Genre: First-Person Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Paris
Release Date: TBA
Nintendo has been pimping Red Steel unusually hard for it to be a third-party title, especially a third-party FPS with a Western developer. It's because Red Steel embodies Nintendo's promise that the Wii's games are going to cater to every possible type of gamer, including the aggressive, predominantly male demographic of FPS fans that felt distinctly ignored by the GameCube. Red Steel is not just an FPS, either, but almost a tech demo that shows third-party developers just what kind of an experience they can create by using the Wii. At E3 this year, developers were more excited about working with the Wii than virtually any other platform, and the possibility of getting to make a game like Red Steel is probably why. Getting to play a game like Red Steel with the Wii controller is the kind of thing that makes you remember why you like video games in the first place.
Red Steel's premise is beyond simple. You're a foreigner who gets mixed up with the complicated dealings of the Japanese underworld. Granted the valuable sword "Red Steel" by a yakuza boss, you're tasked with saving a very important person from rival gangs. From there, it's time to start shooting and stabbing people.
It's the gameplay that really puts Red Steel on the map. It's played using the Wiimote's nunchuck extension. The version we played only allowed a player to go hands-on with the game's shooting mode, but plenty more was revealed at E3 about how the game's swordplay mode would function, along with a flashy swordplay demo at Nintendo's E3 press conference. In swordplay mode, players controlled a katana with the Wiimote's motion sensor while using the left analog stick to move their main character. Moving the remote from left to right in a slash-like motion resulted in a horizontal strike. Jerking the Wiimote downward resulted in a top-to-bottom vertical slash. These motions had to be coordinated with use of the nunchuck to allow for dodging enemy attacks in the duel. Ubisoft's representatives promised that in addition to the katana demonstrated at E3, in the main game, players would also acquire a second melee weapon, the dagger-like wakizashi. This blade is intended primarily for blocking, and how players will control it is still up in the air.
Shooting mode was absolutely intuitive, using the Wiimote's motion sensor and a single button to control aiming and the camera direction. In the traditional console FPS setup, it takes over the role of the right analog stick. At the same time, you use the nunchuck's analog stick to control movement exactly in the fashion of the left analog stick in the traditional console FPS control scheme. This setup allows for complex FPS shooting maneuvers, like circle-strafing, to be executed with incredible ease. Another button on the Wiimote was used to toggle between weapon setups, but this ability was disabled in the shooting level we played. Finally, a trigger button on the nunchuck allowed the character to jump.
The level was not from the game proper but was instead a special demo level, set up something like a shooting gallery. Targets with human silhouettes would pop up, from behind obstacles or around corners, and the challenge was to shoot them down as quickly as possible. You had infinite ammunition, so you were also free to play around with the destructive environments. Shooting doors and walls left persistent bullet holes, shooting out lights darkened the area, and shooting barrels (of course) made them explode.
Playing through the demo level was remarkably entertaining, despite the limited number of activities available, and clearly left players hungry for more. Still, the interface seems to limit gameplay options even as it increases the gameplay's sense of immersion. There doesn't seem to be any possible way to work in gameplay elements like dual-wielding, for example, although certainly Ubisoft may be saving some surprises for the final build. Multiplayer is confirmed for the game, but there was little information about it to be had. It seems likely to be focused on deathmatch, and co-op modes are unlikely.
When it comes to Red Steel's visuals, I won't lie: the game did not look next-gen. It barely looked this-gen. The environments were simple, and the human characters had that slightly blocky, marionette-like appearance typical of most PS2 titles' attempts at realistic figures. There was no blood present in the E3 demo, although Ubisoft has promised a little bit of blood in the final build. Only a little, though, since the current buzz is that Ubisoft is aiming at a "T" rating for this title. Shading was simple, poly-counts were low, and environments had a certain drab quality to them. To be fair to Ubisoft, though, the game as yet has no final street date, is blatantly unfinished, and the playable demos were running off of beta Wii development kits that were little more than GC hardware with support for the Wii controller added. Examples of final Wii titles like Super Mario Galaxy are far more attractive, and it's not unreasonable to think that a build of Red Steel running on final Wii hardware would be more visually appealing than the very early version Ubisoft showed us. Still, even in final form, this is probably not going to be a game that appeals to gamers who want great graphics first and foremost. Granted, the Wii as a system probably won't appeal to a gamer like that, either.
Rumors indicated that Red Steel is going to be ready for the Wii's launch in Q4 of this year, although nothing firm has been announced. If it is a launch title, it certainly explains the place of pride Nintendo has been awarding the game in pre-launch hype. While good games certainly add luster to any console launch, Red Steel has the potential to do much more than that. Red Steel, if positively received by mainstream gamers and the hardcore FPS community, could go a long way toward shattering the kiddy reputation Nintendo earned with the GameCube. It could firmly establish from the get-go that Nintendo is serious about appealing to broad, popular American tastes with the Wii in a way that the GameCube could never succeed at, even with excellent titles late in the console's lifespan like Resident Evil 4. With so much at stake, it's no surprise that Nintendo has turned to a company like Ubisoft to create their killer app for them. Whether or not Red Steel lives up to the enormous task set before it remains to be seen.
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