May 17, 2007

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The Red Star (PS2)
Acclaim, 2007
By Glenn Given production@hippopress.com

The deathbed shooter/brawler from now-defunct developer Acclaim finally hits shelves WITH A VENGEANCE!

This Final Fight-meets-Gradius old-school mash-up delivers. Set in the magical AND futuristic Soviet Union of Christian Gossett’s graphic novel series of the same name, players fight to liberate their people from the oppressive regime of sorcerer Troika. Of course this cry for freedom is perpetrated by frantically blasting and fisticuffing your way through some punishingly paced industrial nightmare-scapes to have at screen-filling bosses who flood your playing field with swarms of glowy bullets. Players can control Makita (quick but weak) or Kyuzo (slow but tough, suprise!), as well as the unlockable warcaster Maya, solo or with a friend. Not that having a buddy helps much, as the AI responds with even more firepower to throw at you.

The twist that The Red Star introduces is the juxtaposition of the brawling and shooter genres. Because it switches forms at the drop of a hat, play that would otherwise quickly devolve into a harrowing grind is constantly shaken up and kept fresh. Best of all, certain battles blend the two play styles by requiring the block-melee combos of the beat-’em-up during the exacting maneuvers of a massive firefight. Fans of either genre will revel in this evolution of the playstyle but many may chafe at the frustration that comes with having to replay entire levels owing to the absence of mid-board checkpoints and the single life each player begins with.

Intense action is the order of the day as The Red Star introduces new enemies with every level and arms each boss with intriguing patterns and stylizations. There is a visceral old-school thrill to the game that many recent titles seem to be lacking and a genuine feeling of accomplishment after each wave of enemies is downed. True you can finish pretty quickly but for $20 this thankfully uncovered gem rates an B+ for classic action with a fresh approach. — Glenn Given