The Red Star
Playing The Red Star is something of a computer-gaming history lesson, its gameplay style would not seem out of place on the consoles of over fifteen years ago. The graphics and camera angles provide more depth and feeling to the levels, but you cannot get away from thinking that this is just a pimped-up Streets of Rage with a futuristic setting. This may not be a bad thing per-se, apart from the developers XS Games billing the title as a "fast paced action experience like no other." Errrrrr: no, would be my resounding answer to this, as I'll explain later.
A little background on the game's development, it was originally set for release in 2004 but when publisher Acclaim entered bankruptcy the project being shelved until XS Games came along - dusted it off and presumably put in a few final touches. Before releasing the newly completed game. You get the somewhat unusual picture, I'm sure. The Red Star is based on an award winning comic of the same name by Archangel. Its set in an alternative futuristic Russia the URRS where all resources have been spent on the advancement of weapons and "massive technology". Although sounding good this has little bearing on the game as there are no cut-scenes or voice-overs. Before each level, a few lines of text are given to explain the ultimate goal of the level and aid in story development. Depending on your viewpoint this can be a good or a bad thing as less story means more focus on what really matters, the action.
The Red Star provides simple and decidedly old-fashioned shooter-style fighting. Even though this format is dated it still provides some old school fun. At the start of the game you have two characters to choose from, Kyuzo and Makita, which upon progression extends to three. Kyuzo is slower and has a more powerful attack whereas Makita is quicker but suffers from a very limp-wristed melee attack, from playing I cannot see the advantage of being faster, so I'd advise taking the slower option and dealing out a good beating to whatever comes your way. This basically rules out the 'fast paced action', more like casual stroll action. The structure of every level is about the same, either starting with a bird's eye or side perspective. Progressing into the stage you will have to dispatch the usual enemies with more varied and difficult enemies being introduced as the levels are completed. At periodic moments in the level, large yellow warning signs appear indicating that you must defeat a set-piece usually in the form a tank or heavy artillery emplacement.
Overcoming these instances involves dodging the systematic spray of bullets/laser beams whilst locked on and firing, to begin with this is all too easy but gets more challenging with the introduction of soldier enemies drawing you out into the fire for a duel, who seem to be impervious to the on-setting bullets and lasers. After a few levels there is a break in the third person kill fest when you jump into a space craft and do a mission in the air, and this is where matters get seriously retro. Flying in your little space craft from a side-view destroying the oncoming chain of aircraft and a big battle cruiser is all too familiar and, dare I say it, somewhat dull. At this point we can rule out the 'experience like no other', I've had many experiences like this thank you. There is a solid co-op-style multiplayer mode along with the single player campaign, in essence the same but with the help of a buddy.
Upon completing the game's various levels, medals are awarded with the categorisation A, B or C, with the medals come points which enable you to purchase upgrades, weapons to inflict more damage or reduce a gun's heat-up/cool-down rate. How these medals are awarded is slightly unclear as you have to kill everything in the level to complete it anyway, I'm assuming it has something to do with special moves or hits taken therefore. This leads to the interesting scenario that the worse you do, the harder the game becomes because the upgrade prices are out of reach with the points you've earned. I found The Red Star increasingly frustrating, some of my biggest pains being given one health bar in which to complete the level with no checkpoints, life is only gained after defeating the larger 'Warning' baddies, meaning if you're struggling to beat that final enemy the inevitable situation of having to play the whole level again to get to the same point, which in my case, resulted in some near controller throwing stress after the fourth or fifth time of dying. Another issue, when walking through the levels is you have little control over screen focus, you aren't allowed to go forward or backwards at certain points until all the enemies have been dispatched, whilst alright for the most, when using combinations for the melee attack there is the option to throw the recipient off screen which results in having to wait until they stroll back before delivering that killer blow.
If you are a gamer that still sheds a little tear for the long lost Streets of Rage or Final Fight days then this game might please you by bringing back some fond memories. My verdict would be that it delivers nothing new despite the claims and just becomes a little boring and repetitive too quickly. It seems the game was picked up and rushed out the door to provide a little more revenue for the company, and this is a shame. Considering the source material of the comic book this could have been developed into a good FPS, but alas it wasn't. There might be comic book die-hards that buy this on the strength of the source material but will surely be disappointed with the lack of story/cut-scenes. The one saving grace is the price; a swift hunt around the internet can see you picking this game up for as little 12.99 GBP brand new. Although there are some good times to be had, I still believe that this is a little steep for something which resembles the sort of game that you could download for half the price on the next-gen consoles' online services. Strange that a game set in the future can seem so archaic. 60%
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