Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review
By Simon Graves |
Don't bother with Red Orchestra 2 if you're looking for a single-player experience. True to its roots as an Unreal Tournament mod, Tripwire's realistic take on the World War II first-person shooter is meant to be played with others. As a multiplayer game, Red Orchestra 2 can be brilliant. It's tough to find a more intense, rewarding style of play than the full 64 player games of Red Orchestra 2's territorial control mode. The emphasis on authenticity, from the way you're forced to use iron sights for aiming to how one bullet is often enough to kill, means you need to take extreme care during every second of online play if you want to score points and survive. When working properly, Tripwire's shooter is challenging and deeply satisfying.
Set in and around the battle for Stalingrad during World War II, Red Orchestra 2's single-player campaign serves as a kind of extended training for the online game. Through the opening Axis campaign you control Nazi soldiers as they vie for control of Stalingrad's rubble and occasionally take part in tutorial missions, then wrap up the action on the Allied side with very similar challenges. If you're a new player these tutorials are helpful to get accustomed to all the nuances of control as well as get some practice time in with the commander class and tank combat. Despite the campaign's value as a learning tool, I can't recommend anyone bother playing alone.
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Things start out in a promising fashion. 2D animated cut-scenes with voice over precede each mission to provide context. The ensuing battles take one of two forms; either defend your territory from waves of attackers or overtake and capture a sequence of spots on a map. Theoretically there's a lot of potential for interesting gameplay, mostly because it shares the structure of the multiplayer game, but the unreliability of the artificial intelligence ruins just about all the entertainment value.
Your computer-controlled teammates, often required to thin enemy ranks in between waves of reinforcements so you can advance safely, rarely do what they're supposed to. They take cover on the wrong sides of walls, charge directly into machine gun fire, run in circles and sometimes right by enemies in close quarters. The squad command system -- which lets you order around individual teams -- is certainly welcome, though doesn't function especially well because the AI doesn't always follow your orders. When told to defend a structure, teammates sometimes line up on the outside of the building as hostiles charge from the field beyond. Enemies suffer from the same problems, sometimes failing to recognize you're standing right in front of them or charging through corridors one after another directly into hostile fire. The potential is there for an entertaining campaign, but the infrastructure is busted.
Online you don't have to deal with any of that. Only alongside and against real players can the depth of Red Orchestra 2's mechanics truly be appreciated. The style of gameplay is characterized largely by the ever-present threat of near instant death. Minor wounds can be bandaged, but getting hit in a vital part of your anatomy will end your life, either right away or through a slow but inevitable process of bleeding out. As a result, the tension never really lifts while you're alive, even during periods of prolonged inactivity as you cower behind cover waiting for teammates to catch up or an opponent to reload.
Red Orchestra 2 Firefight
The enormity and complexity of the maps contributes to the overpowering sense of imminent death. The crumbling buildings and pockmarked terrain feature a dizzying amount of cover spots for riflemen. On a single map, fighting can progress from long distance exchanges over smoking fields to chaotic encounters inside huge, multilevel structures. To stay alive, you'll need to take advantage of Red Orchestra 2's first-person cover system. It lets you attach to pieces of the environment and quickly pop in and out to scan for movement and, ideally, pop off a few accurate shots. With so many places for enemies to hide, safety is never certain, especially in 64 player games.
If you do spot someone, it's no simple matter to kill them. Red Orchestra 2 gives you no crosshair to aid aim. Firing from the hip is near useless except at extremely close range. Use of iron sights is absolutely essential for lining up any target. You have to work for every kill, making sure you're in a relatively safe spot to take the shot and then shifting position to throw off any that may have seen you. Unless you flank the enemy's front lines or your opponent makes a serious mistake, many exchanges will involve shooting from long range at enemies concealed mostly behind cover or sprinting and zig-zagging to find it. Due to the effort involved, kills aren't frequent, but all the more rewarding when you manage to score one.