E3 06: Red Steel Hands-On
We go hands-on with one of the most intriguing first-person action games to be found at E3 2006.
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LOS ANGELES--As the first fully confirmed third-party game for Nintendo's Wii system, Red Steel automatically became one of the most hyped titles for the system. Ubisoft's demo of the game at Nintendo's Electronic Entertainment Expo 2006 press conference helped fuel that hype even more, as one of the developers deftly navigated his way through the single available level. But the question that had to still be burdening the average player's mind was, "What happens when I pick up that controller and start playing the thing?" We hope we can at least do our part to help answer that question, as we got the chance to go hands-on with Red Steel from the E3 2006 show floor. What we can say is that while it's unlikely anyone will pick up and play Red Steel as easily as was shown at the Nintendo conference, once you get a handle on how things work, there's most certainly an opportunity for a unique first-person action experience to be had here.
The level being shown at E3 is the same one shown at the conference. Before we could even fathom shooting anything down, we had to spend some time getting acclimated to how the controls work. The previous descriptions of using the left hand controller to move around via the analog stick and the right controller to shoot and do most other functions is accurate, but getting a feel for how much movement you have to make to get things to operate properly isn't supereasy. If you're like most of us, you've spent the last umpteen number of years using a dual-analog controller of some kind, so replacing that right analog look control with a tilt sensor-based controller that fits in the palm of your hand, well...let's just say it takes some effort.
Once we did get a handle on the controls, things evened out. There are some interesting movements you'll be making just to get around. For instance, to open a door, you simply walk up to a door and wait for a door icon to appear onscreen. Once it does, you push forward with the left controller to open it. Again, this is one of those things that has a very specific sensitivity, so it'll likely take you a few tries to get right, but once you do, you'll get it right most every time.
Finally, combat began. Enemies started pouring out of various areas and even a couple of cars pulled in to block our path. Nothing an Uzi couldn't fix, mind you. Controlling the gun arm isn't all that bad, actually. It's sensitive, but so long as you can line up the reticle in the general vicinity of where an enemy is, or where a destructible object is, you'll do just fine. The gunplay had quite a satisfying feel to it, as we riddled enemies with bullets and busted up various pieces of the environment. There's also something stupidly awesome about tilting the controller sideways and seeing your gun arm tilt and shoot sideways, too. Totally gangsterous.
The enemies in the game seemed reasonably smart. They were pretty good at flanking us at the right times, ducking and using cover, and so on and so forth. However, we wouldn't necessarily call them tough, either. We were able to bust through the various thugs throughout the level pretty quickly, at least until we came to the section involving the freeze-tag mechanic. Freeze-tagging an enemy involves you pressing the A button on the controller to literally slow down time. What you can then do is aim with the right controller and use the B button to tag each specific enemy in a certain area. Disable points are marked with specific boxes and any other area is basically a kill shot. Tag each enemy in front of you, hit A again to resume normal time, and fire away. You can imagine what happens from there. If you do choose to disable any enemies rather than simply offing them, you can then walk up and motion with your gun arm for them to get down and surrender.
Finally, we hit the sword combat section of the demo. Sword combat is one of the most touted features of the game, so naturally we were excited to get our hands on it. This portion of the game definitely takes the most adjustment out of any. Because you use the left controller to block incoming sword attacks and slash with the right, you'll find yourself moving your arms up and down a lot in weird combinations. Blocking isn't something you can just do endlessly, either. You basically have to time your blocks with an attack, as you'll only hold the block stance up for a couple of seconds. If you time it right, you can rush right in and attack the enemy following a blocked attack, and stun him extra good. Slashing movements might not feel natural at first, since big, pronounced slashes won't quite do the trick. The key is to keep the controller lined up with the TV screen at pretty much all times. So long as the game can read where you're slashing, you can dish out plenty of damage. It's mildly awkward as far as the slashing mechanics go, as it's just not intuitive right off the bat, but it seems like the sort of thing that could be easily tweaked and improved over time.
In case you're wondering about the graphics, Red Steel looks about on par with a slightly beefed up GameCube game, which makes sense given the hardware specifics of the system that we know about. It's not really a bad looking game at all, mind you. The frame rate seemed to chunk up in specific spots here and there, but generally the game ran at a solid 30 frames per second. Red Steel definitely has an interesting quality to its art design. The level shown off is set within a seedy urban environment in Japan, so there were lots of back alleyways, neon lights, and even a pachinko hall to wander through. And again, almost everything is quite destructible, which adds some flair to the various gun battles.
From our time spent with Red Steel, it definitely comes off as more than just a gimmicky first-person shooter. The developers seem to have a pretty good handle on what they want to do with the Wii controller within the context of the game, and with some slight sensitivity and balance tweaking, the game could be a lot of fun. We'll be sure to bring you even more coverage of Red Steel between now and its release alongside the Wii's launch.