The Red Star
by Polly

Bonus Material: The Red Star Gameplay Video - (45MB-Right Click/Save As-Requires XviD)

History Lesson!
The Red Star is a game with a bit of a history behind it. Truth be told, it's really hard to believe that this game ever got published in the first place.

Ya see, back in good ol 2004, The Red Star was being produced by the now (and fucking THANKFULLY) defunct Acclaim. Promos for the game had already started going out. An Official Playstation Magazine Demo Disc contained a fully playable version of the game and there was also an XBORX version floating around as well. It'd also been featured on G4's X-Play (which is where I'd originally caught wind of it.) All was looking good, when suddenly without notice, The Red Star dropped off everyones' radar. Not that many sites or mags seemed to care, but there was a small chunk of us out there wondering what the hell had happened.

Turns out Acclaim had (fucking THANKFULLY) went belly up in bankruptcy and all productions were dead in the water. When Acclaim went under (fucking THANKFULLY) work on The Red Star had more or less been completed. All that remained was to polish it up and get it out the door.

It wasn't until late 2006 that news had once again resurfaced about the game and a possible new publisher. XS Games had apparently won the game's source in an auction of old dead Acclaim projects and was intent on releasing it.

The game was finally released in April of 2007 to the surprise (and excitement) of many. It's amazing just how far people were willing to go to get this game out the door. A forum post at NeoGAF implies that they knew they weren't going to make much money off of it, but just shot it out the door anyway.

And so, a dead project rises from the ashes like the phoenix (lollerpoeticrite?), but was it worth it? Here's a hint: YES!

IN MOTHER RUSSIA GAME PLAYS---awww fuck I went there...
The Red Star has been described as a combination of many things. This game is far from a one trick pony. It takes elements of side scrolling beat-em-ups such as Streets of Rage and Guardian Heroes, and mixes it with fast-paced shooting action a-la Contra and Smash TV, then throws in crazy ass manic-shmup bullet sprays. SOOOOOO many games fail trying to mix elements from various genres into one single game, but The Red Star manages to pull them all off equally well with very few bumps in the road.

The Red Star can't technically be pegged as a mere side-scroller, because the view of the action shifts between side-scrolling and top-down view quite a bit. Thankfully, it doesn't ever get the least bit disorienting whether you're melee'ing or shooting it out with your foes. The controls are tight and responsive enough to deal with the camera changes allowing you to easily adjust to the new situation. There are rare instances when an enemy might walk off-screen, but it doesn't happen often enough to be much of a complete annoyance.

Typically, the bulk of a stage will be side scrolling and you'll be relying mostly on your melee abilities, while using your ranged attacks as a support to keep enemies at bay or deal with enemies in the background you can't quite reach. When the sirens blare and the camera shifts to a top-down perspective (as is the case for almost all bosses), you'll be letting your guns do the talking while you find yourself weaving in and out of intricate bullet patterns and sometimes having to fend off even more lackies with your physical attacks. Needless to say, the boss encounters in this game can get to be quite intense.

Adding to this intensity are the Heat and Defence meters. The Heat Meter monitors how close your guns are to overheating. Once you overheat, you won't be able to fire any of your weapons at all for 5-10 seconds, leaving you to either dodge your way through bullet sprays you can't answer or trying to melee targets. The Defence Meter determines how much you can block. Blocking hits causes the Meter to rise variable amounts depending on what you blocked. Once it's depleted blocking is useless and you'll just get creamed. Balancing both of these meters is key in surviving a lot of the game's later challenges and helps add a bit of strategy into a game that would be otherwise mindless for the most part. (Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.)

After every stage, you'll be graded and given the opportunity to spend the points you earned for your performance on a stage (based only on how much damage you sustained) on upgrades for your character. There's a decent variety of things to choose from such as, faster gun cool-down time, more special (Protocol) attacks, better damage for your weapons and physical attacks, and even adding a life drain ability to your attacks. It's a simple little system that helps encourage the player to play more carefully and a nice little addition to the genre(s).

Initially you have access to two playable characters - Makita and Kyuzo. Both have very obvious strengths and weaknesses and offer completely different ways to play the game. As Makita, you're a fast, scrappy little bitch with a hammer and sickle. You'll be comboining into infinity and relying on her speed and finesse to stay alive as she can't take a whole lot of punishment. As Kyuzo, you're a bad ass, with a bad attitude, and a bad ass sword to back it all up. You'll be having yourself a dandy little heyday throwing enemies around the screen and skewering them on the tip of your sword, only to beat the living shit out of them onto the ground repeatedly till they fall off. He's the tank and he fuckin moves like one, which means he'll be doing a lot more blocking to stay alive toward the end of the game as enemies and bullet sprays get faster. A third unlockable character, Maya Anatres, is a bit of an oddball and has her own flavor for combat as well being somewhat of a sorceress. She's not really a mix of the original two, and some of her abilities are nifty, but the game doesn't feel like it was built with her in mind. Playing as her feels very out of place sometimes. She's still cool (and maybe a bit overpowered), but not quite as fun as the originals.

While all characters have what it takes to physically dominate every foe when push comes to shove, ranged weaponry is a tad on the "meh" side. You can buy two extra guns for each character, but they ultimately feel useless and like a waste even levelled up when compared to your starting armaments. More often than not, you'll just stick to a powered up level 3 machinegun/rapid fire weapon to handle all the shooty bits. The other guns are fun to play around with for a while, but as you get further into the game, you'll probably find those points could have been better spent elsewhere.

Oh! And the other stuff!
Presentation-wise, The Red Star is pretty dated and rather bland. It's far from being the best looking game on the PS2 and it clearly isn't trying to, nor does it need to be. All the visuals in the game could be summed up as merely "adequate." They get the job done and that's about it. Even boss enemies don't quite have that "oomph" they need to be taken seriously a lot of the time. They're mostly generic and forgettable. Beyond a few sparkly special effects or some pretty lasers, there's not a whole lot to get excited about here.

Audio is also merely "adequate". The soundtrack is fairly generic, but has one or two decent orchestral pieces that might catch your attention. Sound effects are also typical fodder for beat-em-up/shoot-em-up games and won't get on your nerves, but you likely won't even be paying attention to them either.

The one thing that WILL grab you about this game are the God damn voices. ESPECIALLY Makita. She sounds like a fuckin chipmunk on a fuckin crack binge. Bitch is noisier than a Japanese porn star (as you'll be able to tell from the video linked above.) I don't think I've ever played with a more vocal videogame character.

There's umm... a story too! There really is! The Red Star is based on a comic series of the same name, which I've admittedly only read a few chapters of. The game doesn't really try and force any of it onto you (which is probably bad use for the license to begin with), as it all unfolds between stages in text that's easily skipped. The game stays focused on the action so anyone hoping for a really good product tie-in got duped here.

Comrade! This Review Is Now 100% Russian Compatable!
The Red Star may seem a bit like a schizophrenic game that doesn't quite know what it wants to be, but it manages to handle everything it does very well. Old-school fogeys are sure to enjoy this game a lot. One of the last (and likely to be overlooked) great PS2 games.

For what it lacks in presentation and overall "zazz" (hi, Pat!) factor, it makes up for with solid gameplay mechaincs, a lengthy and challenging journey, a decent chunk of unlockalbe content, and an unbeatable price point. You can spare $20 (or a $5 rent) for a couple evenings of old-school gaming goodness. I know you can. I've been looking at your bank records.

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