Last week, Ubisoft invited us to the presentation of their upcoming Wii game, Red Steel 2, a good opportunity to play the preview build of the game for a few hours and meet up with the creative director and another member of the team. We had a chance to see the game in action and learn more about its content, but also to try that famous Wii Motion Plus technology on a more "gamer appealing" title. Of course we all remember the first game, that wasn't really successful despite a promising concept at the Wii's debut. So what now of this sequel - which has in fact very little to do with its predecessor? Summary of the event illustrated by our essential videos inside. Update 2: 24 images added.
What about making the game from scratch?
This is the first thought that came to the developers' mind at Ubisoft. Indeed, Red Steel 2 has very little in common with the first episode, name aside that is. Everything has been redone, from the first drafts of artworks to the game design itself, almost like if the MIB had "flashy-thinged" Ubisoft. You have to know that the development of the sequel took a while, as it started shortly after the release of the first game. Quite logically, it gives us a much more accomplished game this time around. Remember that the first game had to be developed in a record time, which could obviously be felt once the final product was released.
For this sequel, time has allowed the developers to create an original world mixing spaghetti westerns and feudal Japan, as well as a new engine, called Lynn. All this with a new cel-shaded game design, which gives the game a very pleasing touch graphics-wise, even more for a Wii game. We were even surprised to see so few aliasing issues, something that is unfortunately relatively uncommon on the Nintendo console. The loading times, one the major flaws of the first game, are this time much shorter and "hidden" during the door opening sequences, Metroid Prime's style.
When luck invites itself in through the Wii Motion Plus
When the production of the game started quite a while ago, the Wii Motion Plus technology did not exist yet. What a stroke of luck for the developers to see this technology arrive in time to include it to Red Steel 2. Something that totally changes the experience of the game. Ubisoft even decided to release the game and the Wii Motion Plus in a bundle so nobody can play red Steel 2 without the proper equipment. It must be admitted, the Wii Motion Plus plays an important role in the immersion process, and it considerably enhances the sensations during the melee combat sequences.
You can for example throw weak or strong attacks, depending on the strength and amplitude of your movements. As well as hitting in all directions, allowing you to assail your enemies from every angle, even when they are in your back. One might as well say that the strap on your Wii controller is more than highly recommended if you do not want your flat screen to pay a high price because of your zeal. In the heat of battle, it is surprising to make real backward movements to try to avoid the attacks of your enemies.
Awaken the samurai in you
Fighting with the katana will be the spearhead of the adventure, which should appeal to all the fans of the genre. But it's not just about slashing everywhere and pouncing on everything that moves, this technique, though popular to big bully players, will actually work at the beginning but will quickly find its limits. Indeed, the battles are more subtle than that, and dodge and parry will be required if you do not want to end up with a blade in your stomach. It will be then possible to bypass your opponents to reach their weak points, and to parry the blows of some of them by performing movements corresponding to their attacks. Some enemies who try to hit you with a horizontal slash will have to be staved off vertically and vice versa, some special techniques being available to repel the attackers and trigger off violent counter-attacks. To defend oneself is good, to attack is better.
In addition to the classical attack moves, you can also buy special techniques to help you to be more effective against the enemies. Among the many techniques available, one of them will make you able to send the poor devils in the air, while thrashing them during their fall. Those who survive your attacks can be finished in different ways, usually with a slash hit to the ground, or if the enemy is still standing, with a cut and thrust to the abdomen. If your defensive reactions are sharp enough, you may even be able to surprise the crafty ones who might try to attack you in the back with a fatal counter-attack.
One can't become a samurai overnight
When it comes to the game's controls, some might consider that the similarities Red Steel 2 shares with the first title in that area are bound to be quite a turn-off : for instance, the crosshair that you have to move on either side of the screen to control the character's vision (something that had provoked quite a stir in the gamer community at the time). Now it's all water under the bridge as it seems the controls have now become pretty natural, the proof of that being that we didn't have any particular problem getting a hang of them. Now, if gamers will surely get used to it fast, it still remains to be seen if more casual players will feel the same.
