Red Steel, a Wii launch game, will be the first game to demonstrate how the controller can give FPS games a new sense of emersion. So it was with much excitement that CVG trekked to Paris to see how refined the controls are in the near-finished game.
For those of you who haven't been desperately following trade-show hands-on reports like a gaming hawk, Red Steel's control system is an interesting one, mixing gunplay and sword fighting to interesting effect.
In shooting stages, forwards, backwards and strafing movement is familiarly handled by the analogue stick on the Nunchuk expansion. However, unlike tradition FPS games, which have your gun's aim locked to the centre of the screen, Red Steel lets you use the Wii Remote's pointer functionality to aim anywhere on the screen you choose. An on-screen crosshair allows you to easily keep track of exactly where you're aiming, accurately tracking your every move. All you have to do is squeeze the B trigger on the underside of the Remote and shoot.
Like Metroid Prime 3, you adjust your look view by aiming your crosshairs to the outer edges of the screen. Just think of your TV as a giant analogue stick - there's a 'neutral' area in the centre of your screen where your aim won't effect your look view. Aiming just outside of that area will start to pull the camera in that direction, with the speed of the turn getting faster the closer you move the pointer to the edge of the screen.
This takes a while to get used to and you'll find yourself putting more holes into the walls and ceilings than you will your human target - a bit like when you first used a mouse and keyboard to play an FPS.
One thing to note, for the technically minded of you out there, is that the controller's aim does NOT work like a lightgun - your on-screen cursor isn't positioned in the exact location that you point the remote. It works more like a mouse - the sensor bar detects your movements and translates them to scaled-up movements on screen. And also like a mouse, there will be a sensitivity option that'll allow you to set how fast the on-screen cursor moves relative to your hand movements.
Delving deeper into the control system, holding the A button on the Remote locks your view, allowing you to aim at targets on the outer edges of the screen without the view shifting. The Z trigger on the Nunchuk lets you duck, D-pad changes your weapon, and you reload by flicking the Nunchuk downwards. Flicking the Nunchuk also serves as the 'Action' function, allowing you to open doors and press buttons with the same gesture. More interestingly, if you reach forward with the Remote, your view will zoom in slightly, making targeting distant enemies slightly easier. And you can throw grenades in two ways; the usual over-arm lob, by doing top-to-down throwing motion with the Wii Remote, or roll the grenade a short distance by doing a more passive down-to-up movement.
As you shoot your way through the Japanese-influenced levels, you'll confront Yakuza bosses that must be dealt with by sword, rather than by gun. We dunno - something to do with respect and honour. This is where your character automatically tucks away his shooter and whips out a samurai sword. Now, as you'll have seen in previously released trailers, you'll be waving the Wii Remote like a sword to take slices at your opponent.
One thing we must make clear is that the swordplay mechanic doesn't directly replicate your movements one-to-one, like Wii Baseball seems to. The sword slashes are pre-set animations that activate as you swing the controller. They do, however, replicate the directions of your gestures so, for example, a left-to-right swing will prompt the same action on-screen.
Everyone's first reaction is to flail their arm about frantically, trusting that will get them an easy win. But you quickly realise that it takes a lot more skill and strategy to win, because the computer-controlled opponent will simply block your attacks and counter with strikes to face. Ouch.
You need to adopt a similar strategy. You wait for an attack, then you can either block it by waving the Nunchuk in the direction from which the attack is coming (above, left or right), or dodge by pushing left or right on the analogue stick and tapping the C button on the back of the Nunchuk. Either of these defences offsets your opponent's composure, giving you enough time to launch a counter attack.
It's a neat little mechanic that's easy to grasp and fun to play, and can be quite a physical work out if you really get into it. Obviously, you can perform the same actions with small flicks of the wrist (if you can't be arsed), but we preferred to get stuck in with exaggerated arm movements.
That's the whole point of Red Steel - it uses controls rather than graphical power to grab the player, and you can become immersed in it's world because you're affecting what happens on-screen with physical movements, even if doing them takes more getting used to that we had originally expected.
You'll need to get used to it pretty quickly because you'll come up against some pretty hectic shootouts with reasonably intelligent AI-controlled enemies in the first level. Enemies take cover behind bits of scenery, ducking out to let off rounds in your direction. They'll also occasionally make cover for themselves by kicking over tables action movie-style. You have to make great use of cover, as just a few rounds can put you to sleep. But, just like Halo, you health recovers if you avoid taking damage for a few seconds, making evasive manoeuvres even more crucial.
The visceral feeling of exchanging shots with your foes from opposite ends of a room is great, with all of the guns packing a real meaty sound that pumps out of your TV, and bits of the scenery (glass tanks and desktop items) smashing in the carnage. It's hard to be fully immersed in a game when you're standing in a hot room full of journalists, all ogling you, awaiting their turn. Playing Red Steel at home will pull you far more into its world than any demo you might play in a shop.
And that's why we can't wait to get Wii in the office, where we can hog it all to ourselves. And with a Wii launch day release (December 8), it won't be long before you can bag yourself some Yakuza too in Red Steel.