Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Worth it’s Weight in Red Steel?

Imagine yourself for a moment, nicely dressed and ready to meet your fiancé’s father, happier than you were the first time that you heard Utada Hikaru was on tour in your town, when all of a sudden your entire world comes crashing down around you. Bullets begin to ricochet off the walls near your head. Bodyguards begin to fall down around you. SMG wielding enemies begin to file through every exit you can see. And then, someone grabs your girl. If you think you can endure this intense scene, then maybe you can endure the psychotic action that is RED STEEL for the new Nintendo Wii console.

The Wii came out months ago and really, we’re all still waiting for that amazing game to come out from Nintendo that’s supposed to blow our socks off. With Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess™ still the ranking leader on this system, it’s no wonder the Wii is still selling at $250. However, Red Steel is almost worth the money that you have to pay for the game.

Red Steel starts you off as Scott, an underpaid bodyguard who falls in love with Miyu Sato, the girl he’s supposed to be protecting. At the start Scott and Miyu have dinner before an arranged meeting with Miyu’s father, the notorious Isao Sato. There is this atmosphere of nothing more than a nervous outing that is supposed to end with the father smiling his approval of his daughter’s taste in men, however, as Miyu approaches her father, an assassin comes from the kitchen and unless a fury of bullets from the SMG hidden within his waiter’s costume. Scott tries to catch his fleeing fiancé, but finds himself on the wrong end of a gun, the butt end.

After waking from a momentary fainting, you find yourself in an empty room, devoid of the bodies of falling guards, but not without a gun, conveniently kicked under a nearby table. Now armed and with a vengeance, you take up the hunt for your girl and her father, somewhere lost in the LA building. Fortunately for you, the game has a built-in flaw: none of the unimportant doors are accessible, thereby eliminating the ability to go the wrong way. Before long, you find yourself meeting a beaten and shot Isao Sato on the roof, a burning helicopter nearby. With this future father-in-law now safe, you learn to use a katana and meet up with your lovely girlfriend before all hell breaks loose.

Friends and allies turn out to be enemies in this game, and many of your enemies actually join your side after you beat them in honorable sword combat. Trust no one, not even the people who are training you; you never know when one of them will suddenly switch his interests to the other side. But, if you play your cards right, you’ll get the girl, gain some cool new stuff, and gain control of the Sato Gumi—which I guess then becomes the Scott Gumi, but that’s left for speculation. Since we never get to hear Scott’s last name, we can never know what the name of the organization becomes. But the fight never really ends, so maybe we’ll find out in the sequel that’s been rumored about.

The game is nonsensical at times, like when the horde of yakuza enemies falling to your 9mm volley call out for you to surrender yourself, or when you find yourself being called a “gaijin” [which is Japanese for “Foreigner” with slightly negative connotations] by a sword wielding man from Tokyo in the lobby of an LA hotel, or when you have to explain to everyone, friend or foe, why you are in the possession of the infamous “Katana Giri”, but it certainly makes up for that with it’s constant barrage of obstacles. You may wonder why the enemy will take so long to shoot at you, but you must understand that missing is incredibly easy when you have to actually point the controller in the right location on the optical bar in order to drop the bad guys. You may also wonder why the cut scenes look like someone spliced together pages of the City Hunter manga, but that can also be explained away by the fact that this was Ubisoft’s first attempt at making a Wii game, and since it was the Wii’s debut game, they had no choice but to make sure that it was out in time for sale.

One of the problems with this game is the fact that you must watch every cut scene and action sequence that comes your way. There’s no way to skip ahead if you don’t care about the story line, nor is there any ability to stop a long monologue from a character—many of which you will want to avoid because they don’t actually tell you anything at all. Fortunately, the more enemies you spare, the more respect points you get, which affect the overall evaluation at the end of each level. I really wish those points actually mattered on some scale, like allowing you to buy more special moves or guns, but they’re nothing more than bragging rights as you move from a novice to a master.

Another problem is the weird setup of the controller, requiring that you lock on to your targets before you can use the zoom feature of the gun, which causes problems later on. There is also a technique of pressing the A button and the Z button at the same time, giving you a momentary Matrix-like ability in that gives you a chance to draw a bead on the enemies while time slows to a crawl. This is a great aspect of the game, but the Z button is important as it allows you duck for cover when the bullets become too much for your regenerating life bar. Unfortunately, if you have a target locked on with the A button and suddenly decide to drop for cover, you’ll find that instead of getting out of the way of the bullets, you’ve slowed time and are ready to disarm your opponents. The design of the controls is stressful sometimes.

