NEW YORK--Ubisoft showed off a new and much-updated build of Red Steel, its prominent first-person shooter set in Japan and the first game of its type to come out for the new Wii (considering it will accompany the console to shelves on November 19). We got a good feel for the shooting action in the game, which the designers have been working hard on since the Electronic Entertainment Expo, and we got to play through a brand-new level, which showed off previously unseen environments and culminated in a one-on-one duel with a sinister swordsman that gave us a chance to try Red Steel's somewhat revamped first-person melee combat firsthand.
The first part of the demo we played was all guns ablaze as we climbed several floors of a building and fought off tons of armed thugs in an attempt to reach the roof, where we discovered our ailing stepfather. To get to him, we had to do a whole lot of shooting, and we started to get a solid feel for Red Steel's controls well before we emerged into the daylight. The game's loose lock-on function is perhaps the most important element of its shooting gameplay, since it lets you zoom in. But unlike most lock-on features in games, it doesn't guarantee your shots will hit--it merely keeps the camera more or less focused on the bad guy in question, and it's up to you to fine-tune your aim and make the kill. As mentioned, zooming in is the easiest way to do this, and to zoom you have to extend your arm outward. The possible level of zoom is pretty great (and consequently you'll have to stick your arm way out), so it helps to shoot from the hip, as it were, while playing Red Steel.
After finishing the rooftop level, we finally got to jump into a brand-new level set in a Japanese street in what looked like a much smaller, more traditional sort of town. Picture less of Tokyo bright lights and more of a classical Japanese look, and you've got the right idea. Our mission was to infiltrate a walled mansion where some geishas were being held, and we jumped atop some crates to scale the wall and take out a passing guard before he noticed our presence. This initiated a brief firefight with some other bad guys who were hanging out in the courtyard, and afterward we got to head into the house, where we met up with our sword-wielding assailant.
The swordplay in Red Steel may not have changed drastically in concept since E3, but the implementation of it seems to have been smoothed out a good bit. You're still wielding two blades--the one on the right for attacking and the one on the left for blocking--and now your own physical movements are mapped a little more closely to your character's attacks onscreen. We're not talking a one-to-one correspondence between the way you swing the remote and the way your character swings his sword, but it's closer. To block effectively, you have to thrust the nunchuk forward precisely in time with your opponent's attack. The timing here is very unforgiving, so you really have to be exact to escape injury. Luckily, there's also a sideways dodge that will help you get out of the way, too.
Red Steel's graphics have certainly progressed since E3, with more-cohesive environments that feature a lot of destructible objects, John Woo-style, and with a lot of the less desirable elements having been polished up nicely. It's no secret at this point that the Wii isn't as powerful as the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, but we were so fixated on playing a first-person shooter in such an uncommon fashion that the visual gap between this and some of the 360 games we've been playing wasn't even an issue. Let's just say the visuals get the job done just fine. How will the rest of Red Steel stand up to more-intense scrutiny? We'll find out sooner than later--barring some catastrophe, it'll be one of the first games we get a chance to play in final form on the Wii.