You know, every time we've seen Red Steel since its unveiling at E3 earlier this year, we've thought it was a bit rubbish - or if not rubbish, derivative, bland and tedious. That said, when the - how to say - less than stellar
reviews started pouring through the cracks in the internet, we weren't really all that surprised - or bothered, to be frank. And when the Great IGN Overseer parted the clouds, stuck his great big finger our way and bellowed the words "Red Steel review" in booming baritone, we thought we could probably get away with churning out a couple of hundred words, slapping a '6' on the end then going home early to eat crisps and watch porn.
Here's the thing though - Red Steel's actually much, much better than either we thought or you might have been let to believe. Let's get those negatives out the way first then, because it's not like you probably haven't read enough of them by now. Firstly, it's a mess from a visual perspective - for every sumptuous-looking level (of which the game has more than its fair share), there's an astonishing affront to your eyeballs. For every lusciously-detailed exterior, rich with foliage and extraneous environmental detail, there's an N64-era corridor, devoid of anything but a smeared texture, ugly geometry and - if you're very lucky - a badly rendered box in the corner.
Rubbish thing number two: enemies. It's hard to tell quite what we hate most about them, but we'd probably choose their endlessly repeated battle cries ("You bastard!") over their occasionally broken AI, causing them to stop dead in their tracks and look a bit sheepish while you run at them, stick a gun up their nose and blow their heads off. The fact that they, like much of the game incidentally, fall merrily under the umbrella of 'ill-judged cliché and embarrassing stereotype' probably doesn't help much either - seriously, we occasionally had to stop and wonder whether the game designers actually had any experience of Japan beyond a Magic Eye photo of a pagoda they saw once.
You'll also probably hate the controls to begin with too. Flying in the face of popular internet opinion, we actually don't have a problem with Red Steel's set-up - although we'd definitely question Ubisoft's overly enthusiastic use of gesture-based environmental interaction in some instances. Really, twitching the nunchuck like we're having a seizure every time we want to open a door or pick up a gun just seems a little, well, excessive to us - what's wrong with the damn buttons?! It might be stating the obvious, but using the Wiimote for the first time has just as much of a learning curve as anything else you might be unfamiliar with - and we're quite happy to court controversy by suggesting that much of Red Steel's bad press has probably been borne out of impatient frustration as much as anything else.
Realistically, assuming you're not completely devoid of physical coordination, you can expect to spend anything up to a few hours getting to grips with the intricacies of the controls - and, thankfully, the game is designed cannily enough to ensure things aren't too challenging to begin with. Once you've sussed things out though, the speed and precision of aiming and shooting offered by the Wiimote proves to be one of the game's strong points. Taking down swathes of enemies with nothing more than a twitch of the wrist proves immensely satisfying and, more importantly, incredibly involving. It's a similar story with grenades, simply requiring a downward press of the d-pad and a flick of the nunchuck - in fact, really the only complaint we have with the shooting side of things is the slightly awkward zoom mechanics, requiring you to physically move the Wiimote forward and back to zoom in and out. Here, the sensitivity's set just a tad too low, meaning you often - annoyingly - need to shift your entire body forward before you reach the maximum zoom.
Unfortunately, we're less taken with Red Steel's second combat component - sword fighting. Although slashing and dodging (via the nunchuck) has its own appeal, the fact that your swings aren't directly translated on-screen, instead merely triggering pre-defined animations, does feel at odds with the shooting portions of the game. With gunplay being so immediate and responsive, not having full control over your sword tends to drag you out of the action somewhat - what's more, there's slight, but noticeable, lag as your movements translate to in-game actions. To be clear though, sword fighting's still fun - and happens infrequently enough not to outstay its welcome - it's just that it pales in comparison to the shooting mechanics.
There's one last thing to mention as far as the controls go and that's physically turning in the game. With forward, backward and strafing covered by the nunchuck, you turn by moving your aiming reticule to the sides of the screen. It's controversial in Red Steel, thanks to the relatively large size of the bounding box - that is, the area you need to move outside of before the game recognises you want to spin. Initially, it might feel bizarre because traditional first-person shooters fix your reticule in the centre of the screen and you aim by moving your entire virtual head. Here though, as in real-life, you're free to aim while your view stays static - personally, we like the ease with which you can target enemies within your peripheral vision and - although the set-up might feel slightly more sluggish without the inextricable link between viewpoint and reticule - it's simple enough to scout out areas around you when you need to. Again, it's a new way of approaching things and unlikely to be of much concern unless you absolutely can't cast aside your old FPS habits.
It might seem odd that we've not gone into much detail about the single-player or (servicable) split-screen multiplayer game itself - but that's because, aside from the new control method, Red Steel plays it pretty much by the books. There's very little here you won't have seen before in other first-person shooters. Essentially, you spend the ten to fifteen hours it takes to complete the game moving through linear levels, shooting (or stabbing) an endless onslaught of enemies and that's pretty much it. Thankfully, while it's nothing revolutionary, the game's extremely solidly made - weapons are conventional but meaty enough to maintain your interest, enemy AI is, bar the occasional glitch, smart enough to put up a good fight, intelligently using cover where necessary, and environments are diverse enough to ensure there's always something new to look forward to. It's incredibly competent - just don't expect to be blown away.
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