I’m going to let you into a dirty little secret of mine, one that’s even more perverse than my Lucy Lawless as an English nanny fetish.
I collect videogames.
Yeah, okay, so we all “collect” videogames, but when I say I “collect videogames” I mean in the way that some people “collect comics” and other people “collect comics“. I mean buying Valkyrie Profile for $120 and only playing it long enough to see if it boots up. Or buying copies of Zone of the Enders 2, simply because every so often I catch it selling for five bucks at Blockbuster. Or owning a copy of the Dungeons and Dragons Arcade Collection for the Saturn despite having no earthly idea what’s going on, seeing as how the entire thing is presented in unsubtitled Japanese. So when I saw Archangel Studios selling The Red Star for The PS2 off their website for twenty bucks, I figured it’d be worth hitting up on the off chance that it may suffer from a low print run, what with it being a fairly niche game produced by a small publisher released at the end of a console’s life, a combination that saw many a hundred dollar Ebay special for the Saturn and PS1.
Then last week at Best Buy I saw The Red Star in the budget rack alongside Ford Extreme Racing, so I went and broke open my copy.
And surprisingly, it doesn’t suck! Now I’m not going to say it’s a great game, because man, it’s not great. Not at all. Or even particularly good. I mean, if I’d spent fifty bucks for the thing, I’d be pretty pissed. At best, you can say The Red Star is pleasantly UN-horrible. But at twenty dollars, it’s just right, and you can even order the game directly from the studio and get a warm fuzzy feeling from sending money directly to the publisher and bypassing the bloated retail apparatus.
As far as the gameplay, the best I could say is that it’s something like a 3d beat ’em up combined with portions of a bullet-hell shump. Which sounds fantastic, (and in all honestly, it plays good enough) but it’s the details where things start to come apart– details such as Dreamcast-level graphics, or the lack of a lock-on system that actually works, or a difficulty curve that resembles a hockey stick. It’s that last bit that’s most frustrating, as for the first dozen or so levels of the game you’re presented with an enjoyable, if a tad easygoing beat ’em up where you can safely take on a screen full of enemies at once, but then at around the eleventh level the game presents you with enemies that roll/phase out of every attack, are capable of removing a quarter of a life bar with every hit, forcing you to creep along the screen not daring to take on more than a couple at a time. It’s also around this same time that the game suddenly becomes very stingy with it’s life-sustaining halliburton briefcases.
But it gets the important things(or it’s “core competencies” if I were the sort of hack to use techy buzzwords like “core competency”) right, as the gameplay is solid if a tad banal. Rush up to soldier, pound crap out of soldier, toss soldier into the air, pound crap out of soldier some more, slam soldier into the ground, repeat. In between crazed melee rushes you’re allowed to whip out a pair of guns and blast at enemies from range, although this is mainly a boss-fight sort of thing and is where the bullet-hell shump portions of the gameplay come into light. There’s even a couple of levels where you board a jet plane and take to the enemy shoot-em-up style, and while a bit clumsy and certainly inelegant they serve to nicely break up what would otherwise be a monotony. And while the storyline and atmosphere are good, they’re almost entirely irrelevant, as you’ll find yourself skipping the mission briefings without any repercussions whatsoever. Not to sound like a dick, but I don’t play beat ’em ups for the story– if it was Archangel’s intent to get the Red Star storyline out to a wider audience, they should have done so in something more resembling an RPG. (For that matter, with it’s high-magic, steampunk tech and alternate universe USSR universe, this would have made for an excellent RPG experience.)
While it seems harsh to call a game with decent gameplay “surprisingly un-awful”, it’s not like we’re talking God of War here– or even Final Fight. Think more along the lines of Golden Axe, but with better enemies. Which isn’t bad mind you, but it’s not the sort of thing you can really justify purchasing in this day and age at other than it’s budget price point. In fact, I wonder if it shouldn’t have been cut down to fit on Live Arcade instead, as I’m positive Castle Crashers will wind up outclassing it on every level.
Mild recommendation to buy, as long as you come in not expecting anything mind-blowing or unique– and sometimes, that’s just fine.