In the past Nintendo hardware has always been demonstrated with Nintendo’s own software. Super Mario World, F-Zero and Pilot Wings on the SNES; Mario 64 and the canned Kirby Bowl on the Nintendo 64; the Luigi’s Mansion and Meowth’s Party tech demos on the GameCube. It was a little bizarre, then, to see Nintendo showing off Ubisoft’s Red Steel to Wii hungry gamers at E3, with their own titles – such as Mario Universe – tucked away elsewhere. For whatever reason, it has been a boon for Ubisoft: this was comfortably the second most anticipated Wii title, the first obviously being Happy Feet (Zelda).
The plot involves the largely anonymous Scott on a mission to save his Japanese girlfriend from the Yakuza. The problem is that Scott’s carrying something that everybody wants – a sacred sword. The action kicks off in a Japanese hotel, before moving to the US to ruff up some baseball bat-wielding thugs, and returning to Japan for the second half of the game. It’s in this half that things really pick up, as not only can you choose the order of the missions, but Scott is also taught how to slow down time to aim shots in the places that really hurt. The environments are a lot more interesting in the second part, with one highlight being a twisted theme park featuring enemies dressed up as dinosaurs and anime characters.
But we digress – it’s the controls that everybody seems to want to know about. We had our doubts, but once the Wii remote and nunchuk were in our eager hands they vanished completely. The doubts that is, not the controllers. It feels natural, with the Wii remote used to aim and change weapons, and the nunchuk to move around, duck and jump. No longer do you have to gently push analogue sticks to line up shots – just point and shoot. Our only complaint is that to open doors and reload, a stern flick of the nunchuk is required, which soon started to hurt our wrists.
If you ever enjoyed waving a French stick around pretending it’s a sword – or perhaps still do – then you’re going to have fun with the much-hyped sword fights. They aren’t realistic, and no, the actions on screen don’t completely match the fancy Wii remote waving, but as we said: it’s good fun. Enemies block often, so you have to learn to parry at the right times and also get used to strafing to avoid getting hit yourself. Some moves damage foes’ weapons too, such as swinging both controllers in a downwards motion to perform a double blade attack.
Despite being a 16-rated game there’s no blood, which does make the sword fights a bit of a pantomime. If there’s ever a sequel, we’d like see some cuts and damage to clothes. After every sword fight you can opt to either finish a rival off or leave them be. Choosing the latter earns respect points, as does disarming enemies during the slow mo ‘Focus Time’.
We were expecting this to look like a good GameCube game, possibly even a bit better than that with the Wii’s mooted extra oomph and all, but instead it looks more like your typical PlayStation 2 shooter from a few years back. It’s really hard to make out enemies in the distance because of the general blurriness, but it isn’t a total visual write-off. There are some nice special effects, such as shiny surfaces and sunlight beaming through broken windows, and the character models are mostly decent. The environments are packed with items, many of which can be destroyed; we particularly liked shooting washing machines in a laundrette to make them spill soapy mess everywhere.
As a launch title, Red Steel is a cut (no pun intended) above the usual in that it manages to entertain throughout its eight or so hours. The first few missions – set in dull warehouses and factories – aren’t a good indicator of what comes next, but they do provide plenty of scope for shoot out tomfoolery. Which is what Red Steel is all about, really.
As a first person shooter though, we wouldn’t dream of mentioning it in the same breath as Half-Life 2 or Halo. Look at it this way: the controls are good enough to convince us that the Wii is going to have some excellent first person shooters, and as a first attempt, it isn’t bad at all.