Red Orchestra 2 – Heroes of Stalingrad

Five years ago, Tripwire Interactive turned an award winning Unreal mod into a smash hit with both WWII and FPS fans.  Red Orchestra : Osfront 41-45 received critical acclaim and a fantastic fanbase.  Now Tripwire is trying to branch out from the multiplayer focus of the first game, include a single player campaign, as well as a few new tricks up their sleeve, and make WWII games relevant once again.  Did they manage to puch back the German forces at Stalingrad, or just become another casualty of war?

The Story

In discussing this particular historic campaign of World War II, the thought of incorporating a story is a bit of a paradox.  Known for it’s brutality, the battle of Stalingrad doesn’t lend well for following individual stories or incorporating a more human side by following particular soldiers.  To balance this out, Tripwire portrays a realm of anonymity within the battles, and follows up each campaign with personal letters and journals of soldiers from different units involved in the long campaign at Stalingrad.  The result is a perfect balance of focus, within the heated gameplay, and revealing a more personal side to the grisly battles at a more appropriate time, rather than attempt to shoehorn it in as bullets whiz by.  If that wasn’t enough of an effective way to humanize the struggle of that particular theater of war, Tripwire has made the difficult move of being the first to allow you to lace up the boots of the German soldiers.  If that causes you to be worried, I have to say that Tripwire did it wonderfully and tastefully, by choosing not to make bold political statements, or controversial portrayals, but rather show us that many of the men in the German army were no different from American and Russian soldiers – just men who had to enlist and were simply following orders.  Completion of the German campaign allows for the player to switch sides, and play from the Russian perspective, showing a bit more than just attacking from the other side of the battlefield.

The Gameplay

I know what you are thinking, “Ok, great, they took the time to be tasteful and historically accurate, but how does the game play?”.  In a word – ‘Marvelous’.  Red Orchestra was known for it’s meticulous attention to detail in the realm of it’s weapons, adding bullet drop, spin and allowing the player to change their sights to compensate for enemy distance.  Red Orchestra 2 continues that fantastic trend and adds to it.  Cover fire, adding a cover system and blind fire play a huge role in the game.  Anyone who’s seen Saving Private Ryan will be familiar with the grisly battle scenes and the platoon members who meet gruesome ends all around the main characters.  In RO2, witnessing your squad members meet similar fates will drastically drop your morale and make you more vulnerable.  In addition, if you are pinned down by machine gun fire it will affect not only your morale, but cause motion blur and extra difficulty aiming.  Tripwire went through great pains to portray the detail and stress of being in the battles, attempting to put you in the shoes of a soldier, rather than just provide a really interesting way to play an FPS Whack-a-mole.

As you progress through the campaign, you realize that there is a fairly in-depth squad command system, that will allow you to organize your assault, rather than just grind though and endless array of respawns.  Speaking of respawning, Tripwire took an interesting route by not allowing you to choose what class of soldier you will respawn as-rifleman, sniper or machine gunner.  While it can be frustrating, at first, it gives you the ability to tinker with all of the classes and find their optimized uses within the campaign, before taking them for a spin in the multiplayer.  Lastly, Tripwire has taken their attention to historic and accurate detail into the realm of tank battles.  Jumping into a tank is not a one-man mission, the interior is extremely detailed and you have the option of choosing the position and role you want to play within the tank.  Be warned, loosing a member of the team means you will be stepping up to fill that role, by changing seats within the now more vulnerable tank.  Each tank is recreated accurately to allow for damage strategies, one shot will not bring down a tank, unless aiming for the correct areas.  You can disable a tank’s treads, canon mechanisms or go straight for the fuel tank and the quick kill.

The Multiplayer

The single player campaign does a fantastic enough job of creating a tangible tension, during battles, where most times, one shot kills.  Even if you are lucky enough to be hit in a non-vital area, you still must be lucky to be able to get to cover and patch it up before bleeding out.  The multiplayer, with actual rather than AI opponents, makes that all the more evident.  There can definitely be a bit of a barrier for entry, there’s a steep difficulty to multiplayer matches in RO2, but there is something about it that just draws you back in.  If you are lucky enough to play with good squadmates, that communicate, this is one of the most beautiful and memorable multiplayer experiences you will have.  Matches go all the way up to 64 players, and really capture the stress and feeling of a battlefield where your enemy can be coming from any direction, and your strategic maneuvers are often rewarded.  Lone wolves will not do well here, each map is littered with their corpses, but working as a team, using flanking maneuvers and working towards the map’s goals as a unit will make it tough to steal a victory from you and your team.  Keying up your mic and yelling “I’m pinned down”, and then watching from cover as a rifle bullets rips through the skull of your attacker, is disturbingly satisfying.

Good aim not only has visceral feedback, in-game, but the damage system that Tripwire has created is simply uncanny.  If you hit organs and vital parts, it will take down soldiers much more effectively than random sprays, and discourage the annoying “foot kills” found in other shooters.  Rather than running and gunning, RO2’s multiplayer is all about outsmarting your opponent with careful, calculated maneuvers, even if they still get you cut down by someone quicker and more well concealed.  The difference is that RO2 removes the focus on twitch, rabbit jumping and circle strafing and draws multiplayer shooters back to the basics of careful aim and a quick trigger finger.  If I had a nickel for everytime I was cut down by the very player that I was lining up a shot on, I’d be rich.  Yet, there is more respect for being forced into a respawn by that means, than by having your shields out last your opponents.  For the tanks fans out there, there is the ability to play on massive scale tank battles for multiplayer, and, although I tried it out, that was not what drew me to the game.

The Verdict

I have quite a few great things to say about Red Orchestra 2.  I love the raw, grit of bolt action rifles and one shot kills.  I love the tense feeling of knowing that it only takes one shot to belay your best laid plans.  Given all the wonderful things about RO2, there are some glitches and chinks in the armor.  The framerate, although much better since patching, still can chug in odd spots(noticeable more so in the campaign and not online).  The sound will drop out during multiplayer, which can be a shame in a game with music composed by the same composer from the Mass Effect series.  There’s an odd glitch that won’t save after you finish a tutorial mission, unless you’ve also finished the mission after.  Getting back to the tank missions, I was not a huge fan, but that was the result of my taste and not any choices the developers made.  As for any other faults, they are all fairly minor and do not detract from the awesome and revolutionary experience that Red Orchestra 2 is.  The game engine looks beautiful, and it shows that we don’t need overdone graphical effects inspired by Michael Bay to make a fantastic first person shooter.

The game maps are wide-open, and really drive home the point that on-the-rails campaigns can be fun, but just don’t give the player the same satisfaction as executing an assault that you–and not the game designers–tailor made and succeeded with.  The developers did an amazing job of putting a variety of tools in the hands of the player, and then stepping back, allowing you to choose the ones you like, and not forcing you to use every one of them by shoe-horning them all into the game.  For example, I rarely used the squad order mechanic, they work very well when you do, but you will not hit a wall and be unable to progress, if you don’t.  There is no praise that I can laud on the ballistics that haven’t been said already, the shooting mechanics and weapon detail are jaw-dropping.  I had an amazing time with Red Orchestra 2, and I’ll be continuing my tour of duty long after release.  I certainly hope that other FPS developers are watching and playing RO2, taking notes, and getting back to sharpening basic gameplay mechanics to the finely tuned machines they can be, as evident in RO2.

[starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]











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