A couple of years ago, the Switch played host to Redout: Lightspeed Edition, a flawed futuristic racer that nonetheless turned out to be a pretty good experience all around. It was the sort of thing that established a great foundation to be built upon, and we were sure that a sequel – if one was coming – would doubtless improve upon its predecessor.

Now, developer 34BigThings has put out that sequel, and it is a fascinating diversion from its predecessor. Redout: Space Assault still retains the futuristic vibes and advanced machinery, but here it’s couched in the rail-shooting genre, a la Star Fox. Broadly speaking, it’s a gorgeous and enjoyable experience, but issues with shallow gameplay hold it back from becoming something truly great.

The plot – yes, there is a plot this time around – takes place a few years before the first Redout, and places you in the shoes of Leon, a hotshot fighter pilot for a galactic company called Poseidon Corp. Leon and his squadmates are responsible for quelling rebel activity around Mars, all while slowly coming to grips with the larger political machinations at play.

Though the narrative deserves some points for its ambition and commitment to worldbuilding, its execution overall comes off as sloppy and unfocused. You’re just sort of tossed into the midst of this story and expected to care about characters and sides without any real legwork filling in the details of why you should care. Still, in a game as arcadey as a rail-shooter, a story hardly takes centre stage, meaning most of this one can be safely ignored without much being lost.

Gameplay sees you jumping between missions spread across nine chapters, each one usually tasking you with some combination of shooting and dodging all sorts of enemy fire. Most of these missions are in a traditional on-rails set up, though some will surprise you with free roam sections within a limited sandbox, and later levels mix and match the two modes.

Your ship auto-fires on any enemies that you guide your reticle to, and holding down the right trigger fires off a volley of missiles on a short cooldown. Nothing all that groundbreaking or new to the genre, then, though this gameplay setup proves meets the bar that its peers have set. The moment-to-moment action is enjoyable and suitably tests your reflexes, though it starts to overstay its welcome a little too soon.

The real issue at hand here is the pacing; Redout: Space Assault can prove to be mind-numbingly repetitive in the long run. Though each battle is flashy, loud and exciting in the moment, you soon realize that there’s not a whole lot of variety here. New enemy types are few and far between, and later levels fail to introduce many interesting new gimmicks or obstacles to differentiate them from earlier ones. It feels like only a couple hours of actual content were copy-and-pasted with minor adjustments to pad out the experience, and that’s only exacerbated by the upgrade system.

So, as levels go on, enemies very quickly start piling on armour that your pathetic peashooter and missiles can’t penetrate as easily. This necessitates re-running previous levels in an effort to grind out credits and maybe get a bonus or two from fulfilling some optional objectives, which feeds more into the repetition. You can upgrade various facets of your ship – such as the armour or the weapons – but you have to buy ten upgrade points in anything for it to actually advance in usefulness.

In practice, this means that you can go through several levels without any meaningful upgrades, and even once you do get one, it’s only an incremental improvement. Take this all together, and you have an experience that clearly expects you to grind through already repetitive content and to do so for only the barest of rewards.

This is redeemed somewhat by Redout: Space Assault’s presentation, which is absolutely spectacular. The neon-infused, futuristic environments are beautifully well-realized whether you’re playing in docked or handheld mode. Zipping through asteroid belts as space dust blasts by you while dodging a multitude of laser shots from enemy ships is consistently a visual treat, and it’s a noticeable step up from the already solid visual presentation of the first Redout.

Environments and assets do tend to repeat themselves a little too often as the hours go on, but never let it be said that Redout: Space Assault is anything less than a magnificent show of colours and lights. This all plays out with nary a frame drop to be seen, too, ensuring that everything looks nice and smooth in motion. Truth be told, it’s almost disappointing that a game that looks this good doesn’t play anywhere near as well; the kind of adventure and awe being teased by the stellar visuals can prove to be deceptively misleading.

Now, to be fair, the lack of depth on offer here in the gameplay isn’t necessarily all bad if you approach it with the right mindset. Taken on its raw merits, Redout: Space Assault can prove to be a satisfying little shooter if you simply measure your expectations and don’t come into it looking for a very gripping experience. This is the kind of game that leaves the best impression if you just play it for a few hours before getting distracted by something else and never returning.

It’s the brief bouts of excellence that prove to be the most dampening, after all, as there are so many places where Redout: Space Assault shows you glimpses of a much better game. The visuals are outstanding. The mixture of free roam and on-rails portions are intriguing. The white-knuckle action is exciting at first. This is the epitome of a game that would benefit from a properly done sequel, as Redout: Space Assault is very consistently almost the best space shooter out there.

Conclusion

Redout: Space Assault isn’t a bad game by any means, it just isn’t an exceptional one either. This is a bargain bin game, the kind of thing that’s worth a few hours of your time after you’ve picked it up on a deep sale. Intense shooting action and outstanding visuals languish in the shadow of repetitive design and generally shallow gameplay, making for an experience that’s just pretty good once all is said and done, but hardly something that's going to top genre lists at the close of 2021. If you like Star Fox and are simply desperate for something to fill that void, this may be a good buy right away. Otherwise, wait it out and maybe play this one a while down the road.