Once, I managed to catch an episode of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer on the TV. After the therapy I vowed to never go through clichéd detective noir again. Ultimately, my rule was broken, and thus my therapist’s bank account will be groaning under the weight of my inevitable appointment costs.
Red Johnson invokes the same terrors that Mike Hammer dredged up in me. Sure, it’s a sequel. Sequels are mostly better than their originals, right? Right? Well, having not played the Playstation-exclusive original, I can only imagine that the first episode was nothing short of unplayable.
Okay, the storyline is clichéd enough, although it is fairly well written. As lead, Red, your fame as a PI has become such that the local mafioso, the cuddly-sounding Uncle Teddy, has ordered you to be put out of business permanently to the tune of 150K. You’ve decided to hole up in your old neighbourhood – the docks, until the heat dies down. Things get interesting immediately as your beer suddenly develops a bad case of severed finger and a mysterious locked box is dumped on your table.
The graphics so far have been limited to cut-scenes and the odd section where you actually get to control the character. The main protagonist moves well, but the mouth sync seems way out, not surprising seeing as this game is French in origin. Controls are explained during the opening scenes, which makes the first chapter drag unnecessarily. Once you’ve completed the tasks set in the chapter, you’ll get a rank based on the time you took to complete the task and some cash. This cash is used to buy any puzzle hints from your best friend, who turns up at the bar and doesn’t buy you a beer, I might add. Saul is his name and he seems to have stepped straight out of the Huggy Bear school of pimps. Saul’s hints are expensive to say the least, $200 to be told to look in more than one place is a little on the excessive side and not necessarily useful. The puzzles are plentiful and should appeal to the Broken Sword generation. They are not as sophisticated as Broken Sword though, or as well thought through as other games of this nature, however they get very repetitive quickly and this lets the game down badly.
The most frustrating thing would be the action cut-scenes, which are far too short to be of any interest. If they were longer, it would break up the monotony of the puzzles you have to attempt and give the game more appeal, but as it is, they are frustrating in the fact that they rely on you spotting the action button required for Red’s next move. Fail to spot this and you’ll have to replay this scene from its start. This can be very tedious, especially after you realise you were only a move away from completing the scene and you keep missing the move, as the time to react to it passes too fast. Be aware also, that the buttons you need to press will not always be the same, so it’s not even worth memorising the moves to get you through it. I got so tired of hearing one particular set of dialogue I nearly turned it off. I did find the pickup from the joypad to be very intermittent as well, with button presses often missed first time around, which contributes to the frustration.
Each character has their own distinctive sound and there are plenty of them to listen to, what with Red having several siblings, all named imaginatively after colours. Accents from the voice actors are interesting to say the least, with one French attempt being particularly bad. The dialogue is often long and rambling, littered with needless profanity and not altogether useful. The background sounds are relevant and unobtrusive, although you are left wondering sometimes if they are part of the task you are attempting or whether they are simply background noise to add effect.
You get some tools to use during your investigation. A trusty magnifying glass, which is controlled by the right bumper and a UV lamp, controlled by the left bumper are your main investigative tools. The UV lamp can be particularly useful, even if its sound effect makes it sound like a wasp caught in a tin cup. There are stages where you’ll be aimlessly aiming the UV at everything in front of you, hoping not to fork out for your mercenary best friend’s hints. This would appear to be the norm and again, the repetitive nature soon puts you off attempting to find further clues due to the non-linear nature of the majority of the puzzles.
Overall, Red Johnson 2 is graphically sound, but the gameplay glitches, repetitive puzzles and clichéd storyline affects the game to its detriment. It could be better than this, in fact it should be better than this. There are definitely better point-and-click puzzle-solving crime games out there, but if you have 800 MS Points spare and roughly 10 hours to kill, more if you get as frustrated with the controls as I did, not forgetting the necessary 2.68GB free on your console, then there are worse games to get, just not many.