I was going to record a video demonstrating why the recently-released follow-up to 2009's Afro Samurai is such a waste, but I couldn't bring myself to play it any longer. Screw this game.
I wasn't a fan of the Afro Samurai animated series when I played and reviewed the first game some six years ago, and I've not progressed on that front in the time since. Still I remember the first game fondly — it had flow, it had style. It had problems, sure, but it also ensured that should I ever take up killing people with swords I would keep a mix tape of music overseen by hip hop producer RZA on me at all times.
So when I first heard there was an episodic sequel coming to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One I was pretty excited. Sure, I'd never heard of Redacted Studios and yeah, the footage I saw looked a bit rough, but works in progress often do.
The game appeared on Steam last Tuesday, and despite having a ton of LEGO Dimensions work to do, I jumped right in.
First I ran the configuration tool.
Not a good sign. The configuration tool is nothing but screen resolution and a "Graphics quality" option that only has "Default", so not technically an option.
As I type this I opened the game to check out the options available while running, but it locked up at the launch screen. Perhaps it didn't recognise my game pad, which is weird as the game requires a game pad — the keyboard does nothing. Let's try again.
There we go. Options. That's some options.
The game tells the story of Kuma, the bear-headed one, picking up after he was "killed" in a fight with Afro in the original game. The narrative unfolds in a series of cut scenes, some animated in the game engine, most in black-and-white illustrations. At around 3:09 in the video below Kuma shouts "I remember now! I remember... everything!" The clip plays again at the end of the video, after some floating, impact-less combat training.
In the hour or so of the game I played, he repeats the same line several times. Or the developers re-use the same clip. Audio doesn't seem to be their strong suit. The voice acting comes at you from several different volumes, sometimes soft and barely audible, other times painfully loud.
There's a lot of remembering to do as Kuma chases the ghost of his dead adopted sister through his memories. Chapter-after-chapter of slogging through harshly linear levels fighting unsatisfying battles against an army of samey fodder. Now and then the action breaks into a button-mashing quick time event that must be repeated over and over until you get it right.
There are three combat styles to learn — Kuma, Afro and Master — but it all adds up to the palest imitation of Batman: Arkham series' counter system I've ever experienced. Hit Y to counter! Wait, he;s not close enough and nothing happens. Get closer and wait for the prompt to appear again! There you go.
Without finishing chapter one I wound up with enough skill points to max out each style, with the exception of the final point in each skill tree, which won't be unlocked until the second chapter is released. I will never get those skill points.
It's a promotional screenshot of feet, ladies and gentlemen.
Move forward, mash X, wait for Kuma to fall to his knees and remember another thing. There's a random platforming segment in which our hero must climb up a tower by jumping and sticking his swords into rotating hanging blocks. That's pretty horrible. Lots of falling involved.
If there's one good thing about Afro Samurai 2 it's the music. Produced once more by RZA, the beats in this game are rather excellent. The only problem is they're used in all the wrong places. Referencing the video of the opening level above, you'll thrill to the stirring track being played during Kuma's crawling forward slowly sequence. It's like someone being given a delicious cake and instead of eating it they shove it right up their arse. Mmmm, cakey.
I am not happy with this game.
Judging by the 18 negative and 0 positive reviews on Steam, others aren't happy with it either.
It should have been better than this. Hell, the president of Redacted Studios is David S. Robinson, the senior producer of the original Afro Samurai. Surely he couldn't have looked at the game we're playing now and thought, "Yeah, that's better."
In a video interview with GamereactorTV earlier this year, Robinson talked about where the original game failed — too many bugs they didn't get to fix before it was finished.
At around the one minute mark he talks about the studio's mission to make up for past mistakes.
"It's always been our mission to get back to Afro and fix that. Make it right."