The Red Star Review
The battlefield that is the videogames industry is littered with the rancid remains of many a project that didn’t quite make it to retail; victims of circumstance lie uneasily alongside those crushed by the weight of expectation and hype. There are more games you don’t hear about that never see sunlight than well-publicised failures we so often do. One of the cruellest reasons for an untimely death comes from studio closures, taking with them some undiscovered gems that never had a chance to shine (except when a prototype disc surfaces on that oh-so-popular auction site, you know the one). The wave of closures that washed away many of Britain’s well-established or most promising studios at the turn of this millennium claimed their fair share of victims too. Thankfully some games managed to live on in other guises or jumped to the waiting arms of a new publisher, for example games like Juiced which faced oblivion when developer Rage was KO’d by the poor sales of its Rocky titles.
When Acclaim’s doors closed in 2004, thanks to years of mis-management and a glut of poorly conceived products (BMX XXX anyone?), several titles looked set to be condemned to the ether along with it. Interview with a Made Man was picked up straight away and released under the shorter title ‘Made Man’ and Emergency Mayhem is due for release by the end of the year. The third and possibly most interesting of the bunch is The Red Star which has just found its way onto retail shelves across the country.
Based on the Graphic Novels of the same name, The Red Star is set in a futuristic Russian Super-state, where Hi-tech machines and Sorcery live happily side-by-side. Playing as one of two Soldiers under the service of the Communist super-power, (magic-user Maya Antares or weapons specialist Kyuzo) you must help hold back an insurgent force of resistance fighters from the rogue Republic of Nokgorka. As you progress through the game you find that not all Allies can be trusted and you may not be fighting for the goodies after all.
The Red Star plays like the love-child of Streets of Rage and Ikaruga; it’s part side-scrolling beat-em-Up and part top-down shooter. However this sounds on paper, the game works surprisingly well and by the time the first stage is done and dusted any doubts over the strange hybrid concept will have been long-forgotten. You can choose whether to blast your way through the level (taking care not to let your gun overheat) or take time opening a few cans of whoop-ass with your fists, whatever suits your mood or the surroundings. Some enemies can be defeated with just bullets, while others require a different strategy.
However you decide to kill your enemies you’ll need to be pretty quick at doing so as things can get hectic fast and you may soon find yourself overwhelmed. Because of this, Red Star is best played co-operatively and it really shines when you have a friend to fight alongside you. On your own, things get stale quite quickly as you’re faced with an onslaught of enemies and have to hammer the buttons to get through; co-operatively you have a bit more time to try out some of the special moves each character is blessed with. You start off with a few to begin with but in between each stage you get the chance to purchase new ones or upgrade your attacking and defensive capabilities.
The Red Star is filled with some impressive set-pieces which do well to split up the monotonous attack waves. In one early stage, a gunship flies above the battlefield dropping bombs on top of you. You can’t actually see the ship itself but the reflection in the ice you stand on gives you a good idea where not to stand. There are also some excellent bosses to fight, providing the main challenge in the game with some pretty tricky attack patterns that challenge your competency with your fists and guns in equal measure.
Unfortunately, The Red Star’s time in limbo hasn’t been especially kind. This looks and feels like a three year old game and is unlikely to make the kind of impact it may have done had it been released as intended in 2004. Saying that, this is still a challenging and enjoyable title and definitely well worth searching for if you like plenty of punching and shooting action in your games.