But let’s say you make it through the gunfights and move to the bosses. All boss fights are fought with the katana, which is nice, but as my friend pointed out: “Why can’t I just shoot him?” Good question. With its limited two-gun capabilities, one could argue that it’s because you don’t have enough guns to fight him, but after seeing all the minions on the way up, there’s nothing really to clarify this. Maybe it’s because the boss is nearly impossible. Wrong. Shake the control wildly in front of the remote bar and you’ll find him dropping before your blade without
hitting you. The explanation is lacking, but I guess it has something to do with Honorable Combat. I just found most of those boss fights—and periodic semi-boss-like matches throughout the levels—that were like the cut scenes: boring and anti-climatic. However, sometimes it’s a nice change-up from the continuous point-and-click of the gunfights, so there was only moderate complaining from the writer.

As far as the AI goes: it was some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Previously in this review, I commented on the nonsensical ranting of dying enemies, and now I’m seemingly contradicting myself, but I’m actually not. You see, the AI might call out that you need to throw down your weapons, they might call you a stupid “gaijin” when they are the foreigners in your country, but they make up for it by shooting well placed shots, hiding when you start to shoot at them, and waiting for you to pop-up instead of unloading magazine after magazine into the walls you are using as cover. These guys actually felt like they were paying attention to the fight and not that they were programmed images running through the same pop-out and shoot patterns that makes you wince sometimes. After the third level of having to wait while the enemies dart their heads out to check to see if I’m gone before they stand, or actually having to move in order to get a better angle, I realized that these guys weren’t the type of enemy that you can memorize and take out in under 5 minutes a level. You actually have to work for your payday.

Now, the reason I’m the one doing the Red Steel review instead of some of the others here at Nerd Evolution is because I’ve been affectionately referred to as “Japan Boy” by our blog’s creator, Nick Myers. So, I should be making some commentary on the Japanese-America relations of this game and the untranslated portions of the plot. You see, at some parts of the game, the characters actually talk to each other in Japanese, and they talk about you. Fortunately, everything that is pertinent to the story is done in English—even when Scott is in Tokyo—so you don’t have to be fluent in the samurai tongue to be able to play the game. But, the Japanese is well done. Of course it is, the voice actors are Japanese, but I mean the sentences feel like they were coming from a Yakuza boss to his underlings and the connotations about you are not lost just because you are the game’s protagonist. To top that all off, Harry, the American bar owner in Tokyo, is a picture perfect match for many of the American business men I met over there, so I felt him to be a very believable character.

Another aspect that made me nearly wet myself was the scenery. The American scenery was pretty bland, devoid of any signature identifying marks. This made the Japanese scenery stark in comparison. It was beautiful, and the creators of Red Steel had clearly spent some time inside Japanese architecture. From the paper doors that slide to the side, to the confusing mazes of concrete stairwells, at some points I felt like I’d returned back to the land of the rising sun. Some things were a little out of place, like the gun enthusiast in the basement of Harry’s, but you can forgive those things when the man gives you the option of gaining new guns and blowing away some targets. At least the place looked Japanese.

The accents were also really well done. At points, I could just picture who these guys sounded like: my friend Eiichiro, that guy Satoshi that I met in the street by the eki, President Yokoyama from Kansai. A friend of mine commented on the gun enthusiasts semi-Italian, semi-Japanese sounding accent, but I think that’s because he hasn’t actually been around real Japanese people. It might have been the fact that Ubisoft hired a clan of Japanese people to do the voice acting, and it may have been that Ubisoft planned for their people to sound the way they do, either way, it was an awesome assembly of characters that made the plot, at least, feel realistic.

All-in-all, I liked this game, and it made for hours of enjoyable slashing-and-blasting fun. There’s a multi-player mode, but if you only have one controller, it can be a let down when you play. However, my friends and I developed a “pass when you die or end” system which kept the control moving through our ranks, ‘cause you can die if you’re not careful. Usually, a particularly hard swordfight would move the controller along, but none of us really minded the game play. I mean, when you do get the controller, it’s a constant shoot-hide-move motion, so you forget how long you went without. It’s definitely something worth its weight, but maybe not the total expense of the Wii.

So, to sum up everything I said for those of you who just skim through these review things, basically:
1) AI is ridiculous, but kicks your butt sometimes
2) The sword fighting can be kind of lame
3) Story is lacking, but the dialogues are great and the accents make sense.
4) Cut scenes won’t stop no matter how many buttons you click
5) Watch out for accidentally using up your special ability meter when you duck while locked on.

That’s it ladies and gentleman. If you like a game that combines Japan-America relations, pits you up against some hard minions who die incessantly, hands you a sword and says “have at it”, and has some really cool art, then Red Steel is the game for you. If you are the kind of nit-picky realist that is still waiting for a game that makes you hold mock weapons above your head or else you’ll take damage, we’re getting their, but still not quite there yet. If we had a rating system here at Nerd Evolution, I would give Red Steel 7 out of 10.

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