Moreover, all the special moves that the player will acquire during the adventure will require some real training to be able to master the different combat skills. The rest of the controls are pretty standard, with the A button that must be held in order to block - either bullets or weak melee attacks - and the impossibility to move the character's head to look around when doing so. The enemies are locked automatically, the Z button allowing you to switch between targets, though it is still very difficult to select the desired foe. Quick Time Events have not been forgotten as you will need to be very careful during the in-game cinematics. From time to time, the Wiimote will also either become a tool to open a safe, much like a stethoscope, or some kind of crank or door knob to get access to new areas.
Money doesn't guarantee happiness but it can save your ass
Slashing enemies is undeniably fun but it does not mean you should forget to use your guns once in a while. Four different firearms will be available in the game, from the standard gun to the lethal machine gun, all of them being upgradable provided you have the necessary amount of cash. It is even possible to look at every purchase you make from every angle by rotating the Wiimote, as you would if you really had the item in your hand. The money you find can also be used to upgrade your sword, which will unlock new techniques to learn. To get some cash, the end justifies the means: you can destroy your environment, crack the many safes, complete some missions and of course find the hidden items scattered all around the different maps.
The gameplay is made of two distinct parts, exploration and combat. You automatically switch to combat mode every time you run into an enemy. Nowhere to run or hide as you can't escape nor move on until you have defeated your foe - much like in Bayonetta some barriers block the way to make sure you don't run away like a chicken. You should know that your health bar cannot replenish before the end of the fight, which, if you are anything like me, should lead to rather stressful situations. Have a look at the video where you can see Payne, the first serious boss of the game, to see how tricky it can be. I even got a high five from the creative director when I managed to take him down.
You enter exploration mode once all the enemies have been defeated, and you are free to go wherever you want. You will of course have many missions to complete, which you will find in the different safehouses, hence the impression of a very straightforward game. Indeed, the game's progression depends on the number of missions you accomplish, which leaves very little time to rest to the player and the only break from that will be with the cutscenes unveiling the plot. But after more than an hour slicing throats, you will see that physical fatigue will be more of a problem than boredom.
Mad Max meets the Last Samurai and Unforgiven
As you probably figured out, the world of Red Steel 2 is rather original as it mixes the western genre with a post-apocalyptic world and feudal Japan. You play a very mysterious character, who only lets his eyes show, in the world of Caldera, a place invaded by the worst scumbags of the desert. So here you are, in the middle of this mess, ready to stick your nose in their dirty business.
Though the hero is not very talkative, he still looks very badass, which is something the cutscenes will keep reminding you of. The game is obviously action-packed, in a very arcady style and it offers some real challenge. The hardest difficulty setting - called Ninja - should give you a hard time, especially if you combine it with the Athletic mode that makes the controls even more sensitive and demanding - make sure you are in good shape before trying though.
Some players will probably regret the lack of blood during the combat sequences. According to Jason VandenBerghe, creative director, it was more of an artistic choice than anything else but it also permitted the game to get a PEGI 16 rating. Instead of blood, you will see clouds of dust and sand, which seems logical in a way given the fact that the enemies are all covered in dirt.
In the end, we can wonder why Ubisoft decided to name the game after Red Steel and make it a sequel when people don't seem to be eagerly waiting for its release despite the famous title. This time though, the game is smooth, with a very good visual style and very little aliasing. The Wii Motion Plus adds a lot to the immersion and it is no surprise to see it's been included with the game. Sometimes you will find yourself making totally useless moves in front of your TV set, just because you really feel you're fighting for real. Maybe some will bitch about the absence of blood, some gameplay choices and the linear aspect of the progression but, should you want to play a game that combines sword and gun fights, with a very original background, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on this one.