Red Steel 2 Hands-On Preview

Prior to the launch of the Wii, Ubisoft’s Red Steel remained an intriguing proposition due to its unique blend of guns and gesture controlled sword combat. Unfortunately, it was a launch title, and Ubisoft had yet to learn how to develop for the Wii at that point. As such, the controls felt clunky and sometimes broken. However, if the E3 demo is an indication, it looks like Ubisoft has listened to nearly all the criticisms of the first game for this upcoming sequel

The first point worth mentioning is that Red Steel 2 has little in common with its predecessor. The game features an all new story, setting, and art style, going for a Samurai Western theme instead of the original’s Asian setting. The sequel features minimalist cel-shaded graphics and a desolate wasteland location that acts like a crossover between the anime Lone Wolf and Cub and the classic western El Topo. You play as a gunslinger/samurai who literally gets roped in to ridding his hometown of a malevolent gang, with the opening cutscene having him bound at the wrists with rope and dragged behind a motorcycle.

The shooting controls are smooth and responsive, with none of the slow turning radius problems that plagued the original. The real leap forward is the new Wii Motion+ controlled sword mechanic. This–I must admit–was something of a mixed bag. It displays your movement one to one, but severly limits the possible moves that you can have. Instead of reacting to every specific blow, you hold the Wiimote up and horizontally to block. You can swing the sword in any direction to slice it that way, though it doesn’t appear to make much difference which direction you strike. If you want to do a power move, you swipe harder and faster. This felt a little cumbersome as you really need to go all out for these power moves, which worries me that it could tire your arm after a short period of play. One one hand, keeping things so simple seems to undermine the use of Wii Motion+. On the other hand, using the current iteration of gesture control doesn’t work because the Wiimote takes too long to recalibrate between swipes. It may sound like a backhanded compliment, but the sword fighting mechanic works the way it should have the first time. It may be overly simple for some and is certainly no match for real fencing, but I’m not sure that we’d want anything that is more complex than what is offered here. The controls may be streamlined, but at least they are responsive.

The way that you toggle between swordplay and shooting is also quick and smooth, unlike the first game which limited sword use to specific moments. Swiping across the screen when you have your gun equipped switches you over to the katana, and pressing the fire button will automatically swap you back to the pistol. Both mechanics work better on the Wii than they would on any other system. As such, the combat is engaging, though the lack of blood in such a gritty setting is puzzling (and disappointing, to say the least).

I worry that Red Steel 2 is mismarketing itself and focusing too much on the fencing mechanic and not enough on the other aspects. It’s far from broken, but it’s not anything like the trailers make it out to be. When taken at face value, Red Steel 2 seems to be a fun, stylish shooter/brawler, but don’t expect it to teach you how to fight.

Red Steel 2 is slated for release November 10, 2009 exclusively for the Wii.

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