The Nintendo Wii is perfect for first-person shooters. As soon as it was unveiled, fans were drooling over the possibilities entailed by the innovative controller. However, most successful shooters are intended for more mature audiences- not something Nintendo wanted at launch. Red Steel is clearly a compromise for those of us who crave intense action and those who have family play to take into consideration. On the technical side, Red Steel is a decent showcase for what the Wii can do with shooters, although it leaves a bit to be desired.
Red Steel sees your character, an American bodyguard for a wealthy Japanese businessman’s daughter, thrown into a war between Yakuza members. After kidnapping said daughter, a radical branch of the Yakuza attempts to overthrow the current state of peace amongst former gangsters. It’s up to you to save her, and the future of slightly-good-do-badders everywhere! It’s great stuff, evoking the cheesiness and drama of an early-90’s action flick. There’s enough commentary on honor and justice and whatnot that those looking for a serious game will appreciate, but on other levels it provides a tongue-in-cheek experience that can be enjoyed without being taken seriously. In the end, it’s a solid east-meets-west story that delivers on multiple fronts.
Plot alone cannot drive a game, however. Red Steel is, apart from the novelty of the Wii controller, a fairly standard first-person shooter. Anyone who has played a dual-analog shooter will be able to pick up the movement in the game quickly, as the Wiimote is basically used as a substitute for the right stick. However, there are some more interesting control conventions than just aiming- shaking the nunchuck in your left hand performs many different actions, such as reloading your weapon, blocking with a tanto, or flipping over objects to hide behind. It sounds ridiculous, but in practice it works well and allows for even more immersion in the game. There are a few annoying things about the gameplay, however. Aiming is intuitive, until you get into a firefight that requires you to pay attention 360 degrees around you- because the screen only moves when you “nudge” it by moving the crosshair near one of the edges, it’s sometimes impossible to orient yourself. The controls for swordfights can be infuriating, mainly due to the fact that the nunchuck attachment is required to parry- and let’s face it, the nunchuck isn’t responsive in the slightest. That’s fine for things like opening doors and reloading, but in the middle of a duel I prefer my sword to move when my hand does.
Red Steel is a standard run-and-gun shooter on an infant console. This means that while the controls may be innovative, the rest of the game is fairly bland. You’ll run through linear levels, blasting baddies with a variety of different guns or cutting foes down with your trusty katana- and that’s pretty much it. No vehicles to drive, no large environments to explore, and no puzzles mean that players seeking something on the level of Halo or Gears of War will be severely disappointed. However, that doesn’t mean that those willing to overlook the simplicity won’t enjoy it. Red Steel can get pretty intense, as that extra level of control really sucks the player in. The physics are powered by the fairly new Agea PhysX engine that is occasionally impressive, especially in some of the more cluttered environments. There are some great scripted ‘wow’ moments, such as escaping an exploding chemical plant by running through a pipe being engulfed in flames, or a 747 jet rumbling directly overhead a pagoda atop a skyscraper. There’s one feature that must be pointed out and taken note of: the fact that you don’t have to kill your enemies. Story progression is based on the level of respect people have for you, and fighting with honor earns you this respect faster. At the end of a swordfight, you can choose to kill your opponent or spare their life. In the course of the shoot-em-up gameplay, you’ll learn how to shoot the weapons out of people’s hands. Waving your remote will cause them to disarm entirely, turning a possible bloodbath into an almost peaceful occasion. This may seem dull- what’s the point of a game full of things that go boom if you don’t get to use them?- but it’s a fantastic idea in practice and makes the main character seem that much more human.
The Nintendo Wii is nowhere near as powerful as the two rival consoles, which means Red Steel is far from a feast for graphics whores. However, it’s a decent looking game, and certainly wouldn’t have run on the GameCube. Character models especially are very detailed, and the game has some nice lighting effects. Some of the indoor levels look very bland, full of flat boring textures. Outdoor levels do a much better job of showcasing the pretty effects in the game. Red Steel is a very stylized game, trying to look overly grungy and dark with an emphasis on black, red, and white palettes. Because of its target audience, the game is entirely bloodless and- amusingly- bleeps out four-letter words. The sound design is much more impressive than the visual effort, complete with a pulse-pounding orchestral and electronic score that draws from Asian drumming styles and western film music. The voice acting ranges from brilliant to hilarious, in keeping with the tone of the game. Some characters sounds so obsessed with the letter ‘r’ it’s almost offensive, and will probably bring a smirk to your face. Or maybe a grimace, depending on how seriously you intend to take content found in a game where mobsters are obsessed with being honorable.
Despite some of the bad press it’s getting Red Steel is worth checking out. It’s not the best use of the motion controls, as it’s really just an extension of the previously standard dual-analog controller. It’s among the prettiest games on the Wii, and has a fun, if tacked on, multiplayer component. If one gets used to the sometimes finicky aiming system, Red Steel is the perfect action-packed, fairly mindless diversion that has enough fun in it to make it worth a purchase. And to be perfectly frank, that’s all anyone should ask from a launch title.