Months before its launch, Ubisoft’s Red Steel became the very first game to be announced for the Wii platform. The combination or gun- and sword-play seemed an interesting concoction, one that may have been just another FPS with a quirk on any other platform but on Nintendo’s new console it seemed a very attractive prospect – the ability to wield the Wii-mote as a sword one second and a pistol the next could have provided a genuinely good game. The final product, however, didn’t quite live up to that expectation.
Red Steel is by no means a bad game. In truth it is more just a competent shooter with a new control scheme mapped on top of it, the novelty of which could cause people to accentuate their opinions depending on how quickly they adapt to this fresh approach or whether they adapted at all.
Wii’s flagship shooter sees you playing the fiancé of a Yakuza boss’s daughter. The boss is dead, the daughter is kidnapped and you are sent with blade and bullets to get her back. There is no Half Life storyline or immersion here, the plot is solely there to coral you from level to level as you cover America and Japan in a bid to get her back and allows countless numbers of faceless Far Eastern gangsters to be impaled by your shiny arsenal.
I’m not going to rest on the story itself as by far the more interesting aspect of this title is how you wield your weapons, especially your gun. As shown in many of the previews prior to the Wii’s launch, aiming the Wii-mote at the screen turns your right hand into a gun. Moving the controller about the screen will shift the sights onscreen allowing you to pick off enemies in any corner, just as if you were moving the right-hand analogue-stick on most other consoles.
This all may seem fairly standard but the problem comes, in my opinion, when you try and move about and look great distances. Whereas most FPSs attach and lock both the camera and your gunsights to your head movements, Red Steel adds a dampener to your movement that means this is not necessarily so; small movements in the centre of the screen will adjust your crosshair whilst leaving your view static and only a sweep close to the edges will turn yourself in the appropriate direction. The upside of this is that if the action is taking place in the middle of your view the world will not swing sickeningly every time you switch target, the downside of this, though, is that I never know instinctively quite where I’m aiming.
For years and years I have known that I do not have to look at my gunsights in general combat, I know that if my screen is pointing towards and enemy then they are the one that is about to receive my hail of leaded death. With Red Steel you not only have to get the screen centred on the target but then you have to get your crosshair over them too and this is just one level too many of added intricacy for such a new control mechanism. If I move my head I want my gun pointing in the same direction, god damn it!
I hear future titles, such as the upcoming Metroid, will feature both systems of control to allow people to make their own choices which I will welcome with ceremony and cheer; for the first hour or so of Red Steel I was not only getting used to using my entire arm to aim but also to swinging crosshairs that would have had my Counter Strike playing friends in laughing fits with its inaccuracy.
Once the learning period had settled down I was indeed seeing the benefits of the Wii-mote/nunchuk combo as an FPS control mechanism. You definitely get a taste of how intuitive it could be and that the lack of overall buttons on the pair doesn’t matter a jot when reloading can be switched to a shake of either and scope controls mapped to you actually moving your gun in and out of the screen. It makes sense, doesn’t it? You want to make your target bigger? Then move towards it.
Away from bullet there is the honour of the sword: a noble weapon used for centuries and now seemingly abundant throughout car dealerships and dockyards nationwide. The first thing to say is that your actions are not mapped exactly to your blade. True, a vertical slice will be met with an on-screen equivalent but don’t expect your finest swash buckling skills to be played out by your digital avatar.
Sword fights in the game represent mini-bosses and you have no option but to meet them. Admittedly I did attempt to pull my pistol on the first one I met, Indiana Jones style, but I was left with a nunchuk that parried attacks and a Wii-mote that struck my opponent. Early on in the game mad flailing will see you through but as the game advances you need to watch your opponent’s moves and either side-step or parry their blows before making aggressive gestures of your own.
The controls are basic, although special moves do open up later, and these sections are more about biding your time and respecting your opponent’s skill than they are a hack-and-slash. Overall the swords fights were a distraction to the main FPS sections and whilst involving they are by no means the highlight of the game.
Thankfully, with these new controls, the game is very forgiving and has an automatic health recharge if you avoid the action for a few seconds. There are also some Matrix bullet-time features thrown in that allow you to pick off multiple targets quickly but nothing to make me rush to the game on that basis alone.
Stepping back and looking at the game as a whole it is an assured, above average outing by Ubisoft, possibly only let down by an uninvolving plot and “new” controls. So far I don’t think it quite deserves the slating that it seems to be getting from the media at this point but one can only assume that this is because that everyone expected a lot more from Red Steel because of the potential it did have.