Be warned, comrades: Though we may all have equal status in the United Republics of Red Star, some gamers are more equal than others. Specifically, those who can gracefully handle complex controls and a total lack of mid-level checkpoints will find themselves heroically saving the day. Those who can’t should play something easier while waiting in the breadline.
Based on a series of comic books, the first of which is available as a free download on the App Store, Red Star takes place in a high-tech fantasy version of the USSR. However, the storyline in the game is nearly impenetrable, so you’ll enter each level with the simple goal of advancing to the end and destroying every enemy or boss in your way.
That’s ok, because the action in Red Star is incredibly intense and complex. You have both hand-to-hand fighting abilities and a long-range gun, plus a shield and a special move called a Protocol attack. Pressing anywhere on the screen will drop a D-pad, and tapping twice and then holding will let you lock onto whichever enemy you’re facing. This is essential to targeting faraway enemies or the weak points on the game’s numerous bosses.
Say hello to my little purple friend.
While most of the minions are soldiers with guns or blades, the game throws in a whole lot of epic boss battles. These include tanks, helicopters, walls with mounted machine guns, railcars, and other, stranger machines. Sometimes you’ll be so overwhelmed with enemy fire, you’ll be reminded of the ‘bullet hell’ type of shooter, where your goal is to move to the part of the screen that’s not covered with deadly bullets.
This intense action looks great, but the game’s speed takes a hit during a few encounters. Our 2nd generation iPod Touch was struggling to keep up at times, so your experience might vary. At its best, though, Red Star looks like a full-on PS2 game running on your iDevice, an incredibly impressive achievement that gives us real hope for future ports.
The biggest problem with Red Star is the terrible checkpoint system. You can only save between levels, which can take a good 10-20 minutes each to complete, and if you die in the middle you’re sent all the way back to the beginning. That’s right, you can die on the last boss and have to replay the entire level again. To make things even harder, there are limited health packs, no extra lives, and you’ll never get a health pack before a boss battle. This is a game designed for experts only.
Judging by that health bar, this player is just moments away from restarting the level.
Despite this frustrating design choice, there’s a whole lot more we enjoyed about Red Star, like the side-scrolling flying levels and the upgrade system which lets you emphasize different play styles. It’s a beautiful game, and it appears to be the complete PS2 game, instead of the episodic format we played at GDC.
Hopefully, updates from the developers will offer some mid-level checkpoints or more opportunities to upgrade your character, which would help alleviate the game’s incredible difficulty. But if you’ve got the patience and dedication to make it through, Red Star is among the finest beat ‘˜em up games on the iPhone.