|System: PS2||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Acclaim||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: XS Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Apr. 23, 2007||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-2||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jwan Jordan
May 23, 2007 - After a ridiculously intricate history of being delayed, then canceled, then delayed again, The Red Star has finally made it to store shelves. Developed by the now bankrupt Acclaim, The Red Star is based off the popular graphic novel of the same name. The game is set in an alternative version of Soviet Russia, the URRS, where magic and military forces coexist. Of course, by coexist I mean an evil corrupt military is forcing their bewildering views on the country with their magic, sigh.
The Red Star graphic novel has a profound fictitious story loosely based off of post World War 2 Soviet Russia. The novel also follows the lives of the soldiers of The Red Star, a group of soldiers determined to restore power to their country. Historical lessons aside, I was surprised to see that the game doesn't quite capture the harsh, cold reality of war like the novel. Immediately after pressing the start button you're thrown into a still screen with text and picture of some angry guy yelling orders. I'm only assuming the guy was my commander or something, but if you're not a fan of the comic you would have no way of knowing. Anyway, after reading the loud mouth commander's text you are transitioned into the game.
You initially choose from two of three characters before you begin the game play. Makita is an agile and fast but weak character. She is a Nokgorkan Rebel who fights with a sickle and hammer, much like most 15 year old girls that attend public schools. Kyuzo is an elite soldier who possesses great strength, endurance, and a telekinetically wielded dual sided blade, but naturally, he is incredibly slow. The third character, Maya, is unlockable after completing the game and for good reason. Maya is known as a Red Warkaster which, when translated, means there is no competition for her. Obviously, having her at the beginning of the game wouldn't make it much of a game at all, so man up and conquer the game fairly, you pansies!
If you've ever played games like Contra, Metal Slug, or Ikugara, you'll notice a similar foundation between these archetypes of games. The Red Star initially starts off as a three dimensional side scroller, leading you from the left to the right side of the screen. It isn't long before an alarm goes off and the perspective changes to an over the top view where the game really begins to show its true form. This game is hard! Harder than waiting in line at the DMV on a dry Monday. Your chosen character possesses both melee and distance attacks that vary in strength and speed depending on the character. Not even half way through the first level, the challenge really amps up on you. As a constant barrage of soldiers attack, you have to persistently switch between shooting and melee attacks depending on the enemies you're fighting. For example, some soldiers are subject to only melee attacks due to their shields, while others are subject only to gun fire. The combinations of enemies are various and relentless, and though you will be bashing on the attack buttons feverishly, there is no way to just mindlessly button mash your way through the game.
After working your way through the swarms of enemies, if you actually survived thus far, you are promptly thrown into a boss battle. The word "boss," is extremely justified because they make the regular henchmen seem cynically tame. As I mentioned before, if you've played games like Contra or Metal Slug you will have a better understanding of The Red Star. Bullets, missiles, and anything else that you don't ever want to be hit with will attack you. There will be so much chaos during these missions that you sometimes can't even find yourself in the cannon fodder. This is a good time for me to mention that you only have one life to live, and no, I'm not referring to the soap opera. If you get to the end of a stage and die at the hands of the boss, then you will have to start the entire level over again. This can sometimes be a pain, but the game isn't as horrible as you may think about it. Despite the difficulty, the levels are really short and some consist merely of a boss battle. So even if you die on any given level, it will not take you long to get back to where you met defeat.
After completing each level, you are given a grade rating based on your performance. I must confess after playing the game several times I've never gotten higher than a B- on any level. The higher the grade given equals the higher amount of points you receive. The points received are used between levels to upgrade your character and weapons. Spend wisely though because it is very easy to get stuck on a level due to a bad choice of upgrading.
The graphics are obviously dated which was to be expected due to its many delays. Most of the game is seen from a distant, over the top perspective but the rare moments where the camera zooms in close reveals a really blocky character and environments. At some points, I even had flashbacks of the original Virtua Fighter graphics. The settings in The Red Star are mechanical, industrious style settings and backgrounds. The backgrounds are littered with machines, war vehicles, and factories throughout the levels, but it doesn't really bring life to the game.
The music is subtle and easily forgotten, and the rapid fire sound of your guns and melee attacks drown it out also. Yet, the sound effects of things like the rat-tat-tat of your gun firing, the slashes across the sides of your enemies, and the explosion of the many machines you'll face are all dead on and in full audio effect. When you destroy something in The Red Star you really get the feeling of accomplishment.
Considering the trouble that The Red Star made its way through in order to hit store shelves, it makes for a really fun and challenging game. Though it is really short, the gameplay hours are extended by the times you'll be repeating some extra difficult levels. Yet, after confronting every swarm of enemies and defeating the main boss you'll have such a profound feel of accomplishment you may even be confident enough to ask the hot girl next door out to prom. Self-esteem issues aside, The Red Star is a great game that stands on its own, despite the hardships its development went through. If your one of the people, like me, who haven't robbed enough banks to buy a PS3 or Xbox 360, do yourself a favor and buy this great budget title today.
CCC Freelance Writer