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PS2 Review: The Red Star

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What is the biggest surprise about a game developed to near finish in 2004 and cast into obscurity following the bankruptcy of Acclaim Entertainment? It finally sees the light of day in 2007 and that it is still a fresh title and after almost three years on the shelf, it still exudes old-school awesomeness.

While the originally planned release for the Xbox got the chop, The Red Star finally drops in on the Playstation 2, courtesy of XS Games, serving up its twitch combination of beat ‘em up and bullet hell mechanics onto one platter. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, players are thrust into a warring alternate-history Russia, where explosions and shrapnel are a dime a dozen occurrence.

The Red Star offers a total of three characters (one unlockable), each with different abilities and attacks to encourage replayability and strategy, and, of course, you can grab a buddy to cover your back in the game’s two-player co-op mode. The game’s shining charm is in its eclectic mix of brawling and shooting, mapping a series of melee attacks and combos to the square button and the player’s gun to the circle button. In tandem with holds of the button, lock-ons and different directions of the analog stick, The Red Star provides a deceptively large selection of pain-inducing moves for players to execute.

While each level becomes painfully predictable in nature – fight wave of minions, face large, bullet-spraying mechanical abomination, heal, repeat – the game is perfectly balanced and spaced out to the point where The Red Star avoids the obvious pitfall of tedium that plagues most beat ‘em ups and shooters. Enemies come in a mix of types that can be killed in any fashion, force players to break down shields with melee attacks, require players to daze them so they can be blasted with gunfire and more. In later stages, the game won’t hesitate to throw multiple types of these enemies onto the screen at once and it hardly leads to a dull moment.

To further stray from the stereotypical conventions of shooters, the title isn’t overly frustrating in difficulty by the second level. The difficulty scales appropriately with a moderate difficulty from the get go, escalating to frenzy-filled, sweat-inducing hardness in the game’s final levels. Finishing The Red Star is an accomplishment, and a satisfying one at that.

As fun as the title is, it is obvious, though, that the presentation also comes from 2004 – the character models are blocky, The Red Star license isn’t used to its full potential, it’s hard to care about the storyline and the game’s audio is easily forgettable. While the game controls quite well, as necessary for such a title, there are some nuances with the lock-on mechanic, often traveling to an enemy that the player doesn’t intend it to and positioning a player to attack in the wrong direction.

Also, unfortunately, The Red Star isn’t going to be a game suitable for everybody. The bullet dodging and frantic action provide a difficulty that may discourage players who aren’t accustomed to the arcade style the game so accurately emulates.

Regardless, The Red Star isn’t a massively long title by any means, but it’s a fun and challenging ride the whole way. Upgrades can be made to characters by spending points earned between levels, each player has an entirely separate attack and strategy style to encourage multiple playthroughs and it helps that the title is just plain fun for those who need straight, no-nonsense action. The concepts in The Red Star are by no means original, but they arranged in such a manner that the title is a must-have for arcade-style game enthusiasts and a fresh entry in the still strong library of Playstation 2 titles.

The Red Star is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Violence.

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