Do you remember the launch of the Wii? Back in 06/07, the machines were next to impossible to find, even as people were only buying it for a few of it's admittedly large launch line up. Ubisoft's own sword fighter Red Steel was among these games, but with the poor reputation it was earning, no one was interested. Fast forward to 2009 and Red Steel 2 came out promising to do much better between the add-on the Motion Plus it required and generally more effort. At the time I wasn't willing to take a risk on this game due to the fact that to play I would have to buy the new add-on to play and not being the biggest fan of westerns.
A few years later, however, I got ahold of the add-on for the controller for reasons that now escape me, and stumbled on a copy of this game still sitting on the shelf pretty cheap, so I decided "what the hell" and picked it up. Right now, I'm glad the game was cheap as it proved broken for me, making it the second broken game I have reviewed on this site. Step inside.
Story: You are in trouble... simply put. You wake up in the desert sun with your arms roped up and you are about to go on the ride of your life as you are dragged every which way the thugs (in this game known as Jackals) can amuse themselves with... at least until their idiocy winds up with the rope around one of your arms burning off, letting you grab your gun and shoot their bike.
You wake up shortly after with a burning wreckage as your company until it's rider (a tatooed to hell and back guy named Payne) jumps through, beats the piss out of you, and steals your katana promising to slice your throat with it. Not willing to die before the game can begin, you kick him off and over the wreckage before it blows up blocking him from returning.
In your quest to survive, you come across an old Asian guy named Jian who is clearly not happy to see you. You see, the reason you were out there in the first place is that you are a member of a clan called the Kusagari, but one that had been banished for years. You are simply a disgrace in his eyes, but at the same time, you are the only one left. The Jackals, the same gang that just tried to kill you by dragging you along the sands of the desert and empty sewage drains of the city have taken over, and your return may be the only way to help the people here get their town back.
While the story does grow from this simple beginning, it never really gets more complex. Rather as you defeat who you are told is the big baddie, you either find out they were being instructed by someone else, or something prevents you from making the killing blow and results in you being required to chase the now current threat to a new location... rinse and repeat until you reach the final confrontation with the mastermind behind it all. It is enough to hold the game together, but rarely much more then that.
Graphics: The fact that this game was designed for the Wii probably has a number of you already shaking your heads and deciding this game must look like ass, but you would be pleasantly surprised. The game crosses a look between western, samarai, and near-future science fiction all together in a very nice looking cell shaded landscape you will explore in a first person perspective. However, while the imagery looks clean, many other games have used almost identical styles with more complex imagery to make this look very dated. This is not helped by the fact that there are places later in the game that actually do lose a frame here and there, showing off the very limits of the hardware the game was designed to use.
Thankfully, the enemies you face off with are a lot better looking. Due to the limits of the system you can expect the models to be relatively simplistic, but they are clean, work incredibly well with the fast and fluid motion of the fire/sword fighting that makes this game up, and manage to fit this mishmash style while keeping a fairly cool look.
The cutscenes, on the other hand, do not. Don't get me wrong, they still look good, but they are pre-rendered in a full CGI setup, disregarding the cell-shading effects of the main game entirely. And as far as content goes, they vary completely from epic explosions to some of the cheesiest conversations I have heard in a long time, but we will get to that in the next section.
Sound: Unfortunately not everything your ears hear in Red Steel 2 is particularly good. In particular the soundtrack is boring as hell. For just about the entire game, you will get a few of the most generic wester-sounding background music tracks you have ever heard in a game, and that's when it chooses not to just use a screaming eagle and low winds instead of music. This will be broken up with music while you are in a fight, but even that for most of the game is yet another generic sound track you would expect during a gunfight in any spaghetti western movie.
Sound effects are sadly not much better, but at least with good reason. Between you and the enemies, there are basically a handful of gun-types, blades, and hammers. As such, most of your sound effects do not need to be fantastic, especially since this game delivers the experience of swinging a sword a lot more viscerally then most other games.
But as always it seems, the most interesting part of the audio design is the voice acting. In the entire game, outside of some laughter, grunting, and "hee-yah!"s from enemies in combat, there are all of seven voices in the entire game... and the four you hear the most are all so stereotypically Asian, it's both hilarious and painful at the exact same time. On their own, these lines would be laughed at, but in the game, they somehow just add to the change in style between game and cutscene, making it oddly fit more often then not. It is strange, but it somehow works.
Gameplay: Red Steel 2 is a first person shooter/sword-fighter, making it a fairly unique game to spend some time with. Furthermore, the game takes full advantage of the WiiMote with the motion plus control to actually make swinging a sword in the game feel good rather then just like you are pressing a button of faking it out by flicking your wrist. It will accurately match the strength and distance you swing to control your power, and the angle you hold the controller at will reflect the angle you block incoming attacks at. And I have to draw attention to this because it makes most of the game an absolute joy to play. There is little as awesome as facing off with a group of enemies, zeroing on one and completely demolishing them with an X-pattern cut crossing before moving on to throw another enemy in the air, and yet bounce around the third to grab him by the neck and execute him with your pistol. When it comes to group fights, which make up most of your encounters, this game simply shines and will make you feel like a total bad-ass.
Sadly, however, most does not equal all, or even most of the time. Most of your encounters are events that only happen once as they are tied to the main mission you are trying to complete and then are done. As a result, if you take the time to finish side missions, you will spend a lot of time wandering hubs with, outside of 3 or 4 fights that can be repeated if you go far enough away from them, basically nothing but wooden boxes, snack machines, trash, phones, and barrels to destroy... and you will want to destroy them as anything you break and everyone you defeat will give you cash that you will then use in stores that will offer you new moves or to upgrade your sword, guns, or even yourself. It's useful, but it can get boring if your find yourself needing to build up before you move on.
Nor are all the encounters of this nature. For everything Ubisoft did right for huge group battles, they did wrong for bosses. In my time playing, I faced off with a boss that was basically a single minion with more hits, one that was literally a series of quick time events, and even one that basically required you to either buy the right move before hand or completely abuse a single motion unless you want to die. Simply put, the boss battles in this game are atrocious.
Bugs: And now we reach the painful part of this review. Despite the time to build or searching for the last few wanted signs for a side-mission or a bossfight completely ruining one evening of gameplay, what remained besides this was actually good enough to make up for it and make me want to continue. But no matter how much fun a game is, when you hit a bug that actually prevents you from reaching the last quarter of the game, it doesn't how much fun you had, the game has failed you, and that can not be forgiven.
- Door out of the 3rd (there are 4 total) mission hub does not open: And there it is. I finished 75% of this game, literally finishing very mission, main and side, and the door that was supposed to open to let me proceed just would not open. Reloading my saved game did not help and a quick look online basically told me that this is NOT an uncommon issue and the only way to solve this was to restart the game and hope. This is simply unacceptable and leaves this game in a broken status.
Overall: Within the first twenty minutes of playing this game, I absolutely adored it. From that first sword fight on, it was pure magic. And while the boss encounters were indeed pure shit, they don't happen enough to destroy that magic. However, I can not argue any goodness surviving when late in the game, you will either randomly find you can either finish the game or not based on a glitched out door. I have to fail this game and not recommend it to anyone.