Red Steel 2
Playing as a mysterious, nameless hero with a striking resemblance to The Shadow, Red Steel 2 apparently has nothing to do with its predecessor. The game amusingly kicks off with the player dragged behind a speeding motorcycle. The sequence is unexpected and serves as an appropriate introduction to the sometimes high-octane nature of the game. Unfortunately, during this juncture, the Sora katana is liberated from your possession, putting the entire Kusagari clan name in jeopardy.
Following your wild ride, you make your way to the nearest dojo, where you meet Jian, the requisite old master and custodian of all Kusagari techniques. In the first of many, many tutorial segments that are scattered throughout the game, Jian teaches you the basics of Red Steel 2’s swords and shooting gameplay. Swipes and stabs of the Wii remote control your sword, while pulling the trigger fires your pistol. In addition, the Z button locks-on to enemies and the A button dashes. Essentially each and every action in Red Steel 2 is laid on top of these four basic abilities.
Combat is – unsurprisingly – where Red Steel 2 shines. Utilizing Wii Motion Plus, cursor movement for shooting is an absolute breeze, and combined with a soft auto-target makes headshots and other area specific targeting a joy. But, of course, it’s really about the swordplay. Swipes of any direction are easily detected and translated into the game-world, and swinging with more force adds additional damage to every slice. Even at this most basic level, seeing your sword react appropriately is an awe inspiring accomplishment for Ubisoft and one hell of an early hook.
As you dive deeper and deeper into the campaign more and more Kusagari magic, Hidden Slices and guns become available. Appropriately, more difficult, agile and smarter enemies are introduced to combat your hero’s growing arsenal. You see, everything the game throws your way in terms of opposition has an effective counter measure. You see an enemy wearing armor? Use an armor piercing strike, or upgrade to armor piercing rounds. Enemies keep landing unblockables on you? Use ‘The Bear’ to parry the attack and stun them. Every confrontation challenges the player to not only identify the weaknesses of each enemy in a specific skirmish, but to also choose the appropriate abilities to counter them.
Fights are generally quick, visceral affairs that leave you breathless. When one foe is struck down it’s a mad dash to the next, all the while deciding how to cut them down. Occasionally the lock-on that keeps the camera focused on a specific foe can be unwieldy, but generally it works very well, except when auto-locking an enemy attacking from the rear. Theoretically in these instances a quick press of the Z button will spin your camera around, affording you the opportunity to counter the other aggressor, but it rarely works that smoothly. Despite this issue, rear attacks can usually be avoided by remaining on the move. Given the frenetic, exhaustive nature of combat, Ubisoft’s choice for a non-traditional health recharge is a welcome one. Rather than restore health slowly, all your health is refilled once the current room is cleared. This mentality puts a lot of pressure on the player to be aggressive but also smart, and puts a lot of weight on every confrontation; a few wayward slices could lead to your untimely demise.
Using special abilities to vanquish your foes in spectacular fashion nets you extra money. Scattered across the many safe houses in Red Steel 2 are three separate shops that offer a dizzying amount of things to purchase that run the gamut from new guns, new techniques, better armor to tokens that make certain enemy types easier to stun. In addition to combat, money can be found in damn near any random object across all seven chapters. And let me say, there is an absolute ton of destructible objects, as well as hidden tokens, Sheriff’s coins and vaults to be found, which all contribute to your overall haul – as do mission bounties, but we’ll get to that.
The sheer amount of money to collect and equipment to buy is a double edged sword. On the one hand it’s a ton of extra content for the player to chip away at, but on the other, there’s so much crap to buy there’s very little time to enjoy the differences between one upgrade and the next. It also creates this compulsion to destroy every single crate within every single room, and the kicker is every object respawns upon reentry, complete with a fully restocked complement of gold. My concern is it works in direct opposition to what makes Red Steel 2 so much fun, which is running at full speed through herds of enemies with your sword at the ready.
The other problem is the overall mission structure. Almost like a miniature Borderlands, you take missions from a bounty board, wander out into the small hub world, collect, shoot, hack or kill ‘X’ amount of something and repeat. Missions send you from one corner of each chapter area to another, running errands for your peanut gallery of cliché sidekicks. And while there are plenty of engaging fights along the way, the missions feel exactly like busy work, something solely for the purpose of padding your game length, rather than engaging you in any meaningful way.
What aggravates this segmented design choice is that each chapter plays out in the exact same manner: reach safe house, learn new technique from Jian, accept missions from bounty board, rinse and repeat. If that wasn’t enough, expect to see some of the very same missions recycled as many as three or four times. Fortunately, and yet, bizarrely, Red Steel 2 does a 180 and ditches the mission based gameplay towards its conclusion. Level design veers into the linear and you’re left with the simple, lean thrill ride the game should have always been. These final chapters breeze by at a much faster clip than those that precede it, but illustrate the sheer level of fun the game can be when it does what it does best.
Red Steel 2 is a curious beast of a game, as it has one of the most deep, thoroughly enjoyable combat experiences found on any gaming platform. Unfortunately, that combat system is shoehorned into a misguided, bloated mission structure that rewards you more regularly for breaking barrels than it does for progressing the narrative. Still, even with those problems, there’s nothing else like it, and you will feel like a bad ass.