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Monthly Archives: December 2006

Red Steel

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.

6/10

Wii Sports

By far and away the best launch game is the one that comes nestled in the Wii box itself, Wii Sports. Wii Sports collects baseball, bowling, boxing, golf and tennis together, placing them all in a cute little world populated by the Wii-dwelling Miis.None of the games feature a wealth of options, instead, each is a simplified version intended to take full advantage of the Wii-mote and to show how easy it is to play games on the Wii. All of the games included are controlled by intuitive and obvious actions mimicking their real-life counterparts meaning that no matter who unwraps a Wii this Christmas, everyone will be able to understand how to play at least one game.

Initially I thought this would be included at launch as some sort of tech demo or sampler to indicate to users what was possible and to keep them busy if Zelda had sold old but after playing it, though, I realise that despite being very cut-down versions of well known sports all are surprisingly deep and likely to keep people attached to their Wiis for a long time to come.

A good example of this is tennis where in simplistic terms you have to swing the Wii-mote like a racket to return the ball, something that even grandma could understand. However, beyond this are hidden subtleties that reflect the real game; lifting your racket during a stroke will send up a lob whilst cutting down on a backhand will cause the ball to slice and trouble your opponent with spin and curve.

Early games always consist of sporadic throws and spasms but a couple of sets in you can almost see the realisation dawn on a player’s face as they realise there is much more to the contest than smacking the ball back as fast as possible. Once this concept clicks, epic rallies can unfold as Miis throw themselves around the court to save the point and mistimed strokes really begin to grate as you know you can do better.

Slowing the pace down somewhat, bowling captures alley-life incredibly well; every flick of the wrist is captured as you swing your arm to send your ball crashing down the lane. Trying to get the ball to actually go straight is quite a skill as the game detects everyone’s natural draw to one side or the other meaning that most people have to start out wide as they would do in real life.

This is probably the most technically demanding of the games to become good at as you have to try and adapt to not only your natural swing but then try and learn off of this to get yourself out of tricky situations. For instance, if you bowl from right to left and then find yourself with a tricky far-right pin to dispatch, the first time you actually manage to hone your reverse swing (through many contortions of wrists and hands) to pick that pesky loner off is a moment that will just make you feel warm inside.

Golf seems a competent recreation of the noble sport but is just a bit too bare for my liking. The power that you put into a swing of the Wii-mote is the power that your Mii put into his swing of his golf club but without the finer things such as true reflections of the lie of a green or the ability to put top- or back-spin on a ball I believe this is fun and functional without being something I will return to too often.

The same could be said about boxing. It may be because the early bouts in your career seem very easy and a non-contest but a constant series of vague jabs just doesn’t do it for me. I could be wrong as Errrm and Error 404 appear to like the ability to hold the controls up to their face to cover up only to erupt into a volley of jabs and hooks a moment later, but again it just hasn’t clicked with me yet.

The surprise hit in the office has been baseball – where we have actually had complete teams lining up to bat. The pitcher flicks/hurls the Wii-mote in any fashion they see fit to send the ball to the batter who then swings their own Wii-mote in an effort to send the aforementioned ball out of the park. Yet again a simple concept but something that has provided hours of enjoyment as batters attempt to read the pitch that’s coming their way whilst the pitchers try to vary the pace to throw their adversary off-guard.

There is quite literally something for everyone in the box and for any range of friends you have around. Single players can battle against themselves in the intricate bowling or on the Nintendo Links and groups can join the batting queue in baseball or line-up with a partner (room permitting) for a game of doubles in tennis.

Overall this is probably one of the all-time great pack-ins, up there with Super Mario Bros. on the NES, even if it is for completely different reasons and completely different controls.

 8/10

Look at my lovely Wii

It almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t get my Wii.I had thought ahead, though; my pre-order had been placed with months with Game and early last week I received the glorious email telling me that my white box o’ fun was winging its way from their depot and towards my open arms. Friday would be the day and I sat at work eagerly anticipating the call from reception that meant I had a package to collect.

Lunchtime came and nothing. 3 o’clock came, nothing. Home time came and I got grumpy – the postman had failed to ring once, let alone twice, and I would have to wait until Monday for my Wii Sports fix.

Little did I realise, though, that in their wisdom Game had decided to send the box to my billing address instead of my specified, work address. Gawd bless them, I thought, as I rushed next door to retrieve my new-gen machine from a man I have probably spoken to three times as many years ago since moving in.

After thinking I wouldn’t see it for another few days it was a great feeling pulling that shiny iPod-a-like from its container and setting it down in the living room. Bernard sniffed it but I don’t think she quite realised what it was as she lollopped off uninterested, the fool.

More tomorrow, but until then I’ll leave you with the obligatory picture.