The Red Star PlayStation 2
Published by: XS Games
Release Date: Out Now
When the road to release for a software title is a bumpy one it's often the case that the end result is not good. Fortunately, that's not the case here and despite being in limbo for a few years The Red Star and after a very long wait the game is finally here. It was originally to be released by Acclaim Entertainment back in 2004. However, Acclaim went bust and the game disappeared from the radar. What made this particularly frustrating was that the game was reportedly almost ready for release. Still, three years on and the game has been picked up by XS Games. The game was to be released on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. Of course since 2004 the Xbox has been superseded by the Xbox 360 and Xbox game releases are few and far between, so naturally The Red Star has only been released on the PlayStation 2 which is still going strong.
The Red Star is an addictive amalgamation of a side-scrolling action game and a top-down arcade shooter. Whilst entrenched in a war to seize control of the Republic of Nokgorka, Major Maya Antares and her weapons expert Kyuzo learn, from a young warrior named Makita, that the United Republics of the Red Star, who they are in the service of, is actually under the control of the Dark Lord Imbohl and his chief assassin, Troika. Makita, Kyuzo and Maya join forces to defeat Troika as their ship, the Konstantinov, mutinies from the Red Fleet. Troika doesn't take too kindly to this however, and attempts to quash this uprising. Under the command of Sky Marshall Urik Antares, Maya, Kyuzo and Makita attempt to unite the scattered Republics of the Red Star and free them from Troika's tyranny.
It's not often you get a game that feels like a mix between a 3D Contra and Ikaruga but that exactly what The Red Star feels like. Whilst The Red Star is perfectly fine as a single-player title you can choose to play through in a co-operative fashion when starting a new game. The missions in The Red Star have the side-scrolling portions where you take on enemies with ranged, melee and protocol attacks and when you've reached a certain point in the level the camera angle will switch to a pseudo top-down angle . Here you'll have to avoid a variety of missiles whilst taking out mechanical boss type creations that are firing the missiles at you. In true arcade style the missiles are launched in waves and figuring out their pattern is the key to success with these sections. At the end of a mission you're given a rank depending on how well you performed. You'll earn points for your efforts and with these points your character can be upgraded in regards to weapons and abilities.
You can choose to play as Maya, Kyuzo or Makita. Maya is initially unavailable however. As you'd expect, each of the characters plays differently. Maya is a sorceress and can fight from a greater range than the other characters. Makita is very agile and relies on her speed to carry out her hit and retreat tactics. There are a few combos for each character thrown in for good measure too. Although there are only three characters, they are vastly different from each other and it's nice to see such variation between the characters. The game doesn't let you simply attack from range the whole time. Use a weapon too much and it will overheat and be unusable for a while. Melee attacks charge your protocol meter and you'll need to fill the meter in order to be able to perform a protocol attack. Various enemies can shield against ranged attacks and the only way to defeat these enemies is by getting up close to them and performing a melee attack.
Whilst I think The Red Star is a good game and certainly worth its budget price tag (£14.99) there some disappointments here. For a start there's no real story to the game. I understand the game is based on a graphic novel and fans of the graphic novel will undoubtedly have liked to have seen some kind of story here. The game isn't that long and only contains a handful of missions, which is disappointing. The missions are by no means easy however. It may be rather frustrating to some that there are no mid-mission checkpoints and if your character is killed you'll have to do the whole mission again. Health packs are few and far between too. I'm sure arcade purists will love this slightly punishing design but others will be irritated by it.
In regards to the game's presentation and graphical quality it can probably best be described as OK. The presentation is functional and not elaborate in the slightest. The character models in the game look a little dated however, they look absolutely fine for a game of this type. The environments in which the levels are set all have a futuristic, industrial look about them. They are a little bland looking at times but they get the job done and in truth there's little to complain about. Seeing as the game should have arrived around three years ago it's probably no surprise then that game doesn't look any better and the general visual quality of the game is consistent with console titles that appeared around that time.
The Red Star won't cause deaf gamers any problems. There isn't any speech in the game and all the information you need is either shown in the HUD, through the use of gauges etc., or in text. The mission briefings are all in text. Mission goals can be recalled at any time during the missions by pressing the select button. Pressing the select button will also allow you to access information on the game controls as well as descriptions of the enemies you've faced. All tutorial messages are shown in text and these help you get to grips with the game quickly and easily. The HUD allows you to keep an eye on your character's health, the Protocol Meter, the Weapon Meter and the Guard Meter amongst other things without taking your eye off the action.
Those who have enjoyed games such as the Contra titles and Ikaruga will certainly find a lot to like about The Red Star. At such a bargain price it's a purchase that most gamers would be happy with. It's disappointing that the game is so short but the decision not to include mid-mission checkpoints and to keep health items to a bare minimum means that few gamers would be able to waltz straight through the handful of levels on offer here. Fans of the graphic novel this game is based on will be disappointed to see there's no real storyline here and even though I haven't read the graphic novel I certainly would have appreciated a storyline of sorts. Still as budget PlayStation 2 titles go, this is one of the better ones and at the asking price of £14.99 the few disappointments are easy to overlook.
The Red Star may have taken a few years to arrive but it's an addictive mix of genres that's fun to play solo or co-operatively.