Red Steel 2
Red Steel 2 requires investment. If you add up everything needed to play, you're looking at an RRP of 64.98 GBP. And that's not including the Wii. The game's Creative Director, Jason Vandenberghe, isn't too worried: "we're the best reason to have Wii MotionPlus for traditional gamers. I mean, Nintendo understands that and they want us to keep going".
Those traditional gamers are more than likely taking everything regarding Red Steel 2 with a pinch of salt after getting burned on the banal original. Ubisoft are aware of this, according to Vandenberghe, saying the original design team were "working under conditions, under constraints, that couldn't be solved in the time that they had". Things are better now, apparently.
Ubisoft have drawn a thick, bold line underneath their prior transgressions and created a whole new world. It's a relaunch, basically. There's a new setting, protagonist and art style with no connection to the first game, and its distinct anime-inspired aesthetic looks far removed - and vastly superior - to the original's blocky chunks. It doesn't look bad at all, which means it doesn't look anything like the original Red Steel.
Vandenberghe describes the new game as a "physical skill", and it only takes a few minutes with the controls to realise he's got a point. Swinging with the Wii MotionPlus feels more natural and dexterous than the frenzied waggling of the original, the game responding with precision to both horizontal and vertical slashes. It's not quite a 1:1 representation, although that's understandable: the nameless protagonist can't swing his massive sword quite as quickly as you can waft a breezy Wiimote through the air, so you've got to allow for brief periods of rest in-between attacks. I also wouldn't be surprised if this new metered approach isn't so that Ubisoft can distance themselves from the original's tenet of getting through encounters by trading blows.
Another big difference is that the game can now detect the force behind your movements. Swing harder and you hit harder, basically. It's not incredibly nuanced, and it feels like there are only two possible strengths behind an attack, but it's used well, often as an in-game mechanic where bigger attacks are required to knock the armour off nastier goons. What's most important is that it works, and if you do what I did - use heavy attacks non-stop - you'll end up feeling it in your shoulder.
There's also the gun attacks, still neatly mapped to the B button of the Wiimote. Like everything else in the game it's been tweaked a little, and now the gun and sword attacks segue nicely into one another, allowing you to pop off a couple of quick headshots after a flurry of quick jabs and pokes. There's a lot of auto-aim behind the shots, but not enough to stop you from feeling satisfied when chaining a few snap headshots in a row.
Inflict enough damage to an enemy and they'll stumble around for a bit, allowing you to perform a flashy finishing move - at this stage in the game they were executed by swinging the Wiimote downwards when standing over an enemy. The game highlights enemies that can be dispatched in this fashion, which means you're never left confused over targeting. These finishing moves are vital, as the game's shaped around the notion of setting up the myriad of goons for the useful kill moves.
It's all tied together with the minimum amount of story. It's a basic tale of revenge, with the Swordsman hunting down the Jackals, a group of ne'er-do-wells who were responsible for turning him into the last surviving member of his ninja clan. You pick up quests posted on bulletin boards, which for the first hour, at least, is mostly "learn [x] skill, use it on a group of bad guys", then collecting fallen spoils and using them to upgrade your weapons so you can learn more skills and kill more bad guys.
The game calls its fancier moves hidden strikes, and gives them tongue-in-cheek animal names. The Tiger, for instance, allows you to parry and counter an attack if you push the controller and the nunchuk forward at the same time. "This is the most useful move in the game", Jason hints.
There's also the compulsory range of blocks and dodges accessed via the A button, with the highlight of these being pressing forward at the same time and flinging yourself at an enemy with your sword drawn. It looks very fancy, and the controls are responsive enough that you never find yourself performing one move when intending to use another. The game's also nice enough to pop-up an icon on the screen when an enemy is creeping up behind you, which means you're more than able to thin the attacking crowds.
The only standout negative of the first hour was a droll QTE sequence that felt like it was shoehorned in to provide a little bit of variety. It's not rendered in-engine, instead the game plays a movie file and it all feels a little bit like a dodgy FMV game circa 1995. I imagine there will be a few of these in the finished game, but thankfully they don't seem to be long or complicated. You're not allowed to skip them.
It will be crucial to see how the game develops from this point onwards. The first hour or so is little more than a protracted tutorial sequence, albeit one that's required to teach you the ins-and-outs of the game's relatively unique tics and rhythms. What's readily apparent, though, is that more development time and a little piece of magic plastic slotted underneath the Wiimote has allowed Ubisoft to create something that's leaps and bounds ahead of the original. If the developers have managed to fix the problem of pedestrian level design like they have the control scheme, Red Steel 2 could prove to be a defining moment in the history of the Wii.
Our thanks to Jason Vandenberghe for showing us the ropes. Red Steel 2 will be released for the Wii on 26th March.
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