Your own experience
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The Red Star is a game I actually only came across recently; another VGS staffer had some games he was looking to sell and my eyes always light up at PS2 games, and this was one of them. I checked out some gameplay online and it looked similar to another game I really like - Furi on the PS4/PC/etc., with its shoot-em-up and beat-em-up mix. I had to have it!
Being a shooter/brawler mix it was bound to have something I love and am good at (dodging bullets), as well as something I love but am not good at (combos and avoiding multiple enemies at once as they gang up all around me and I hate it and GRAH!)... I'm not generally very good at the beat-em-up genre on the whole. Fortunately when I got into it I found it behaved fairly closely actually to a simpler God of War, but with the addition of guns... FUCK YEAH! I never really equated the God of War series to traditional beat-em-ups, but really that's what it basically is, and I've actually gotten pretty good at those types of games in 3D space; games like Ninja Gaiden on PS3 and Shinobi on PS2 are some of my favorites.
The mix between shooter and brawler is actually pretty perfect - the game is literally roughly half and half, and the pacing between the two is absolutely sublime. You basically go through rooms (hallways) of enemies in a brawler style, and boss enemies generally are more shooter style where you are dodging bullets and shooting the boss from a distance. The mechanics for shooting allow you to lock onto an enemy do you can focus on dodging and that's a huge boon. One very minor change I'd have liked would be the ability to lock your aim in a direction rather than at an enemy based on whim, perhaps some button combo; the way it works is that if there is an enemy in the direction you're aiming and you use the lock button it will lock onto that enemy, however it does give precedence to "weak points", even on bosses with "adds" such as extra turrets which would be nice to be able to focus down to lessen the bullets on screen before taking on the main enemy. A minor quibble but a quality of life change I'd like to have had available.
They even toss in a single actual legit shooter stage where you fly in a ship (yes, just one), and it's actually handled incredibly well. Again the pacing is on point - it's not like they cram in some excuse to hop in a ship every 3 levels or anything, it simply made sense in the context of the game so they built the entire logic for an actually good shoot-em-up game for the one level. Dedication!
It's noteworthy that like many PS2 games, beating the game unlocks new stuff so you can go back and play through again in a different way. You unlock a new character (who may yes be a little overpowered), and the ability to play Arena levels to unlock a higher difficulty level, as well as "cheats" to make the game easier. Classic PS2 fare with unlockables - beat the game, do well at it, unlock cool stuff to have fun. I LOVE that about PS2 games.
It was about ten levels or so into the game that I started to think "Man, this is one industrial and snowy game". It was at precisely that point that I was transported to a desert, and I had to make a mental note "If you ever write a review for this game, make sure to mention that the pacing is on point". The story takes you through 3 or 4 different settings and while they do vary, they also blend together a little bit - the desert is the only time when you feel like you've really "traveled" to a new place. The enemy variety on the other hand (which I'll go into more detail on below) is actually king where visuals are concerned - there are enough different enemies and they match their surroundings well enough that the visuals never really stale.
The music in the game is almost all hard rock themed, lots of "get your blood pumping" style stuff (I am not a professional writer I apologize). All of it is definitely just background music though, never really coming to the forefront to emphasize the situation. That said, and I came upon this too late in my first playthrough to really appreciate it, I suggest bumping the music up in the audio settings; by default Music and Sound Effects are both at max in the settings, and I suggest turning down Sound Effects to about half, and then turning up the volume on your TV. The music is varied enough and "bumpin" as the kids might say, such that having it a good bit louder may actually increase your enjoyment of the game.
Difficulty & Enemies
The difficulty of the game definitely ramps up in the final quarter; of the 19 total levels the last 4 or 5 become a test of getting past the brawler sections with enough HP remaining to survive the onslaught of bullets that will come from the bosses. Many levels contain multiple bosses that you'll have to deal with, and challenging convention, they have placed health regens AFTER the boss fights rather than before. Often in games you'll see a room full of ammo and refills and such and know that shit's about to go down, but not in this game! Fortunately for me the bullet dodging comes as second nature and the patterns of bullets are easily recognizable for a seasoned shooter player, but if you're not good at dodging many bullets at once you may start to struggle even in the second half of the game around the level 10-12 mark.
As for the enemies themselves, as I've stated above, there is a fair bit of variance in the designs based on where you are. In the beginning levels you'll be fighting what you might recognize as typical Russian soldiers, and then in the desert section you will mostly be fighting melee enemies with swords and axes, even some giant cyclops style enemies. Yes, the game delves just ever so slightly into the mystical and paranormal. It's never quite enough to be so otherworldly that it becomes unrecognizable, but when you reach the second to last level and start fighting basically grim reaper style enemies you kind of take a step back and go "did they just introduce ghost enemies on the second-last level?". Yes, yes they did.
I'm really bad at closing comments. It's a great game and I enjoyed it a lot. If you like beat-em-ups and/or shoot-em-ups, go pick-it-up and give The Red Star a go. It's honestly a really fun game and I couldn't put it down - beat it in a single day. I immediately started playing the Arena mode and made a new playthrough with the character I unlocked, determined to try a new "build". God I forgot to mention that you get points at the end of each level which you can spend to upgrade your character. Such a great game, go play it seriously. Oh yeah and it's based on a comic book. I'm shit at writing reviews, sorry.