Red Steel 2
The line between success and failure can be thin sometimes, while on other occasions is may be hard to see at all. The first Red Steel release was one of the first games to hit the Nintendo Wii, and as such it offered a tantalising taste of what should be possible on the motion-sensitive console, while at the same time also ably demonstrating why innovation on the system isn't a straightforward affair.
While the first game had promise, in the shape of its unique motion-control sword/gun weapon combination, it was let down by the shoddy nature of these same controls, while other elements of what was at its heart a first-person action title, failed to live up to the standards set by the genre on other consoles. Undeterred, Ubisoft began work on Red Steel 2 in 2008 - presumably having decided that Nintendo's new MotionPlus add-on for the Wiimote can give the game the cutting edge it needs. Please excuse my pun, it is a Monday morning.
We're huddled in a sticky back room with creative director Jason Vandenberghe, whose infectious enthusiasm seems to hint at Ubisoft optimism over their Parisian project. But enough prevarication, lets pick up the katana and test Red Steel's mettle.
This is the second segment of the game the firm has demonstrated, according to Vandenberghe, and the emphasis here is on the control scheme, specifically the nuances of the MotionPlus-equipped swordplay. Set in a futuristic Western environment reminiscent of Borderlands or perhaps even id Software's Rage, Ubisoft Paris have seemingly done their utmost to create a quasi-recognisable landscape in which normal rules do not apply - allowing for all manner of over-the-top action-packed scenarios.
Ninjas leap around us as we explore what looks like a ghost town, this remote dessert location looking surprisingly immersive even on the Wii's less than bleeding-edge hardware. Stylisation helps, Ubisoft's own cell-shaded XIII an obvious source of inspiration, while Borderlands might also have informed some of artistic touches present in the game's aesthetic, which certainly masks well some of the deficiencies of the hardware. The presentation draws an immediate line under Ubisoft's work on the first Red Steel, a new look and a new setting combining with fresh weapons, enemies and a new premise to mark this sequel as a very different beast from the original game.
Production values are up, that much is apparent, occasional use of cinematic camera angles adding further to the air of quality. Playing as the mysterious Swordsman, players find themselves the last surviving member of a clan called The Protectors, out for revenge in pursuit of the villains of the piece - a gang of ruthless killers headed by the murderous Payne. Alan Wake this plot is (probably) not, but this spaghetti Western style story should set us up for all kinds of revenge driven mayhem across the game's dusty dessert plains, and bizarre high-tech townscapes.
A few simple puzzles, linked to the action and wider plot, should help liven up gameplay that might otherwise run the risk of becoming repetitive, but none of this will matter if the action itself suffers and, luckily enough, the swordplay at least is looking rather good. Using the classic Wiimote-Nunchuck combination players are able to traverse the world at pace, swishing wildly at foes having weakened them with bullets.
The addition of MotionPlus is quite apparently crucial here, the on-screen sword mirroring very accurately what the player does with the Wiimote - a far cry from the dull wrist flicks of the original game. As Vandenberghe notes, Red Steel 2 players will actually get physically better at the game - not merely learning the AI's tricks - but rather growing more accurate with the sword and learning which techniques work best against certain enemies. The ninja, for example, can dodge bullets quite effectively, so some rapid sword-based action is perhaps the best way to despatch this enemy. Ubisoft Paris are also adding a series of bloodily stylised finishing moves, which should add to the proceedings, in keeping with the game's grizzled and ruthless new hero.
Along with swipes and parries, the game also does a great job of detecting stabbing-motions, making for some brutal assaults on Red Steel 2's cast of villains. A range of less hands-on attacks are also on offer, in the form of power attacks, which not only make dealing with larger crowds of enemies (which we witnessed at one point) easier, but also looks pretty too.
As a stab at a first-person action game with swordplay fights on the Wii, Red Steel 2 is unlikely to face much competition when it arrives early next year. The game's ambition is apparent, and while question marks still linger around the controls, MotionPlus has now allayed most fears, even if the plot, visuals and characterisation may struggle to match the efforts of action titles on other, more powerful consoles. Whether the Wii's apparently-casual obsessed demographic will see the appeal of Red Steel 2, however, is perhaps the biggest question that must remain unanswered for now.