Virtual Insanities: Yes, This Is a Column About Red Steel

When I first got the Wii, I was so excited that I was willing to try pretty much anything that could be played on it. That’s usually what happens when you buy a new console on launch day: you look through the launch line-up, pick-up whatever looks half-decent and hope for the best. This is how I ended up picking The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Excite Truck, and thankfully, I had a lot of fun with both. As for the other games, I thought I could always rent them once I had nothing left to do with my two purchases.

Conveniently, two weeks after the Wii’s launch happened to be my birthday! When people asked me what they could get me, I said “a Wii game would be fine”. This is how I ended up with Red Steel. It wasn’t bad, per say. It was more disappointing than anything else. Here’s a game where you play a man bent on vengeance against criminals who kidnapped his girlfriend, and you get to use a varied choice of guns as well as a katana to do yourself justice.

Yes, it is a standard revenge story, but the setting is still there for a game that could be a guilty pleasure on the scale of a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. The problem is that the execution was weak. The aiming reticule always feels like it’s floating out of control, the enemies never seem to die when you shoot them and it looks like they will always come back for more. It’s as if you were fighting an infinite army of undeads. This could be fun in its own right, but in this case, I think I would be justified in expecting a man to stay down when I shoot him in the face.

All of this amounts to nothing more than a bittersweet aftertaste in my mouth. It was an ambitious project with interesting level design, fun missions and many objects to destroy, but it was all bogged down because of an unresponsive control scheme and your character going through waves after waves of enemies in the most boring ways possible.

To continue with the Van Damme analogy, it’s as if you were watching one of his movies, which puts him face to face with as many bad guys as you can imagine. You think “this is going to be fun”, because that is usually the scene where all the action and the ass-kicking takes place. Now, what would happen if Jean-Claude started taking down his enemies, but only with kicks to the shin and weak slaps? You would be disappointed because you could see how much potential the scene had before it went to waste.

That’s exactly how I feel about Red Steel: it feels like the game could have been so much more, but something went very wrong during the development process.

A couple of weeks ago, Red Steel 2 was officially announced. As I read the news, I cringed. Sure, this could end up being some good, brainless fun if they fix the issues of the first game, but the way they handled the original does not leave me a lot of faith in the sequel.

Was I supposed to have a point other than to say how disappointed I was in Red Steel? Of course. You see, I am aware that a lack of third party support was one of the Gamecube’s biggest weaknesses. Now that the Wii is getting some of these third-party publishers aboard for this generation, I would appreciate it if the games released on the system were enjoyable. This is why I am willing to give Ubisoft my own three-step program that is guaranteed to make Red Steel 2 a hit on par with the best shooters of this world.

I guess I should mention that my “guarantee” is actually worthless and that I have only developed two mediocre games back in my programming classes in college, but I have been gaming for over 20 years, so at least I know what I like to see in video games. Is this enough not to get in trouble should the game suck anyway?

The Red Steel 2 3-Step Program to Video Games Immortality

Once you get past the pompous title of this program, you are left with three very easy things to implement.

#1. Fix the controls

The biggest problem of Red Steel was its imprecise controls. The reticule felt like it was floating all over the screen, incapable of stopping where I was actually pointing. For those who have experienced it, it was akin to driving on an icy road. You have to go very slow to get exactly where you want, because if you go too fast, you start skidding as soon as you hit the breaks, which means that you miss the stop by a couple of meters.

This issue with the controls led to all sorts of smaller, but still unpleasant troubles: wasted ammos, enemies shooting you down because you couldn’t react in proper time, field of view spinning out of control, looking at your feet when the fight is in the rafters of the building, etc. If you want an example of responsive controls, why don’t you take a look at Metroid Prime 3? The mix between moving your gun and moving the camera was perfectly implemented. I would also suggest looking at Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles as a reference for a quick and precise aiming reticle.

#2. Enemies should react like humans

I must say that I am not too sure about this one. I replayed a bit of Red Steel as a reference for this article, and as I remembered the baddies were hard to take down and in some levels, felt like they were cloning themselves at a ludicrous speed. What I am not truly certain of is the cause of it all. Was it once again simply a side effect of the aggravating controls? In other words, was I simply shooting with the same precision demonstrated by Harry Dunn in Dumb & Dumber? After all, it is hard to take someone down when you think you shot them in the face and only got the arm. On the other hand, I know that if I was shot in the bicep, I would drop to the ground and start screaming like Kurt Russell in Death Proof.

As for the endless army problem, I wouldn’t mind it if they didn’t stop me from moving on. It’s fun to always have something to shoot, but if the odds are against you and finishing off only one of them takes forever, there is no real incentive to keep advancing through the level. Maybe leaving some space between the bad guys would be a good idea.

#3. Make the katana useful

One time that piqued my interest when the game was first announced was that we would be able to use a katana to slay our enemies up close. That’s a good idea. I thought we would get something similar to the way the knife is used in Resident Evil 4, as a last resort when things get too personal with the bad guys. Maybe Daikatana screwed up on the whole sword/FPS combo, but surely a can’t-miss idea like this one can’t go wrong twice. Riiiiiiiiight.

Instead, we got predetermined sword fights with limited movements and no rhythm whatsoever. It might have been the most boring sword fights in the history of video games. In order to be efficient, you have to wait until your opponent decides to strike (sometimes it can take a few seconds of circling), block the hit to throw his defence off and then swing at him. Repeat as needed.

It turns out that Red Steel did have the option to take out your sword at the right moment to finish your opponent off, but it was so badly implemented that I successfully pulled it off once. That’s right. Instead of using a button to pull out the sword and then use it to your heart’s content, you have to be near (VERY near) to the guy you want to slay. You are then prompted to shake your controller, which usually never has the time to register your movement before the would-be victim moves out of the way. I’m not the kind of guy who has ultra-violent tendencies (I’m more of an “I like Bee Mario” type of gamer), but in the rare times where I feel like stabbing someone in a virtual world, I’d like to be able to do it without too much hassle.

So many shooting games have been able to implement the use of a knife without any problem (Call of Duty 4 is a prime example), I think it would be a realistic expectation for the next game to include a better sword-fighting mechanic.

In Closing

I’m not saying that Red Steel 2 will top the sales chart as soon as it comes out if it does happen to include what I have suggested. However, I am convinced that it would make the game much more enjoyable. In the worst case, there would at least be one person happy with the result. (Hello there!)

The original game had a good showing when it comes to the number of disks sold. Was it really because of an interest from Wii owners, or was it simply because there weren’t that many other games to play on the system? Now that the Wii games market is becoming much more crowded, Ubisoft will have no choice but to take it up a notch if they really want their new franchise to stay competitive against some of the juggernauts soon to be released on the platform. For that, we wish them good luck. “You’re gonna need it”, or so the cliché goes.

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