Punch Out!!, like traditional fighting games do for 2D or 3D, gave us an expansive look at the mechanics that can be used in first-person brawling. It played up the attack/counter and illustrated how to make close-up combat an action-reaction chain, rather than relying on concerted combo strings as in more mobile games. Red Steel 2 brings some of those mechanics to life in an actual adventure, becoming more of a proper brawler than Punch-Out!!.
A quick remark: aside from branding, Red Steel 2 has nothing in common with Red Steel, a totally forgettable shooter from the Wii launch. I'm of the opinion that Ubisoft made a horrendous mistake marketing Red Steel 2 as a sequel, as it's clearly its own game, but that's another discussion. Just be aware that any time I say Red Steel in this article, I mean the second game - I've barely even played the first.
The elephantberg in the room is of course motion controls, but let me save that for the end of the discussion. As soon as the first baddies appear and you see the enemy-tally popup below your health bar, you'll know this game is a brawler. It's even so kind as to remind you with semi-invisible lazer-walls that block your progress until you clear the enemies. There's really no shooter left in this architecture; you enter a room, the foes roll out of the woodwork, and the dance continues until one side is lifeless on the floor. You'll engage enemies individually, but the threat of those surrounding you remains present.
The sword combat is a loose application of what we learned in Punch-Out!!, with horizontal/vertical slashes standing in for high/low punches and dodging becoming more free-form (since you can move in any direction). Attacking from the sides and behind becomes a major strategy, as does protecting your own flanks. The best expansion on the formula is the addition of special moves which translate a quick sequence of inputs into a scripted sequence of blows onscreen. This makes you feel like one of the opponents from Punch-Out!!, lending character and player-determined style to what would otherwise be a vanilla fighting-style.
Where Red Steel 2 really shines is in the immediacy, the sharp viscerality of the battles. Something I alluded to in my recent Dishonored post was the brutality inherent in being so close to your victims. While Red Steel 2 doesn't attempt any intelligent commentary on the violence, it does turn it into a furious whirlwind that flies by your screen so fast that you can't help but feel like a wicked samurai. This is where the first-person identification with your avatar becomes critical - you aren't watching a Dante-esque badass blow through a swarm of nasties, you yourself are bringing each one down individually. The impact this brings to a brawler goes beyond what it contributes to a shooter, because you're right there, speedily dashing and twirling around.
Sorry that I couldn't find a great gameplay video - most people apparently suck at this game or refuse to properly use the motion controls, instead trying to play it as an early Wii "waggle" game and thus not being able to do the moves properly
This would be a blast on it's own, but goes even further thanks to the Wii MotionPlus controls. The validity or usefulness of motion controls as a whole is a sea to sail at another time, but in a game attempting to draw you as close as possible to the violence, their contribution can't be overstated. Are they necessary to make Red Steel 2 work? I don't think so. The FPBing has enough going for it already. But the difference they make particularly to special moves is what sells the game. Especially when returning to a game after not playing it for a while, I'm always annoyed to have to remember that A-X-X-Y-X does the big fancy combo. It's a level of inapproachability. Here all you need to know is that if you want to do a left-right swing followed by a stab, you... do a left-right swing followed by a stab.
I'm gonna wrap up this discussion next week when I bring you up to date on Zeno Clash (which I bought last night) and maybe a bit more of Dishonored.