Red Steel 2 PreviewBy Stephen Johnson - Posted Feb 22, 2010
About five minutes into Red Steel 2, you'll completely forget the disappointment of Red Steel. You'll forget the crapped out controls, throwaway plot, muddy graphics, and the rushed-to-completion feel of Red Steel's gameplay. All gamers wanted from Red Steel (and the Wii itself) was real-feeling sword action, and now, four years later, the Wii is delivering. Red Steel 2's sword combat actually works; playing it makes you feel like a katana master wielding a deadly razor blade. Big ups, Ubisoft, big, big ups.
Fantastic swordplay would have been enough, but judging from the couple hours I spent putting the game through its paces, Red Steel 2 fixes and awesome-ups everything about the original. It's just pure, drool-inducing video game fun. Red Steel 2 looks amazing; The shooting game is spot-on, the Wii MotionPlus-exclusive controls are as tight as a rich guy’s fist, the action is frenetic and non-stop, and while there's nothing heavy and "important" here, it's all-out, kickass jaw-dropping action fun... and isn't that what's really important?
Ubisoft wisely abandoned the "realistic" look of the first game in favor of a cel-shaded, comic book style that turns the graphical limitations of the Wii into an advantage. Red Steel 2 is set in a universe that smashes Sergio Leone-style old west action head-on into pulp samurai steez, then throws in liberal amounts of Mad Max's post apocalypse and sci-fi futurism. It sounds like a confusing mish-mash, but it works. The comic-book visuals and stylish, slick presentation tie everything together in a way that makes instinctive sense, and the non-stop action will leave you breathless enough to not care why, exactly, you're swinging a magical katana at hockey-masked hoodlums in the town square of an 1860s Phoenix-by-way-of Mount Fuji town. This kind of gaming lunacy wouldn't work in a "realistic," gray-and-brown, 360-style shooter, but the bright colors and simple cartoony look take the bizarre setting and make it uniquely badass.
You can forget the plot of Red Steel along with the look. Red Steel 2 does not continue the tale of the first game. Instead of a hoary plot with the Yakuza as enemies, Red Steel 2's pulpy action centers on the player as the last of a race of super-samurai (or maybe ninja?) style warriors who fight with katanas and sidearms. Evil villains called The Jackals have stolen an important and deadly sword, and you gotta light 'em up and chop 'em apart to get it back. Along the way, you'll meet up with colorful allies, train up sword and gun abilities, and generally kick ass all over the place. It's not Shakespearean drama, but you won't care; trust me.
While the interesting setting and comic-book-cool visuals are impressive, Red Steel 2 is really about the fighting, and I'm happy to report that Ubisoft nailed the combat, hard. Unlike Red Steel, you'll be able to choose whether to use your sword or gun on all enemies -- a huge improvement. If you're a sword-favoring guy, you'll be able to run enemies through one after the other without ever drawing your piece. Gun fighters will, similarly, be shooting Jackals' faces without pulling a blade from its scabbard. As you’d expect, though, a combination of shooting and slashing is your best option.
The gun fighting basically works about the same as any Wii FPS: You point at the screen, you pull the trigger, and the dude dies, although you can buy improvements for your gun with money you find laying around or earn by completing missions, and you can target the legs to stop enemies in their tracks.
Sword fighting in Red Steel 2 works differently than anything I've played, in that it actually feels like sword-fighting. Where Red Steel's close-combat featured scripted animations that responded to basic Wiimotions, Red Steel 2's incorporation of the Wii MotionPlus add-on allows for a seeming one-to-one connection between the player and his sword. It's still, basically, movements triggering animations, but it's quick and accurate enough that the illusion is maintained. You want to upper cut someone, just upper-cut them. A stabbing motion translates to an in-game stab--You get the idea. After a bit of basic training, the sword-swinging feels very natural, and with a little more play, it becomes amazingly smooth, instinctual and badass. In first-person, beat-em-up style, you square off against packs of enemies, feinting, dodging, blocking, swinging and stabbing while you sidestep and slash, then pull out your trusty six-shooter to finish them off. Enemy targeting has a bit of a difficulty curve, but once you get it, you get it. You will find yourself dancing around in your living room, slashing and pirouetting: Half-hearted waggles will result in weak strikes (or an untimely demise), so you have to "get into it" and deliver death-blows or you’re never going to pierce the armor of some of the more tank-like enemies.
How this will hold up over the length of the entire game is anyone's guess, and probably has as much to do with how you like motion-controls in and of themselves, but for me, it was definitely a great way to spend a couple of hours. At no time during my preview of the game did I notice any frame-rate drops or slowing; the game stays smooth, even when there are a ton of enemies onscreen and a lot going on. Boss battles can be epic tests of reflexes and combat prowess, and Red Steel 2 even throws some quicktime events and safe-cracking puzzles into the mix to keep things interesting.
My simple conclusion: Red Steel 2 is crazy, whacked-out adrenalin-fueled fun. If the full game holds up to the sizable section I tried, this will be a must-play for Wii owners who want to play a “real” game.