Red Steel Wii

Well, the Wii is finally here, and with it it’s first exclusive FPS, Ubisoft’s Red Steel has received a lot of hype, and also been the subject of a lot of worries. How ill the controls handle, does the sword play feel tacked on? These are questions people have been asking with much concern, pre-release reports were less than favourable too, making it look like Call of Duty 3 would be the preferred choice for people’s FPS fix on the Wii. But now the finished game is here do these reports have a valid point, or were they unfounded worries based on unfinished code?

In the game you play the part of Scott Monroe, bodyguard and boyfriend of Miyu Sato, beautiful daughter of Japanese businessman Isao Sato. As the game begins you are being taken to meet daddy for the first time when all hell breaks loose, it’s not long before the love of your life is taken hostage and her father is revealed as benevolent head of the Yakuza clans. In saving his life you are entrusted with the sacred Katana Giri, a legendary sword until now only used as the tool of execution for corrupt Yakuza bosses, but in your hands it is a symbol of peace in your battle to reunite the Yakuza clans in the face of a takeover by the evil Tokai. Initially the action starts off in the good old US of A, but before long you head to Japan to face Tokai and his minions on their home turf. Here you will find a couple of allies in your struggle, first Otori, a reformed ex Yakuza and master swordsman, you’ll visit his dojo regularly where you’ll have the chance to learn some powerful moves that you’ll find essential as you face more and more skilled swordsmen and women. Then there’s Harry Tanner, American nightclub owner, whose club is frequented by more than a few high ranking Yakuza, all of whom are having their own problems with Tokai. This gives you the chance to help them out and by doing so consolidate Sato’s standing and unite the clans against Tokai. Also in Harry’s club you’ll find a firing range in the basement, where you can practice your marksmanship and pick up some extra arms to bolster your own personal armoury… But, even with their help, can you rescue the girl, defeat the bad guy and gain unprecedented respect from the Yakuza for a westerner. It’s all up to you.

After a year of the Xbox 360 setting new standards in graphics nobody was expecting to be too impressed by the Wii’s visual capabilities, everyone was expecting Gamecube standards. And while it’s true Red Steel doesn’t measure up against the likes of Prey or Gears of War it is still more than respectable. Scenery is nicely varied, with plenty of different locales to cover, from banks to whore houses, there is some texture work in the backgrounds that could have been better though. There’s also some excellent lighting work in the backdrops, sunlight streams through windows realistically with passing people casting the appropriate shadows. The people themselves don’t look too great though, with the exception of the bosses you sword fight with and the game’s main characters. There’s a lot of repetition with the hired goons you gun down, you are being constantly attacked by groups of twins and triplets and so on. They’re also not as detailed as they could be, but I suppose they are just cannon fodder. The game’s main characters though are nicely modelled, really looking the part as you face them, be they tarty sword wielding prostitutes, or well dressed gangster types. All in all it’s not the best looking game out there, but it is more than passable for a launch game on a machine of the Wii’s capabilities.

Audio too is a bit of a mixed bag, some parts really add atmosphere, other parts are lacklustre or cringe worthy. The music is one area where it really excels though, with a dynamic soundtrack each area has both a passive and active theme that are switched between depending on what’s happening. The music itself is some of the best I’ve heard in an FPS in a long while, it’s not only atmospheric but it switches pace and really flows with the gameplay, making it a more organic experience. The voice acting is a bit more hit and miss though, with most of the characters in the game you’d think they would get plenty of eastern talent in, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case. A lot of the Japanese accents sound like they’re being put on and are far from convincing, others though do a good job and it’s probably about a fifty-fifty split in the quality of the voice work. Sound effects though are just pretty average throughout, I’m sure Ubisoft have a collection of stock sound effects for games like this, with all the explosion and gun sounds feeling like you’ve heard them all before a million times. The Wiimote’s speaker is also made use of with the sound effects, with reload noises coming through and the odd ring tone when you are contacted by mobile phone. It’s nothing special sound-wise, but it does add a little to the immersion factor. Overall there’s quite a varied mix in sound quality, but there’s definitely more good than bad, it’s just a shame the bad points detract from the heights it could have reached.

Now for the bad news, they’ve messed up the control scheme. It’s a real pity, as they got things right for the most part, just the things they got wrong are things that make a big difference. Aiming with the Wiimote is easy as anything, it’s just a case of point and click, and works very well, but the problem with it is using the Wiimote to turn. You can take your sights almost to the edge of the screen before you start to turn, meaning you can be shooting at things at the edge of the screen, which isn’t ideal, but the bigger impact is that it makes movement and aiming at the same time hard. This is offset a little with the game’s lock on system, but when you’re in the middle of a firefight you want complete freedom of movement and you just don’t get it. Another problem is the zoom feature whilst aiming, which is done by moving the Wiimote forward, it works fine if you’re locked on to a bad guy, but if you’re not you have to be very precise or you end up looking in the wrong direction. Other actions are a lot easier though, jumping and ducking are done with the ‘C’ and ‘Z’ buttons on the nunchuck, and reloading, switching weapons, throwing grenades, and opening doors are all context sensitive and done with a quick flick of the nun chuck. This all works pretty well, just don’t try reloading when you’re standing over an abandoned weapon though, as an unintentional weapons change can be quite disconcerting.

Another feature that works well is the game’s ‘focus’ system, once you’ve built up enough focus, done by shooting bad guys, you just hold down the lock on button and thrust your Wiimote forward quickly to activate focus and depending on how much focus you have, you get a certain amount of time to mark targets that are all shot in quick succession once the button is released, or your focus meter is depleted. This can be quite handy when you’re seriously outnumbered.

Then there’s the sword fighting system which, although it does feel a bit ‘tacked on’, works reasonably well. You can just madly flail at your opponents and get a certain amount of hits in, and you can even win your first few fights like this, but you’re better off using some tactics, blocking is your best shot for an easy victory as it’ll often throw an opponent off balance, leaving them open for a second, but you had best learn to dodge when they start throwing unblock able moves at you. It’s all a bit formulaic, block, strike, dodge strike, etcetera, but it can be quite fun and works pretty much the way a real sword fight would.

All in all you get a control system that is seriously flawed though, which is a shame as a few minor tweaks could have fixed them. It doesn’t make the game unplayable, but you can’t help but wonder how good this game could have been if it wasn’t for these problems.

This game could have been up there with the likes of Zelda as a top Wii launch title, it ticks most of the right boxes, but the ones it doesn’t really do detract too much. If you can get to grips with the flawed control system though there’s still some fun to be had here, there’s a reasonably long single player game and a fun, if limited, multiplayer. Maybe Ubisoft will take notice of the game’s problems and fix them in a sequel, or better yet use Wiiconnect to patch this game, but until they do either you’ll just have to make do as is. It’s worth a rental at least though, just to see the potential there for what could have been a really good game.

Serious flaws in the control system have ruined what could have been a good launch game for the Wii.

6.8 out of 10