You should never bring a knife to a gun fight, but magical bullet blocking swords are just fine. Red Steel 2 is an action game where East meets Old West for a rip-snortin' good time. The fighting is fierce, the comic book art style looks mighty slick, and the samurai wear cowboy boots.

The game is played from a first person perspective and the hero is armed with a small arsenal of guns, but any comparison to a First Person Shooter is trivial at best. This is an action game with very light adventure elements, and its true claim to fame is its sword fighting. With assistance from the Wii Motion Plus, my remote was transformed into a virtual sword, perfectly translating my flailing into the competent strokes of a sword master.

It started me off relatively gently, filling the first half hour with short missions and tutorials. I really did kill a lot of practice dummies in this game; I was placed in the practice yard for a quick tutorial every time I gained a new move. Just as well I was forced to familiarize myself with what each move did, because I'm lousy when it comes to memorizing combos. I tend to stick to a few workhorse maneuvers and plow forth. Not always the best tactic, as the game liked to toss the occasional wall in my way with groups of enemies far tougher and smarter than the mooks I'd gotten used to killing (to say nothing of the boss fights). Tougher enemies included sledgehammer wielding giants more than happy to knock the hero into the ground... and freaking ninjas.

Even lowly grunts could make short work of the hero if I let him become surrounded. No worries though, as there were maneuvers for every occasion, easily executed with the swing of the remote and the press of one or two buttons. I'd just have to grit my teeth and open the moves menu to remember how to do the thing with the twirl and the slice and the everybody dies. The swordplay really does work too.

Simple vertical, diagonal, and horizontal swings of the remote resulted in the sword making that cut on screen while combos had me flinging enemies into the air and dodging behind a foe to shoot or slice him into oblivion. While the game allows players to adjust sensitivity settings, I just stuck with the default and only had problems with the motion control when my movements became too frantic. Broad, clean strokes registered every time.

A game with action as distinct as this needs an equally distinct look to complete the package, and Red Steel 2 doesn't disappoint. The game oozes a bold comic book style that mixes and matches old West cowboy themes with feudal era Japanese architecture and a dash of science-fiction robotics on the side. As disparate as the component parts may be, it still managed to form a cohesive world that I enjoyed exploring. If only it weren't so empty.

Red Steel 2 is only one among many games that create cities without any civilians, and I certainly understand that pedestrians in the street would be game changers when a gun fight broke out. Keeping things simple and focused was likely a wise move by the developer on this unproven series. But wouldn't it be cool to see a living city in the future?

This time around, the only living things I saw that weren't trying to end my game were a handful of friendly NPCs. The cast didn't exactly break any new ground on personalities. There was the Smarmy Casino Owner, the Gritty Old Sheriff who's always looking for trouble and the Computer Hacker Chick. Most fun by far, though, was the Old Mentor who really didn't like me. He took every success of the hero's as a personal affront and any compliment the hero received was grudging at best. The cast of villains was also excellent, providing the sorts of bad guys I loved to hate. It was all good fun with nicely written dialog well delivered from most of the cast (they weren't all winners.) Just remember that this is a comic book world, with comic book acting; so sit back and enjoy a bit of cheese.

The story itself was simple, predictable, and not without its loose ends. It did its job as a vehicle for the action, giving the hero cause to wander from scenario to scenario. The action was broken up into missions, typically a main objective with minor goals layered on top of it. The lesser goals did get a little repetitive, mostly serving the function of giving me targets to watch for as I explored. The action never dragged though and certainly didn't wear out its welcome. For the variety it offered, Red Steel 2 is an optimal length, offering around 10 hours of play in the main game. If you like racking up high scores, there's also a challenge mode.

All told, Red Steel 2 was a blast to play, and for a game that wasn't even on my radar until two months from release, it came as a delightful surprise. The art style was fresh and very pleasing on the eyes, the pacing was quick, and the sword and gun combat was all aces. If the consumer public responds in accordance with what this game deserves then Ubisoft has the beginnings of a winning series on its hands that cries out for expansion. I give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.