Wii Impressions: Trauma Center: Second Opinion and Red Steel Continued...

Red Steel (Wii)
Developer: Ubisoft Paris; Publisher: Ubisoft

Red Steel was the first full unveiled Wii game in the Western world--the second worldwide, counting Tecmo's Super Swing Golf--and it made big promises. The game plunges an American protagonist into modern day Japan, using firearms and blades as he gets further embroiled into the Yakuza underworld. A game full of gunplay and swordfighting is perfect for the Wii, as it is comprised of what are probably the two gameplay functions most likely to come to mind as appealing uses of the Wii remote. Unfortunately, Red Steel is very clearly unfinished. Whether this is the fault of the team, or a byproduct of trying to get what might have been an impressively ambitious game finished for launch, could be debated, but the game has many significant flaws.

Fundamental to the game are its control mechanisms. Aiming operates somewhere in between using a mouse and a console analog stick. The cursor, which is aimed with the remote, operates independently of the camera as it moves around the screen, but when it approaches the edge of a screen the camera turns in that direction. This seems to be the standard method of operation for Wii shooters, but unlike other genre entries such as Treyarch's Call of Duty 3 and Retro Studios' Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Red Steel's "dead zone"--the area of the screen in which moving the cursor does not cause the camera to turn--is fairly large, making turning a somewhat sluggish affair. To the game's credit, this seems to have been factored into the level design. Red Steel is not a run and gun shooter; rather, battles are a series of set pieces that play out as you come to a new room or environment. This in itself is not a drawback, it is simply how the game is structured and it works fine.

What is a huge drawback is that the game's presentation is bland, bordering on just plain poor. Flaws abound, from clipping problems, to braindead NPCs, to uninspiring visual design (though in fairness this does improve later in the game), to a bizarre pointer glitch that will occasionally cause the cursor to skip across the screen and back again in a split second. This last issue, curiously enough, does not seem to be an issue with any other launch games using the system's pointer functionality, suggesting that fault lies with Red Steel itself.

Cutscenes are done in a comic book panel format similar to those of Max Payne. The style should work well, except that they have none of the dynamism and flow of Max Payne's. The game's dialogue and voice acting is not particularly great, which would not be much of a flaw if there were not so many other disappointing aspects of the presentation that are compounded. Ubisoft Paris, the studio behind the game, also developed 2003's cel-shaded shooter XIII, which suffered from many of the same problems. Like that game, Red Steel's environments are varied but not hugely impressive, and the gameplay is pretty standard. Red Steel very much feels like it could have used a good once over and another six months to a year of development. On the other hand, as in XIII, the music is very well done and has a broad range. Similarly, the sound design is quite good. Hearing reload sounds through the remote speaker is surprisingly enjoyable.

The game is not without gameplay highlights. Once you are entrenched in a safe position, aiming around the screen and nailing enemies is pretty enjoyable; it's just that when you have to do a quick 180 turn or some similar maneuver, the designers' choice to go with a large turning bounding box makes things frustrating. Swordfighting, which has taken a lot of flak from fans for not replicating users' movements on a 1:1 basis, is actually quite fun and were some of the parts of the game I looked forward to playing. The actual context for the swordfights is ludicrous; what man with absolutely no prior experience holding a katana is going to cast aside his perfectly functional firearm to engage in close combat with somebody who is clearly a master swordsman? It makes no sense, but setting that aside, the battles themselves can be a lot of fun. Quite frankly, I think the designers made the right choice in mapping your movements to numerous directional sword slashes. When it really comes down to it, when I playing the game and swinging the remote, I didn't notice or care about that; it was simply rewarding to see the on-screen sword accurately pick up the direction of my slashes and the blocking I was doing with the short sword in my left hand. The fighting system isn't the deepest in the world, but I found it surprisingly enjoyable for what it is.

All in all, Red Steel promises a lot and simply can't deliver on most of it. Despite Ubisoft's best intentions on having serious support for Wii right out of the gate, the realities of developing a launch title clearly took a heavy toll on the game. This kind of involved single-player experience really deserves more time, particularly when dealing with an entirely new control system. Ubisoft's own Rayman Raving Rabbids, from Michel Ancel's team at Ubisoft Montpellier, delivered a more successful (and more realistic from a development perspective) picture of delivering accessible creativity while still making launch. That said, Red Steel game does have some encouraging aspects. Ubisoft has stated that it plans to create a franchise out of Red Steel, and the game is likely to be the best selling initial Wii launch title after Zelda, so it would be no surprise if a sequel surfaced. If so, let's hope it gets the time it needs.

Ubisoft Paris' Red Steel shipped alongside Wii on November 19, 2006.

Go back to the previous page for impressions of Atlus' Trauma Center: Second Opinion.