hopes to make us forget that the original game ever existed. Just how successful has Ubisoft been, and does this sequel finally live up to the lofty goals of its predecessor? Find out as we review Red Steel 2.
Red Steel 2 is a sequel in name only. In fact, you can almost tell that the developers want nothing to do with the original. A realistic setting has been swapped for a cel-shaded fusion of Spaghetti Western and Japanese Anime, as the mysterious "Swordslinger" takes up his pistol and katana to take on the evil clans that conspired to murder his people. The game is light on narrative with a story that doesn't even make much sense, but it doesn't matter. This game is all about the stabbing and shooting.
To put it bluntly, Red Steel 2 works. In fact, not only does it work, it works brilliantly. The addition of MotionPlus gives users a sense of control that was sorely missing from the first Red Steel, and players will be able to efficiently block, parry, and slice like never before. While it's not always 100% accurate (sometimes my character wouldn't block in time, or turn to face another enemy when prompted), the game comes closer than any other title to making motion-controlled FPS combat feel not only competent, but almost natural.
Red Steel 2 teases an open world, but make no mistake, this is a linear game. If you're not cool with that, you might want to give it a miss. However, if you're not one of those strange people who seem to think that linearity is a bad thing, then strap yourself in for a pretty sweet ride. The game is split into various missions that are accepted from a number of bases strewn around each "open but not really very open" map. Some of them are compulsory, some of them are optional. You can blast through the game in roughly six or so hours, but the optional missions and hidden token items can drag out the length for completists.
The optional missions are a bit of a bore, usually requiring excessive backtracking, guesswork, or glorified collect-a-thons. Your only reward for doing them is cash, but since the game practically throws money at you from every angle (maps are crowded with breakable objects that yield dollars) you really can ignore them all. The main missions can themselves be repetitive, but the combat feels so exhilarating that you rarely notice. From beginning to end, you'll be spoiling for your next fight and a chance to continually hone your skills.
A lot of the fun is found in learning which moves work best against which enemies. As the game progresses, you'll be able to buy new and deadly attacks, and while things first feel overwhelming with blades and bullets being hurled at the Swordslinger all at once, you'll soon be breaking enemy guards, smashing armored foes, and employing some devastating special moves. It's just a shame that every single move learned required a several-minute tutorial.
The various special moves are easy to pull off with a variety of simple button and motion combinations. While a lot of the special charge attacks feel useless, the "Hidden Tactics" are incredibly useful, and are also animated stupendously, making them fun to pull off. It simply never gets old to hop back, jump forward, slash a guy from top to bottom, then stick a revolver under his chin for the coup de grace. Red Steel 2 is all about feeling like a badass, and the more it continues, the more of a badass you become. There's plenty to buy at the base areas, including the aforementioned attacks, health upgrades, armor, and upgradeable new firearms that include a shotgun, machine gun and rifle. By the time the game ends, it'll almost feel too easy, but it will still feel tremendously satisfying.
The game is not perfect, of course. Some of the compulsory backtracking is a drag, and the lack of mission variety may bore some players depending on their attention threshold. The game can also fall prone to some graphical glitches at times. While most of them aren't game breaking, there was one instance where I glitched through an object while performing a finishing move, and got myself stuck behind some scenery. A lot of these issues will prove big or small depending on how willing you are forgive them. For some, the combat won't be enough, but for others (including this reviewer) they will be minor inconveniences compared to some inspired motion-controlled violence.
Be warned, however, that this game can hurt. The wider your swings, the more powerful the Swordslinger's attacks will be, and the game requires plenty of forward-thrusting stabs as well. You might want to go into the options and raise the game's sensitivity, or suffer the potential for a very sore elbow. The pain is almost a testament to the game, however, since it's very easy to get into the melee and become a little too overenthusiastic with the movements.
Graphically, Red Steel 2 is easily among the prettiest Wii games available. While it's clearly not in HD, it still looks fantastic thanks to the bold and colorful cel-shaded visuals. There is a definite Borderlands look to the environments, and it only helps to make the game look wonderful. The art direction is awesome as well, with a perfect fusion of Western and Eastern looks, with the Swordslinger himself looking particularly striking. Special note must be made of the animation as well, which manages to make even going up and down a ladder look swanky. The way the Swordslinger moves, whether he's bursting through a door or leaping over a chasm, exudes cool. I love the over-the-top way in which the game's cutscenes are animated as well, with everybody looking like they've been ripped right out of a bad kung-fu movie.
There is no blood in Red Steel 2, which may put some of the more gore-hungry players off. It can feel weird to swing a katana at a guy's face and watch little more than dust clouds appear, but you'll get over it. Still, it would have been unbelievable amazing to see what Red Steel 2 could have looked like with blood and flailing limbs.
The only major technical issue consists of a tendency toward excessive loading times. There aren't many loading screens, but the loading has been hidden by doors that take forever to open (think Dead Space). While not inherently a problem, the sheer volume of doors that do this can get a little grating, especially as you keep needing to return to and from your base between missions, waiting for the door to open each time.
Despite its flaws, Red Steel 2 is one of the best Wii games on the market. More importantly, however, it stands as proof that first person games can work on the Wii, and work really, really well. The game is more than a waggle gimmick. It's a genuinely solid FPS that is only enhanced and made great by the Wii's interface. Gratifying and empowering, Red Steel 2 is simple, unpretentious fun. If you own a Wii, this comes highly recommended. The difference between Red Steel and Red Steel 2 is like night and day, and you won't find a better use for your MotionPlus than this, that's for damn sure.
Score: 8.5 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)
reviewed by Jim Sterling