The Red Star Review (PS2)

Rising from the ashes of Acclaim’s bankruptcy, The Red Star fails to shine brightly enough to make the wait worthwhile.

From the start you’ll face plenty of enemies
Get carried away and your gun will overheat

Criticising The Red Star for feeling dated feels similar to attacking a pensioner for having grey hair. The game was originally due for release in autumn 2004, and was pretty much done when publishers Acclaim went to the wall. It’s now taken three years for XS Games to reach an agreement to publish the title, based on Chris Gossett’s comic series.

But the game itself feels more than three years old. In fact it feels closer to 15 years old, with remarkable similarities to the vintage SNES classic Super Probotector (Contra III in the US). And in a world where it’s possibly to download classic games updates without leaving your console, it’s hard to recommend, even at a price lower than a full retail game.

That’s not to say the game isn’t fun. Choosing from three characters, you’re able to hack and shoot your way through 19 stages in an alternate vision of a future Russia which mixes communism, magic, and classic shoot’em-up and beat’em-up action. Choose from brawler Kyuzo, agile Makita and sorceress Maya, as you face countless enemies, ranging from standard footsoldiers to numerous mid and end of level bosses.

Bad guys come well-armed, shielded, or en masse
Patient evasion is a big part of the game

The action is split between side-scrolling and overhead action and each aspect is handled competently. Depending on your choice of character, you’ll need to adapt your approach, with Kyuzo, for example, able to slow down enemies with his gun, before battering them out of action with his lance. Bosses require a calm approach to avoid hundreds of bullets whilst searching for one or more weakspots. Some feature a number of gun turrets to be destroyed, while others require patience until an Achilles heel appears for a limited time.

When you’re becoming accustomed to the balance of gameplay, which is even more balletic in two-player mode, the game switches to an overhead view, which is both effective, and spookily reminiscent of Super Probotectors Mode 7 sections. The premise remains the same, but allows a greater use of long distance attacks with a bigger view, breaking up the sometimes claustrophobic side-on sections.

In addition, there are also battle arenas to play in, with ever increasing numbers of enemies to be battled for fun, and the main game rewards progress by allowing plenty of weapon and character upgrades.

Graphically, the game is crisp and demonstrates some effective bosses and explosions, backed up by some effective environments and camera effects, and the sound backs up the action adequately.

Battle arenas offer a different type of challenge
Graphically the game ticks all the right boxes

A graphically updated mix of Super Probotector and Streets of Rage, it’s hard to fault The Red Star for choosing it’s source material well, and replicating it in an enjoyable ‘highlights’ type package. But it’s also hard to ignore the huge range of updated classic flooding the console download markets for less, and with more replayability due to online leader boards. But for those looking for a quick and fun PS2 game, it’s still worth a try.

Top Game Moment:
Finding the balance between evasion, shooting and fighting in the face of a tough boss.

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