Among the handful of games released for the Wii this year, Red Steel was one of the flagship launch titles, and rightfully so. The game was designed specifically for the Wii console in mind, and unlike almost every other launch developer, Ubisoft has made a solid attempt to actually take advantage of the Wii's strengths, both from a visual standpoint and by making full use of the Wii-mote's motion-sensing control. The result? Red Steel is like receiving Sonic the Hedgehog on the Xbox 360 from your mother for Christmas, instead of Rainbow Six: Vegas. The right intentions are there, and you recognize that, but in the end, it's not exactly what you wanted.
The game begins as players take the role of Scott, a bodyguard who has fallen head-over-heals for a woman who happens to be the daughter of a powerful Yakuza boss. During a trip to L.A. to ask the mob boss for his daughter's hand in marriage, things go a bit awry. Scott's girlfriend is kidnapped, a group of thugs attempt to take out her father, and our heroic bodyguard is left with no other choice but to pull the trigger.
Before you riddle L.A., and later Japan, with bullet holes, you're introduced to the control mechanics by moving the Wii-mote to target specific fish, ala the tutorial in Halo and every other first-person shooter. Then you'll knock over a table by swinging the Nunchuck up and then pick up your first weapon by striking the Nunchuck down. So far so good, right? Once the action starts, however, it becomes clear that Ubisoft has had an all-out-battle trying work with the Wii-mote, and from the looks of it, it's a battle they lost - big time.
Throughout the course of the reasonably lengthy single-player game, the Wii-mote will work properly around 40 percent of the time - and that's no exaggeration. Full batteries and synching couldn't save the constant flickering of the cursor as it jets all over the screen without any movement from the Wii-mote, making passing through some of the later, much more difficult levels, extremely frustrating. Turning is equally as wearisome and seems to be the Achilles' heel of the Wii-mote so far (though Retro has done some great work with Metroid Prime). Moving the Wii-mote left and right to turn is a painstakingly sluggish process, and makes those ever-important head shots impossible to make as you round a corner and have to adjust your cursor accordingly.
The same type of control issues extend their ugly heads into the sword play as well. While this is undoubtedly a cool idea, using the Wii-mote to hack away at enemies, it's poorly executed and is based around the luck of the swing (the luck being if the game registers your action) rather than the skill of the player. It's like the roll of a dice, you have no control over what number comes up, and similarly with Red Steel, swinging the Wii-mote to the left doesn't necessarily mean that your strike will echo your action. The early battles are a bit more forgiving, but in later sword fights, where the bosses can parry what seems like all of your attacks and have near infinite health, battling with the game's limitations can prove costly. And trust me, after dying a few times, you'll never want to have to put up with the painful loading screens again, not to mention the fact that in a few levels you have to start straight from the beginning if you die!
That's not to say Ubisoft didn't have some neat tricks up its sleeve. Throwing grenades, for example, is intuitive and a nice example of what the Wii-mote can do. Swing the Nunchuck in a downward motion, and Scott will roll the grenade across the floor, or use an overhand throw motion and he'll lob the grenade across the room. It works well, but there's something seriously wrong with the picture when enemies can take one, two, and no word-of-a-lie, even three grenades before succumbing to the inevitable. Killing a thug from distance can require an entire clip and, even at close range, enemies seem to have the supernatural ability to get back up after a blast to the chest (or head for that matter).
Visually Red Steel is arguably the best looking Wii launch title, but it still resembles a third-generation GameCube game with its generic character designs, poor textures and wonky frame rate. Luckily for HD owners, the game features 480p as well as widescreen support, which is a huge plus given all the bugs that plague the game, including (but definitely not limited to) disappearing characters, vanishing textures, and of course, the aforementioned control issues.
If you're looking for strong multiplayer support, you might want to hold out a bit longer as well. Red Steel features four-player split screen support, but it's just as uninspiring as the single-player game. Nintendo really needs to get its online support up and running if it ever wants to stand a chance against Microsoft's excellent Live service, or even Sony's up-and-coming online offering.
Sadly, Red Steel is nothing more than a rushed launch title that will inevitably end up in bargain bins across the globe, and that's unfortunate. Why? Because Red Steel has a ton of potential. Sure, my old Biology teacher said the exact same thing to me and look where my potential got me... Nevertheless, Ubisoft is a talented group and had all the right ideas, and with a bit more development time, Red Steel could have been a great demonstration of the Wii's controls. As it stands, you're better off holding off on Wii FPS action until Prime arrives.