Review: A gold star for XS Games for finally releasing The Red Star.
XS Games' The Red Star has undergone a long and interesting life in development hell. It was first announced back at E3 2004 by doomed publisher Acclaim as a PS2 and Xbox title for a release that fall. Based on an acclaimed independent comic, the game was supposed to mark the return of the beat ?em up and a turning point for the ?new Acclaim.? The company's Austin studio (the guys behind the awesome console versions of the original NBA Jam) was even working closely with Christian Gossett, the original comic's creator.
And then the whole thing crashed and burned. Acclaim declared bankruptcy several weeks before The Red Star would have shipped to stores and just like that, a beat ?em up/shooter hybrid that told the tale of an alternate-reality USSR controlled by magic would be pushed aside. It would take two years (and several more delays) before another company would take a chance on finishing The Red Star's development. But finally, XS Games has granted the wish of every old school gamer and brought The Red Star to the PS2 for the low price of $20.
For your $20, The Red Star keeps it pretty close to Acclaim's original promise. This game is a glorious return to the beat ?em up and shooter genres. The game also mines the comic's concept of mixing technology and magic in a USSR ruled by a megalomaniacal sorcerer. Although, that's the only bits of the comic that manage to come across in the game as the rest of just a mishmash of Russian names and between level text that explains what building players will be attacking in the next level. The story is completely non-existent.
What's not non-existent is the great shooting and melee action that The Red Star brings to the PS2. Players will often be required to punch out a gang of hand-to-hand fighters while simultaneously trading gunfire with other enemies. Magic attacks (called ?Protocols?) round out the available weaponry. Throw in the ?restrictions? some enemies have (many enemies can only be damaged by melee attacks or gunfire) and the awesome action quickly becomes a test of strategic planning as well.
It's this strategic requirement (and the amazing amount of boss battles, up to four per level!) that make The Red Star a challenging adventure as well as a good beat ?em up/shooter. This game is hard and those that take up its challenges will die a lot. But all that means is that players will get a lot of game for their $20.
Since it was originally scheduled for a 2004 release, The Red Star is not exactly a stunner in the audio-visual department. The game switches between side-scrolling and overhead sections that use polygonal graphics to get a decent enough look. It doesn't feel quite as polished as Konami's PS2 Contra titles, but the bosses are large and feature a similar robotic look that many of the Contra bosses are known for.