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Red Steel


Yakuza approved...
Back in May of 2006, my hands-on experience with Red Steel at E3 left me unimpressed, mostly due to a wonky control system. Fast forward to the Wii launch and my willingness to give Red Steel another shot overcame me. While itís still carries many of the same flaws from the E3 build, I found the final copy to a bit more impressive than many critics in the industry will have you believe.

The presentation of Red Steel is well entrenched in Japanese culture, especially the visual ambiance within the menu system and the graphic noir flair to the cut scenes. The story revolves around the kidnapping of a young woman named Miyu Sato whose father is the head honcho of the Yakuza clan. The fate of the damsel in distress is left up to Scott Monroe, her former bodyguard and now anxious boyfriend. As the first chapter in this narrative unfolds, you take control of Scott and begin to learn the honorable form of Katana battle under the tutelage of Miyuís father. While I wouldnít call the story epic, itís certainly highly entertaining and holds the same cinematic appeal as a movie like The Replacement Killers.

Gameplay:
The weaponry is extremely standard for a shooter game. Besides the 9mm, there is a magnum, shotgun, Uzi, assault rifle, sniper rifle, and some lovely explosives strew about each level. The 9mm actually seems a bit overpowered, as well as the shotgun. On the other hand, the assault rifle and Uzi is a little wimpy. The grenades are tough to throw with the Wii controller and often end up exploding beside me rather than around the intended target.

The targeting system for firearms is basically solid, but its extra features do more harm than good. For instance, holding down the A button will center in on a specific target, but you still have to manually aim. Pushing the Wii-mote in a forward motion will zoom in on a target, but it removes the focus from everyone else taking potshots at you. Those two actions in combination take more time than just manually aiming the target reticule and popping off a few successful shots. Quick turns are the most problematic portion of the controls during a heated shootout, though. If the player cannot successfully use the strafing stick on the nunchuck, attempting to swing around with the Wii-mote is almost impossible.

At scripted points in the game, the fighting mode shifts from firearms to melee. Two katanas are whipped out, one full length sword and one broken sword for parrying a strike. Swordplay is performed by swinging the Wii-mote for striking and the nunchuck for blocking. The Wii-mote will swing the sword in the direction it moves in relation to the sensor bar, but itís limited by the game programming rather than free motion. Oddly, Melee modes are forced on the gamer as a firearm cannot by pulled out during a swordfight. At the end of a successful duel, the player has the choice of honorably allowing the enemy to live or slicing the man while heís down. Honor points are awarded at the end of each level, but they donít seem to figure into opening locked content.

The health system incorporates regeneration once enemy fire has abated. Players can hide briefly from the onslaught of bullets to watch their health meter rise quickly. In addition, armor packs can be picked up to provide a few more second of life during tense situations. The health system forces the player to use the duck & cover process within each room and hone their aim before squeezing off a shot. The protagonist never seems like a super-soldier, but rather a guy with an infinite supply of pain killers.

The artificial intelligence exhibits moments of greatness, yet disappoints quite often as well. The A.I. will properly use cover to hide behind when reloading and alternates fire between each enemy position. They can also flank your position, assuming the level environment is built for that action. Unfortunately, they cannot handle up close combat as well. They exhibit flawed behavior, usually in the form of standing in wide open spaces waiting for you stop moving before firing. They also canít seem to run for cover for reloading when standing right beside them, which makes for a turkey shoot.

If the A.I. gets too monotonous, you can try your hand at the offline 4-player, split-screen multiplayer. While a bit light on the maps, the modes offered are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Killer. While the first two are explanitory, Killer is an interesting mode in which players are directed to complete objectives via the Wii-mote speaker. Oddly, the objectives are meant to be private for each player, yet they blare out of the Wii-mote. Playing Killer correctly either requires turning down the Wii-mote speaker via the options menu in the Wii system or going to another room. Itís a novel idea, but poorly implimented. Overall, multiplayer can be a blast if you have enough folks comfortable with the controls.

Graphics:
Visually, Red Steel is easily one of the sharpest launch titles developed by a third party. Firing up the game with progressive-scan enabled truly offers a beautiful experience. While the character models donít carry the same level of detail as high definition models on the 360, the facial and body animations perform admirably on the Wii. The particle effects are very similar to those within F.E.A.R., which is a game the developer modeled the engine after. Dust cloud effects dissipate a smidgeon faster than F.E.A.R., which is an improvement in large scale battles. Unfortunately, Red Steel does suffer from heavy slowdown during certain effect-laden scenes. The game will decrease to a chugging pace for a couple seconds before returning to normal. Thankfully, I only encountered the issue a few times during the campaign.

Audio:
The English voices are surprisingly tolerably. I always expect the worst when language translation comes into play, but the script is fairly accurate and the voice actors have a modicum amount of skill with line delivery. I also like the absence of subtitles for the brief sections of Japanese conversations. The body language is more telling than attempting to read scrolling text.

The musical score is pretty much par for the course, but extremely varied between levels. The instrumental tracks heavily influence the Japanese theme and certainly add to the authenticity. The sound effects are well balanced between your television speakers and the Wii-mote. The most impressive auditory effect is the reload sound emanating from your hand as if it were an actual firearm. Sword clangs also blare out of the Wii-mote when parrying an enemy or slashing away at their flesh.

Overall:
When using the manual aiming system in handling the controls, the Red Steel can be very entertaining and quite fun to play. Once the single player chapters are complete, multiplayer can add a bit of replay life assuming your real life friends are up for it. Those looking for an online experience will be out of luck. The entire single player storyline takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete and messing around with the multiplayer variances will eat up a bit more time. I canít recommend purchasing this title as the control system will frustrate many Wii owners to no end. But for Wii owners familiar with the intricacies of a first person shooter, itís certainly worth a rental to enjoy the story and all the action.