Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: December 2006

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Red Steel

The weight of expectation can be a heavy burden.


Ubisoft's high-profile title Red Steel carried a lot of baggage to the Wii launch. It was the first Wii game announced and was hotly anticipated from the moment the first screens were shown. Even Nintendo themselves constantly hyped Red Steel as a great showcase for the Wii in the lead-up to launch. Beautiful, crisp anti-aliased screenshots found their way around the web. Despite being devkit "bullshots" that were obviously higher resolution than the Wii could support, they raised people's hopes of how good the game might look.

Despite playtests of beta versions being met with less than stellar impressions, hopes for Red Steel remained high. The gaming community wanted to believe. The final review copies went out, and the discrepancy between expectations and reality became abundantly evident. The press were merciless: "Horrible", "buggy", "broken". Reviews were mostly five or six out of ten, even falling as low as four.

The community quickly turned away from what had apparently been a terrible train wreck. Red Steel dropped off the shopping lists of many of Wii's early adopters. I had originally planned on buying it on day one, but it's critical reception had been so scathing that I didn't even consider it when I picked up my Wii at launch. A day or two later, I felt strangely compelled to try it anyway. I knew it was meant to be awful, but the curiosity was killing me. For such a high-profile game with a budget of ten million Euros (that's bigger than Gears Of War!) to have failed so spectacularly, the result was something I just had to experience for myself.

While so many other mediocre Wii games had sold out in the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy, I had no trouble finding stores with Red Steel in stock, and even got a good discount on it. My initial impression was pretty much consistent with the general consensus.


Red Steel: Not ready. There's no escaping the fact that Ubisoft rushed the game out for launch. Right from the boot up, the game feels like a beta: unfinished, and desperately in need of more polish, or any polish for that matter. The loading screens, menus, and cutscenes all feel like internal placeholder work that should have been redone properly before the game ever saw the light of day. Then the game itself begins and the stuttering frame rate and last-gen graphics join forces to dig the hole a little deeper. So how do I control this thing? Whoa. Oh boy. It doesn't handle like any FPS you've ever played and it's not like a lightgun shooter either. It's a new control scheme that you're not accustomed to, and for the first few minutes, you'll probably feel like it doesn't work very well.

I have to wonder how many reviewers crystalized their opinions at that point. It would be easy to throw up your hands right there and decide the game was crap. The thing about Red Steel is that it takes time to open up, and it needs the player to give it that opportunity. Half an hour in, the game still seemed bad, but the control scheme wasn't grating quite as much. I had adjusted to the idea that I needed to point the remote at the screen all the time, and that it controlled both the aiming reticule and the direction I was facing.

An hour in, the sluggish frame rate was still bugging me though I'd gotten over the initial shock of the chunky looking graphics and occasionally dodgy textures. I still wasn't really comfortable with the controls, but I played on. The disconcerting way the game just froze up for a few seconds every time I reached a checkpoint was certainly contributing to the amateurish vibe of the game. The storyline and characterization hadn't improved matters either. They were terrible in fact. Poorly written, poorly acted, and absolutely riddled with clich├ęs and stereotypes. Any cheesier and the game disc would have had a stuffed crust.


And yet, as I continued into the third, fourth and fifth hours of the game, I noticed something odd happening: I was having fun. The control scheme had pretty much clicked (although moving toward the TV to zoom in still felt a little clunky) and I was really enjoying the immersiveness of it. Graphically the game had become much more impressive too, though inconsistently so. It still had it's ugly moments, but there were plenty of nice subtle effects on show coupled with some beautiful set pieces and good art direction. Even the cheese had turned golden. I found I was appreciating the dodgy dialogue and lame plot on a B-movie level. I was hooked. I just wanted to keep on playing.

Red Steel's gameplay carves it's own path somewhere between lightgun shooter and first-person shooter, and strikes the balance quite well. The sword fighting isn't what we were all hoping for, but in the grand scheme of things, it's little more than a mini-game. Shooting and hurling grenades is what Red Steel is about. I'm more than happy with Red Steel's duration. As a fan of lightgun games that usually last no more than an hour or two, I think the ten to fifteen hours on offer in Red Steel is a satisfyingly large serving. The campaign is about all there is though. The offline multiplayer is okay, but the lack of online multiplayer is a real disappointment.

So I'm left with mixed feelings about this game. It's so bad on so many levels that I feel like I should just consider it as a straight-out bad game. ...and yet, in spite of it all it's faults, I enjoyed it. I really had fun with it, which is more than I can say for many technically accomplished and highly-polished games that are just boring to play. It certainly won't be remembered as one of the Wii catalog's highlights, and no doubt much of my enjoyment of the game was based on the novelty of using the Wii remote and nunchuck to play it, but so what? Putting aside all other considerations (like the shoddy execution of the entire game), if the sole purpose of a game is to be fun, then I can't deny that Red Steel delivered.


If you're willing to persist and forgive it's flaws, Red Steel actually does offer one of the more interesting and fun experiences available in the Wii's launch line-up.