While it promised to revolutionize FPS on the Wii, Red Steel only gives us a glimpse of the raw potential in the genre. I think Metroid Prime 3: Corruption will be the one to set the bar, and luckily we don’t have very long to wait for it.
Getting past the controls, I discovered that Red Steel is an extraordinarily…average game. Unlike titles such as True Crime New York City, which are excellent games hampered by bad control and technical issues, Red Steel’s gameplay is cookie-cutter in most respects. It has the same high budget, yet dry feeling as most of its kind: drab shooters stamped out by a big publisher. There is nothing very creative in how it plays, and it feels like EA’s 007 shooters that tried desperately to emulate GoldenEye but came off flat and impersonal. There is no blood to speak of, and while it is not necessary for a good shooter, if you’re going to name your game Red Steel, I expect to see a little, well, red. The appearanca of the levels themselves is all very polished, but never really piqued my interest. Characters run together into a mishmash of stereotypical Japanese gangsters. The main protagonist, Scott Munro, manages to have even less personality than the empty-headed Gordon Freeman, which is really saying something.
The plot, which was touted heavily as “a foreigner’s perspective of Japan,” is less of a wondrous “looking in,” and more of a collection of Yakuza movie stereotypes. There are common tropes and clichés but Red Steel’s Japan is not terribly different than its early American levels—there is no signature Japanese “quirk,” so to speak. There are neon signs resplendent with kana, a goofy parlor hall, pachinko machines, and a fish market. The brief dojo level and the assault on it later was probably the most thrilling part of the game. The story is mostly forgettable, and you’ll probably want to forget it to; it’s told entirely through flat, “comic style” cutscenes that can’t be skipped, even after you’ve beaten the level. I am noticing a disturbing trend in the industry toward this falsely creative comic approach to storytelling, and I’d rather see a poorly textured and animated polygon model act out a scene than a mostly flat picture. In short, Red Steel’s story is about as generic, innovation-free and Americanized as you can get, which is interesting because Ubisoft is a French developer.
The overall presentation follows the same tired path. This game was the first Wii title to have screenshots shown publicly, and those early images were water in the scorching desert of pre-release drought. They were also pretty, and the final product does not disappoint on pure technical standards. Poly counts are high, most textures are crisp (the underground parlor level was inexplicably ugly) and most of the game is dripping with gorgeous bloom lighting. And that’s where the beauty ends. This game is attractive at a distance, but up close it has no personality. There are no clever details like in GoldenEye, no signature charm like Prince of Persia, not even the juggernaut, unsubtle onslaught of Doom 3. Red Steel shows a tiny bit of the Wii’s graphical capability, and with this taste I can tell the hardware is capable of much more from a more creative developer. It demonstrates what developers can do on Wii, but inserts no “Kilroy was here” that you find in many other games.
Music is spared some of the mediocrity that plagues the visuals. Veteran game composer Tom Salta scored the game, and did a mostly superb job of it. Each level’s accompanying piece is appropriate, and the dynamic fight music blends well with the overarching themes. Red Steel’s music is the only aspect that doesn’t suffer from the generic Japanese stereotyping, or at least it does it well. Distinctly Asian elements permeate the more Eastern environments, while the industrial areas are heavy with beats and percussion. But one note of negativity—why, why oh why was there J-Pop in this game? I have nothing against J-Pop or its fans, but it really doesn’t belongin a shooter.
Everything else is decidedly ho-hum. Sound effects are canned, and voice acting is irritating. The samples of Japanese speech sound authentic, but if I could understand Japanese I’m sure the dialogue would be just as campy as the English. Hearing “stop you bastard!” shouted by the same squeaky-voiced thug a dozen times in one level is enough to make anyone hit the power button. The gun reload sounds emanating from the Wii remote’s speaker was novel, but the speaker quality itself is so low that it doesn’t seem worth it anyway.
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