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UbiNintendo: Red Steel 2

by: Sean Colleli -
More On: Red Steel 2
Ubisoft was nice enough to invite me to their Nintendo-only event in San Francisco last week, and the first game on the roster was Red Steel 2.  Developers Jason Vandenberghe (still wielding his cane of E3 fame) and Bruno Galet led an informative and humorous teleconference from Paris (I’ll have that edited and posted in the next couple days) and then we, the journalists were given free reign of the E3 demo.  I’m glad this event was less rushed than E3 because I got a little more hands on time than the GN staffers at E3 and that translates into in-depth impressions for you, the readers.

First and foremost you should know that besides the inclusion of guns, swords and a first person perspective, this sequel has almost nothing in common with the original Red Steel.  And that is a good thing.  Gone is boring protagonist Scott Munroe, the J-pop smeared Tokyo setting is nowhere to be seen and the cheesy Yakuza gangsters have taken a hike.  Red Steel 1 was an ambitious proof of concept that, due to time constraints and the newness of the hardware, fell short of its potential by a wide margin. 3 years later, I’m happy to say that Red Steel 2 is the fulfillment of that potential.

The new setting is far more compelling.  You play as a nameless gunslinger swordsman, a Clint Eastwood-type character cloaked in a leather duster and returning to his home city of Caldera.  The city is in the middle of the Nevada desert, in a dystopian future where gangs run everything and the styles of East and West combine, creating a fusion of the Old West and animes like Trigun and Outlaw Star.  Your job is to avenge your fallen clan and clear the city of the gang infestation.  The demo started with a rival gangster dragging me through the desert, chained to the back of his motorcycle, and once I freed myself it was time to open a can of whoopass on the surrounding lowlifes.

I retrieved a sword and immediately understood what the Jason was talking about when they said Red Steel 2 wasn’t an FPS with a sword, but a sword game with guns.  You can switch between gun and katana at will, a huge improvement over the scripted swordfights in the first game. 

WiiMotionPlus absolutely makes Red Steel 2.  The sword is almost 1 to 1 accurate, allowing you to rotate it, point it and make precision strikes that actually land where you slash, not just in the general direction.  The strength of your swing also matters—armored enemies require heavier swings to shatter the plate metal covering them.  Strong swings take longer though, and can leave you open to attack.  Blocking and parrying are also crucial, and while I didn’t have enough time to figure out all the nuances, the angle and height of your sword does matter.  The sword gameplay between the first and second games is night and day—the duels are quick and fluid now, not the sluggish waggle-thons that felt more like cumbersome sparring.

The gunplay was decidedly less fluid.  The aiming reticule would snap to the edge of the screen unless I kept it in a very tiny area in the middle of the screen, which made hitting anything accurately a real chore.  I’m pretty sure this was a technical problem though—Randy Nelson, the Joystiq editor had the same concern and played the demo later with adjusted settings, and he said the problem disappeared. 

In that regard the controls are supposedly as customizable as The Conduit’s, and I’m happy that High Voltage Software’s excellent controls are setting the industry standard on Wii.  Aside from the aiming issue, I felt the revolver in the demo was just a bit underpowered.  I was told that the weapons and swords can be upgraded throughout the game.

One of the other highlights of the demo was a safe that I had to crack.  You do this by holding the remote to your ear and, again using the benefits of WiiMotionPlus, rotate the remote and listen for the tumblers to click from the remote’s speaker.  The demo ended with a pretty straightforward boss fight, against a big bruiser who could only be injured from behind.  Some quick dodging took care of him.

The developers eschewed multiplayer for complete focus on the solo campaign, and it’s reasonable to expect it to last 10-15 hours.  The levels are designed around a hub, with “dungeon” missions to complete main objectives, sidequests that change between returns to the hub world and a final boss at the end of each world.  If the sword controls stay just as responsive throughout I can’t wait to play the rest of Red Steel 2.  Special moves, three separate gangs to fight and sandbox-style progression are only a few of the things this game is promising.  It’s clear that the dev team has made the most of the 3 years since Red Steel 1 launched with the Wii, and that WiiMotionPlus made the whole thing possible.  I couldn’t be happier with the direction the sequel is taking—it feels and looks so much more focused and dynamic than the very generic and heavily scripted original.  Its Q4 release date can’t come soon enough.