- Reviewed on: Wii
- Also available for: N/A
- The Good: It's a sharp looking game by Wii standards; movements for opening doors, switching clips, and holding guns gangsta style are intuitive and fun; makes good use of the Wii remote's tiny speaker
- The Bad: Awkward aiming controls; forgettable plot; lacks support for online play
- The Verdict: An underwhelming first crack at a shooter using the Wii's motion sensitive controllers
As I sit down to write this review my right forearm is burning hot. I just removed it from a heating pad, applied after the final of six two-hour sessions playing Red Steel, a first-person shooter designed from the ground up for the Nintendo Wii.
Why the warm pack? Red Steel makes liberal and innovative use of the Wii's gyroscopic controllers, which forced me to keep my right arm suspended with muscles tensed for virtually the entire game. As a result, I experienced moderate to severe cramping as I played.
And I'm not sure the experience was worth the pain. While the concept of using the Wii's remote (the Wiimote) to point at targets on screen is a great idea in theory, it leaves something to be desired in practice.
Needed: arms of steel
Red Steel's story involves some nonsense about an American bodyguard learning the ways of a samurai as he hunts down the Yakuza gangsters who kidnapped his girlfriend. I can't get into details because I honestly don't remember themI usually zoned out a few seconds into each narrative sequence. The writing is bad, the acting is worse, and the graphic novel-style cut scenes look like something out of a Sega Genesis game.
But plot problems were of little concern to me. The real story is the game's controls. Pre-release propaganda made Red Steel out to be a massive leap forward in intuitive, responsive first-person shooter controls.
My take is a bit different.
To be fair, I loved what Ubisoft tried to do. The vast majority of game actions are carried out by gesturing with either the remote or the nunchuk in ways that crudely mimic real world movements. I had to push the nunchuk forward to open doors, dip it down and up to pop out a spent magazine and lock in a fresh one, make a throwing motion to toss a grenade, and raise my hand to block sword-bearing enemies' attacks. I could even twist the wrist of my Wiimote-weilding hand to hold my gun gangsta style. All good stuff. These controls felt natural and helped immerse me in the game's world.
But activities requiring any degree of precisionsuch as targeting an enemy by using the remote to move an onscreen pointer, or zooming in with a scope by moving the remote closer to the screenwere awkward. These tasks aren't all that tricky when your character remains stationarythe Wii remote is a remarkably accurate motion sensitive device. My problem was in trying to aim while strafing, ducking, or running. I sprayed bullets wildly while moving, and my hand and arm muscles became uncomfortably tense the more I struggled to make minute targeting corrections (hence my sore arm).
Oddly, Ubisoft seems to have anticipated players having difficulty with the targeting controls. The evidence is in what appears to be several counterbalances meant to compensate for poor aiming. For starters, there is a copious amount of ammunition scattered throughout each level. No matter how many bullets I wasted there were always more. Plus, my enemies' artificial intelligenceor, more accurately, lack of ittypically had them charging at me in the open, making them unrealistically easy targets.
I found Red Steel's sole saving grace in combat to be its melee fights. Guns were occasionally holstered so that my foes and I could try to kill each other like civilized peopleusing swords. The controls for slashing, dodging, andas mentioned earlierblocking, are exactly what I'd imagined they should be like, resulting in some suspenseful and entertaining swordfights.
Wii's wee speaker put to good use
Aside from its debilitating targeting controls, Red Steel is actually a decent game.
There are several imaginative scenarios. One scene had me squatting in the bed of a pickup truck as it slowly moved through a car wash. I had to pick off enemies as they popped up in the wash's viewing windows. A similar sequence involves riding a conveyor belt from room to room in an airport. Situations like these made me feel as though I was moving on railsmuch like a typical light gun game (which, when you get right down to it, is basically what Red Steel is)and had the positive effect of making aiming a little less awkward.
I also enjoyed the presentation. The graphics are the best I've yet seen in a Wii title. Surface textures are a bit drab, but there are plenty of eye-catching special effects, including the satisfyingly fiery car explosions in a level that takes place in a garage and the foaming, frothing bath water seen in a spa.
But my favourite aspect of Red Steel's production was the sound that emanated from the little speaker inside the Wii remote. Hearing the clicks that accompany weapon reloads and the sound of a sword sliding into its sheath coming from the direction of my hand rather than the screen turned out to be a surprisingly effective means of fooling my brain into believing I was wielding a real weapon.
A bad omen for future Wii shooters?
In the end Red Steel's shooting controls are just too cumbersome to make it an enjoyable play. Worse, the controls have made me pessimistic about the future of first-person shooters for the Wii. Maybe it's just my aching arm talking, but right now pointing and shooting just doesn't seem like the best way to take advantage of the Wii remote's unique capabilities. Still, the melee combat was enjoyable. Maybe the system has a future in Oblivion-style first-person swordplay. Time will tell.
For now it's time to get that heating pad back on my arm and resume treating my first official video game injury.