Red Steel 2

Red Steel 2
Red Steel 2 Cover
Platforms Wii
Genre First person brawler
Score 9  Clock score of 9
Buy from Amazon

The first third-party Wii game was revealed in the May 2006 issue of Game Informer. It promised intuitive swordfighting controls and unmatched precision in gunplay, all in a stylish Yakuza setting. In the six months between reveal and launch, Red Steel hype built to unattainable levels. Disappointment was inevitable. But even with tempered expectations, Red Steel is barely an average game, and the case for motion controls in action games took a serious blow when it failed to impress.

That said, the game rode the launch hype into some pretty decent sales, eventually crossing the million mark. A sequel was rumored almost as soon as the original appeared on store shelves. It took three and a half years, but the sequel did eventually arrive in March 2010. Barring the focus on guns and swords, Red Steel 2 is nothing like the original: the realistic visuals are switched out for a cel-shaded style, the Yakuza setting and characters are changed to an otherworldly-mix of Samurai and Western trappings, and the hopes dashed by waggle at launch are replaced with renewed fervor for precise motion controls, which are provided by the Wii Motion Plus controller attachment that Red Steel 2 requires.

Even if you made the mistake of purchasing Red Steel back in 2006, don't make the mistake of ignoring Red Steel 2 now.

This singleplayer action-adventure stars a hero referred to only as "Kusagari," as he is a banished member of the Kusagari warrior clan. The hero wakes in the captivity of Payne, leader of a gang called the Jackals. After a particularly abrasive motorcycle ride through the desert, the hero manages to escape his captor, quickly finding his old sensei under attack. The two fend off their attackers and the hero learns that his clan has been wiped out and their sacred sword stolen by Payne, and he vows revenge. The vengeance tale takes the hero across a number of settings, mostly Western standbys like deserted towns and mountain passes, on his way to exact justice. The plot is fairly straightforward Western fare with some light supernatural elements. It's unspectacular but enjoyable for most of us and completely skippable for the rest.

Once the plot sets off, the game progresses primarily through missions posted on bulletin boards. Find the billboard in a saloon, listen to an audio request for help, and follow the arrows on the map to the objective. Secondary objectives, like destroying wanted posters or activating communication satellites, can be completed for extra cash, but there are no extra rewards for those unconcerned with money. It's a very simple mode of progression that always reminds the player where the action is, but doesn't discourage from exploring to find extra money or trouble. Anyone looking for a sprawling adventure full of memorable sidequests and characters will be disappointed to find that Red Steel 2 is essentially empty except for a couple of NPCs who dole out missions and swarms of enemy gangsters and ninjas. The entirety of Red Steel 2 is pretty much a ghost town, a realization I had when I made it to the ghost town area and didn't find the eerie silence out of the ordinary.

red Steel 2 Kusaragi Close upThe game's biggest talking point, much like the original Red Steel's, is the motion controls. Thankfully, they actually work this time around. It will take a bit of personal adjustment, and some tweaking in the options menu to find your favorite settings among the modifiers (lock-on targeting, bounding boxes, pointer sensitivity, etc.) but the controls really do define the experience as one only possible on Wii. The on-screen sword swipes are quite accurate to the player's motions, replicating swing speed and direction well but also encouraging the player to use certain gestures that are easier for the game to register. The guns are also unmatched on consoles in speed and precision, though some of that is due to a dash of snap-to-target aiming assistance. Even knowing there's a bit of cheating going on behind the scenes, it's still incomparably satisfying to land those lightning-fast, pinpoint-precise shots. It's clear that Ubisoft spent plenty of time tweaking the controls to perfection. If this game doesn't convince you that motion controls are the real deal, then nothing will.

The combat in Red Steel 2 may surprise those who are expecting a standard first-person shooter. Where its predecessor was a run-of-the-mill shooter that occasionally switched gears to a broken katana duel simulator, Red Steel 2 intertwines gunplay and swordplay into what may best be described as a first person brawler, feeling more like Devil May Cry than Halo. The player has the choice of bullets or blades at any time, and is expected to make good use of both to take out enemies. The game does a great job balancing the two sides of the Red Steel coin, with swords being useful for hacking off enemy armor and defending against attacks, while guns can finish off enemies quickly from afar with precise aim. That said, a skilled swordsman could make it through the game using only the katana techniques, while a dedicated gunslinger would be somewhat less likely to survive the quest. Still, it's tough to pick a favorite tactic when they're all so deadly and delightful, especially when combined. Sensei Jian teaches you how to use each technique you acquire, and encourages you to perform combos and special finishing moves to earn more cash. Hacking away at a thug will usually get the job done, but you'll earn some extra cash by parrying their attack, shooting them in the kneecap, dashing behind them, and stabbing them in the back. As if that sequence of badassery wasn't rewarding enough on its own.

