A Swordsman Wii Ain’t
UbiSoft almost had us. Give a bunch of gamers a remote to swing and of course we’ll want to use it as a sword. Predictable? Infantile? Yep. But so is Red Steel, which is as childish as shooters come, and definitely not the game we wanted for the Wii’s launch.
[image1]Rather than a new type of shooter, Red Steel is more like shareware with a gimmick. Does the motion-sensing control work? Yes, most of the time, though we’d like options to adjust the sensitivity. Get past the novelty of the Wiimote/nunchuk setup and the controls are easy to grasp. At the same time, get past the novelty of using the Wiimote to aim and slice, and you’re left with a insubstantial wisp of a game.
The hero is Scott, a silent but deadly burst of gas…er, violence. Hired as a simple bodyguard for the boss’ daughter, he’s since developed a thing for the girl. The time-wasting collection of cutscenes that passes for a story begins as Scott and his lady friend arrive for dinner with her father. They’re all attacked by what seems to be a bunch of Yakuza, and from there one you’ll run into a room, waste some dudes, then run into another room and repeat.
There are a few timed missions and standout locations (a car wash) that strive to set Red Steel apart. But at every turn it’s impossible to escape the notion that this is a game designed as an introduction to the Wii. So while the great shooters take for granted that players are skilled with the required control hardware, Red Steel plays it safe even on the hardest setting, and almost grudgingly refuses to offer a challenge.
[image2]It’s hard enough to take such rote corridor crawling seriously, but doubly so when the voice acting is this bad. Like it was 1997 all over again, the bad guys spout off the same three exclamations before being shot. And…just wait a second! Why is the Yakuza thug I just shot screaming that I’m a murderer? Did someone mix up these sound files with the ones for that In Cold Blood game we’ve been waiting for?
At least there’s the promise of some cool blade action; Red Steel sells itself on the promise that when a gun fails, you could just whip out three feet of sharp steel. But that ain’t how it works, kids. Instead, you’ll sprint through one corridor after another, blasting away at faceless drones, before coming up against an honorable boss. You know he’s got honor because he pulls a blade and expects you to do the same. These guys don’t know their Connery: always bring a gun to a knife fight.
Thus begins the swordplay portion of Red Steel, which is more Highlander than Kill Bill. Yeah, you can swing the remote to slash and the nunchuk to block, and the motion sensing even works well enough to consistently effect the right moves. But the tactics are pure lumbering boredom. Block, slash, slash, dodge, block, repeat. The fights gradually get harder, but the patterns rarely break.
[image3]The visual design isn’t going to inspire budding production designers to slyly include homages in their work, but unlike the ungainly remainder of the game, the graphics at least feature a sense of style. It’s easy to see what UbiSoft was trying to do, as the almost painted style exaggerates neon lights and gunfire to liven up an otherwise threadbare set of recycled urban environments.
Unfortunately, at their best, the textures are artistically blurry, and typically just muddy and ugly. Yeah, it’s cool that you can blow up most of the small stuff around you, but the impact is lessened when it’s impossible to see what that stuff actually is. Enemies also blend into everything else. Hey, is that the white face of a guy wearing a black trench coat, or just a hole blown in the wall? Hard to tell; might as well shoot it.
And since UbiSoft has assumed that you’re just going to blast away rather than squint to decode the soft textures, the difficulty is further compromised by the amazing amount of guns and ammo left lying around. No need to conserve, plan or think. Just keep your trigger finger flexing on reflex.
Nintendo wants the Wii to be a portal to the future of gaming, where new players can peacefully co-exist alongside the hardcore. And there are already games for the system that prove such a goal can be achieved. But Red Steel is a time machine that only goes backwards to the age when a glut of no-name shooters clogged the shelves.