Red Orchestra 2 review
Is joining the Red Army all its cracked up to be? Find out if the WWII shooter is more Marx and Engels or Bert and Ernie.
The Germans had taken the smoking ruins of the old library and were mowing down our brave comrades in the open fields around with deadly accurate sniper fire. Our commander, a snivelling weasel of a counter-revolutionary if there ever was one, hid himself in the darkest depths of the catacombs beneath our barracks while his men died in droves. The situation was desperate, and Mother Russia needed a hero to step forward.
That’s as good an introduction to Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad as anyone’s going to get. Tripwire’s follow up to the realistic FPS combat mode Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 retains the developers’ singular focus on rewarding multiplayer combat mixed in with a dash of historical realism and garnished with squad-based tactical manoeuvres and some classy twists on the hackneyed themes on show in Call of Bullets 5: BattleWar.
Hopefully, most of you who can read a sentence have already grasped what online FPS gameplay is all about; kill the man, grab the objective, go home with a shiny medal. RO2, or as I prefer to think of it, Nazi-murdering Funfair 2, doesn’t substantially mess with the formula. Both the single-player campaign and the online competitive play are based around holding objective buildings until a timer, points counter or respawn meter ends the round.
Players can select troopers from several different classes, including a sub-machinegun-toting assault soldier, long range rifleman, tank driver and sniper. There are a couple of interesting choices, including the squad leader and commander classes, lightly armed but capable of issuing orders to subordinates, and in the commander’s case of calling in artillery strikes to devastate the enemy. A competent leader can turn a tough fight around with careful strategic decisions and by acting as a mobile spawn point for squad members.
Each class can only have so many members on the battlefield at any one time, in a transparent attempt to cut down on the sniper-mania that curses so many multiplayer shooters these days. Forcing a division of labour is a smart move in encouraging players to build teamwork, and a well-executed combined arms assault is a thing of beauty to behold.
The commitment to a more realistic and detailed simulation-style shooter is cunning woven into the player experience. Since death is virtually immediate if hit (no regenerating ubermensch here), cover is a necessity, and so it’s a good thing that Tripwire have made it so simple. A right click sticks you to the nearest wall, doorway or crate, and leaning out or using iron sights pops your head out for only as long as you hold the key. Your aim is prone to wandering unless you remember to hold your breath, and sprinting is only practical over short distances.
The attention paid to tiny specifics extends down to the grubby and torn uniforms players wear, and the guns in their hands. The whip-crack of rifle fire and the rattle of machine-guns are both satisfyingly realised and absolutely terrifying when caught in the open. The stripped-back UI is another design choice I applaud, stirring up the tension by forcing you to actually remove the magazine to check how many rounds you have left. Each class plays differently enough to require a learning period, while being exquisitely balanced to provide no overwhelming advantage against a skilful enemy.
And so, inevitably, on to the negatives. Red Army Simulator 2 may boast of a single-player story mode on the back of the box, but anyone who buys this game expecting an involving solo experience will be justifiably irate. The narrative is short and uninteresting with zero memorable characters, friendly AI is awful and the difficulty level jumps up and down worse than a Commissar who has incurred the wrath of the Central Committee.
There’s no way to avoid saying this, but the game is hugely broken. We encounter issues with characters becoming stuck in scenery, clipping through solid walls and often seemingly dying for no reason when the hit detection malfunctioned.
The game’s server browser, a key component given the amount of time you’ll be spending hopping between games, is incomprehensibly terrible. I couldn’t figure out if it was possible to enter a server’s address to connect directly, and attempting to connect to a password-protected game crashed the browser several times. I often found myself with zero servers listed after changing filter settings, despite having dozens available seconds before. Resetting filters failed to fix the issue, and only restarting the game remedied things.
It’s difficult to put my problems with Stalin’s Fun-Time Happy Hour 2 into words; the closest I can get is to say that I am disappointed. That may sound very negative, but remember that you can only be disappointed by things that raise your hopes in the first place. RO2 does just that, aiming higher than its kill-some-terrorists-obsessed brethren, trying to fuse historical precision and tactical multiplayer enjoyment into a package that appeals to players looking for something more substantial than the usual run and gun fare.
I can’t justify taking points away from a game for its ambition, just as I can’t justify scoring it highly given its tremendously flawed implementation. Despite my high regard for the developers, and the good times I’ve had stalking the Wehrmacht through the blasted snowy waste, my gut feeling is that this one is destined for the fringes. It may be venerated by a hard core of loyal cadre who preserve its embalmed remains for future generations, but the dream of a revolutionary colonisation of the mainstream is irredeemable.