red Steel 2 Sword FightAs you progress through the game, a sizable number of upgrades can be purchased for your sword and the four guns acquired over the course of the adventure, in addition to armor and life upgrades. Each gun can be upgraded with greater ammo capacity, rate of fire, accuracy, and stopping power. Additionally, each weapon has a special capstone ability to purchase after maxing out its stats. The fully-upgraded pistol gains ricochet bullets, which are mostly used for show, while the Johnnygun (the Red Steel-verse version of the infamous Thompson submachine gun) gains armor-piercing rounds at its best. Cool new attacks and damage upgrades can be purchased for the sword as well, but the player also automatically learns special animal-monikered techniques from Sensei Jian at key points in the game. The Eagle launches enemies into the air to start a combo, The Bear pounds the ground to produce a stunning shockwave, and so forth. They're all very stylish and, like everything else, upgradeable with cash.

Speaking of cash, it's literally everywhere. The environment is littered with barrels, crates, pay-phones and other destructible doodads that fork over generous payout. Also included are Sheriff Stars and Hidden Tokens, which are tricky to shoot and hard to find, respectively, and both reward the Kusagari with a few thousand dollars. There are even safes that make gimmicky (but effective) use of the Wii remote, requiring the player to slowly rotate the controller until a clanking sound is heard from the remote's speaker, allowing one to crack the safe and collect the gold bars inside. I expected to hate the mundane concept of smashing junk for money, but the smooth and involving controls actually made it enjoyable, and I never skipped an opportunity to shoot up some trash bags.

red Steel 2 Sword to a gun FightAs plentiful as the cash is, the upgrades are surprisingly expensive and plentiful. I shot up every single piece of debris I found and opened every safe I came across and popped dozens of Sheriff Stars and completed tons of sidequests, and I still didn't have nearly enough money to buy all the upgrades over the course of the adventure, leaving two of the guns at their base stats. Luckily for those who want all the best toys, it's easy to farm money from the environment because all the trash that pays out money when destroyed is regenerated each time you leave an area and come back.

Depending on your tendency to farm for upgrades and complete sidequests, Red Steel 2 will likely last in the neighborhood of ten hours on your first playthrough, though it may seem longer because you'll be spending the entire time either fending off a healthy variety of bad guys or fending off a healthy variety of junk strewn about. The difficulty curve is fairly generous in the game's opening half, where I don't think I was killed even once. There's a point, however, that the game starts really testing your battle plan. Going all out on offense may work for a while, but eventually quicker enemies will pick your life away without you even realizing it, and bigger brutes will simply rip you apart in a couple hits. It almost feels as if the first half is there for players to learn the game mechanics at their own pace, while the second half will test your skill to actually use them. It never feels unfair, and some parts that should be challenging are made much easier with the right upgrades, but you'll find challenge on the game's harder difficulty levels if you don't on the standard setting.

Final Thoughts

Video: Red Steel 2 is one of the best-looking Wii games, with an inviting art style and a framerate that I never noticed going below 60 FPS, an important factor in Wii shooters. Looks great in 480p as well; less-informed passers-by may mistake it for a 360 game.

Audio: The sound effects are nothing to complain about, the voice acting is tolerable at worst, and the music always seems to set the mood well, sometimes by being absent.

Story: It's a standard Samurai/Western revenge story, no real surprises here, good or bad. Still, it's unintrusive and features a few pretty cool cutscenes.

Gameplay: It's a shooter that doesn't simply rely on headshots, and a brawler where going all offense won't get you very far. It's hardcore, polished and unique. It's exactly what the Wii needed.

Challenge: The difficulty curve is a bit on the generous side, but players can customize their experience by either hoarding or passing on the dozens of upgrades available. It can get difficult but never frustrating. Easy and Hard modes are available as well.

Fun Factor: Unless you abhor the idea of gaming actively, you'll probably find yourself feeling extra satisfied when the bodies hit the floor. The variety of badass ways in which you can defeat foes guarantees that those who like to kill stylishly will have plenty of options to flex their creativity.

Longevity: The campaign weighs in at a respectable ten hours, but there isn't much to do otherwise. An additional Challenge Mode serves primarily as a level-select function that rewards you with a medal based on how much money you earn. No multiplayer, either. Not even a New Game+ to let you keep your upgrades in a new playthrough. Replaying the campaign on a higher difficulty level or using different weapons and tactics may prove enjoyable enough thanks to Red Steel 2's exemplary combat.

The Verdict: If you own a Wii, this is probably the game you've been waiting for. Everyone who refers to themselves as a gamer should try this out, because there's nothing else like it. Unfortunately you can't rent Wii Motion Plus and it's required to get in on this action. There is a SKU of the game available with Wii Motion Plus included for just $10 more, however.