Red Steel looks like a worthy game to keep your Wii warm this holiday season, but it only half succeeds: The game itself is entertaining, but ultimately forgettable. You see, Red Steel slices its creativity off at the controls. Once you get over the novelty of cappin' fools with a plastic remote, you're left with just an average shooter that does absolutely nothing you haven't seen (or shot) a million times before.
Wii games might not push as many polygons as Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 games, but we do know that they don't have to look this bad. Normally I wouldn't complain, but at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Ubisoft showed off a snazzy trailer that it promised was actual gameplay footage. That was clearly not the case -- the game doesn't look anything like that infamous target video. It looks worse...a lot worse.
Graphics alone wouldn't matter that much, but I actually had a hard time getting through the game because of the poor visuals. For example, a large number of levels require you to take out sneaky snipers who position themselves on ledges far from your sight -- pretty common, sure -- but when it comes time to return the fire, the textures for the snipers are so bad that only way to find them is to let them shoot you (and hope you don't die) and then trace the fire back to where they are hiding. Even then half the time I couldn't find the enemy and had to rely on my pointer turning red to signify I finally found the source of my frustration.
While the grungy graphics made my eyes cry, the controls at least left my hands somewhat happy. The standard FPS controls translated rather well to the game (you move with the analog Nunchuk while you aim with the Wii Remote). Even simple things like reloading (done by shaking the Nunchuk) made for an entertaining experience. And you can hear your gun reloading via the Wii Remote's speaker -- kitschy, but still cool. The only problem I have with the controls is zooming in to aim. In order to get a more precise shot (especially while using the sniper rifle) you have to point the Remote close to the television (the closer you point, the closer your gun zooms in). While the functionality works fine, it is difficult to properly get off a close shot while a bunch of bad guys are swarming you. Getting a headshot with the sniper rifle is even worse: By the time you move the camera in and are ready to pull the trigger, you're likely to get shot yourself. At least the game gives you the clichéd "Focus" shot to take down a number of foes in slow motion. You can even choose to disarm the enemies (done by shooting their weapons) as opposed to killing them to earn respect points (used to increase your focus meter). Disarming sounds pretty lame, but the game rewards you for being a law-abiding do-gooder. Subdue the unique boss (noted by an icon above his head) for an area, and all the thugs will also surrender. Toward the latter part of the game, you'll find creating peace rather than inflicting punishment will make progressing a helluva lot easier.
When you're not running and gunning, you'll be dodging and slashing. The samurai fighting seems like it'd work well: swing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk to mimic actual swordplay. The problem is, unlike the shooting controls that seemed to register all my movements, here I swung and swung...and missed and missed. No matter how many times I tried (and I went about it several different ways), I could never seem to master the controls without wildly thrusting my arms around, praying one of my random motions would equate to a hit. Even when I fiddled around with the different sword katas (combos), I found they only worked 50 percent of the time. Controls aside, the sword fighting itself was rather lame in the context of the game. It doesn't make sense that you're going through 90 percent of the game pumping a few hundred pounds of lead into dudes and then, for some reason, you ditch the gun for a sword. Why? Just shoot them in the head -- trust me, it'll be much easier. But of course, you're forced to slash it out, only to fight gun-toting enemies a few steps later. And the pacing is rather repetitive. You clear a room, sword fight, and then repeat. By the 20th sword fight, I got bored swinging my arms around, especially when the difficulty of the fights went from ridiculously easy to frustratingly hard.
And the four-player splitscreen multiplayer, while somewhat fun, is sooo two gens ago. After playing games online, it's hard to revert back to the archaic act of herding four friends together in a room. And the modes aren't that special either: ho-hum deathmatch, an even ho-hummer team match, and a wacky mode entitled "Killer." This last mode is a great idea. During the beginning of the round everyone's Remote will ring like a phone. Once you answer it, a mysterious voice will give you a different objective (usually to kill a specific character in the round) and let you go at it. The problem is, everyone is standing so close to each other that the secret message ain't so much a secret as it is blatant public knowledge. Plus, since you have to put the Wii Remote up to your ear like a phone, and...you aim with it, too...you're pretty much a standing target.
Don't be fooled into thinking Red Steel reinvents the FPS. It's nothing more than a ho-hum shooter with a creative but flawed gimmick stapled on. Sure, it might not steal the launch lineup, but at least it proves this type of game is welcome on the Wii.