The Red Star
-Archangel Studios / XS Games (2007)
The United Republic of the Red Star (U.R.R.S.) and its military, the Red Fleet, is under the control of a powerful being called Troika. Two former members of the Red Fleet, Maya and Kyuzo, join forces with Makita, a resistance fighter that told them of the true corruption of the U.R.R.S. The three launch a last offensive to bring down Troika and re-unite the Republic.
The Red Star almost didnít happen. The game was pretty much finished, but then publisher Acclaim filed for bankruptcy in 2004. In 2006 XS Games announced that they acquired the rights to the game and would finish it up with some members of the original development team. The game was finally released in April of 2007. This is all important to know because we almost missed out on one of the most unique games to be released on the PS2.
The Red Star combines the beat-em-up and shooter genres flawlessly in its alternate reality Russia. In each stage you fight countless foot soldiers with fists, guns, and special attacks and will encounter multiple bosses in a single stage. At certain points in every stage the camera will shift from the side to the top and youíll be faced with a top down shooter sequence. It is here that you fight a mid-boss or mini-boss, depending on what you want to call them. There is also one completely shooter stage. In fact, itís a side-scrolling shooter that is reminiscent of a couple levels from the classic U.N. Squadron. After a certain stage your character climbs into a jet/ship thing and takes off to bring down a massive battle tank.
Like every beat-em-up of the past, you end up fighting the same villainous footmen again and again. However, The Red Star has a large variety of enemies that are introduced throughout the nineteen stages. Each enemy has a different attack that requires an alternative strategy to defeat. Some enemies take more damage when shot, while others have shields and can only be killed with punches. Apparently the Russians developed shields that are impervious to bullets, but not to a good old knuckle sandwich.
Each of the three playable characters, with the third as an unlockable, has their own fighting style and weapons. Makita is a quick fighter that deals out less damage, but has excellent weapons. Kyuzo is the buff strongman that deals out tons of melee damage, but is much slower than the others. Maya, the unlockable character, had some interesting magic attacks and has what looks like a powerful laser with limited lock-on range.
The Red Star is a hard game. It starts off easy enough, but the difficulty gradually increases throughout the nineteen stages with the latter third of the game getting incredibly challenging. You need to be good at beat-em-ups and really good at 2D shooters if you want to beat the game. Some stages will need to be played though multiple times to finally pass them. The latter bosses rely on bullet hell bursts of firepower that can only be avoided with precision character movement. Health power-ups are very limited and only appear after each boss encounter. So you have to beat up tons of guys and survive a tough shooter boss sequence with one bar of health.
After each stage you are rewarded points that can be spent on various upgrades or saved for more expensive ones. You can upgrade weapon power, melee damage, defense, gun cool down time, shield strength, and can purchase different guns. Gun coolant and recharge are important upgrades because weapons can overheat if the fire button held down for too long. Gun overheating will be a regular occurrence when facing bosses. The alternate weapons have varied fire rates and ranges. Some are spread shots, some are straight-on, and others are only close proximately. However, not until the weapon is purchased do you know how the weapon fires. A small preview window of the weapon fire would save players wasted spent points.
Many of the stage locales are indoors with an industrial pseudo-futuristic feel with a few outside in snow and desert climates. The characters and enemies have a somewhat blocky look to them but are stylized in a way that makes them seem that that's the way they should look. The screen has an odd perspective where it almost feels that you are viewing the game though a security camera. The top and bottom of the screen are curved inward. It is a little odd at first because it almost feels like it's restricting the game area, but you'll get used to it soon enough. The music is a good industrial / techno soundtrack that fits the mood and stages of the game. Many of the sound effects seem like standard punch and shooting noises, but they get the point across.
The game does have a co-op 2-player mode so you and a friend can enjoy all the Russian fightin' action. Upon completing the game you will also unlock the arena mode. Arena mode is a series of non-stop battles in confined areas that throw countless enemies at you at once time.
If you are any kind of fan of old school beat-em-ups and shooters, you will like The Red Star. I have not yet read the comic itís based on, so I donít have any negative feelings for if the game alters or doesnít include certain things that may be in the comic, but the game does make me want to read it. The game gets tough but is a hell of a lot of awesome gameplay for a mere $20.