Reviews

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

I think I hate Red Orchestra 2. I am not sure though, because at times, it also seems like a game I could come to love. But those moments are always fleeting, and pretty soon you start to realise this is almost like being in an abusive relationship. Maybe if you gave it one more chance. Maybe if you tried a little harder. Maybe it’s all your fault. It’s a game you are almost always on the verge of liking.

Right off the bat, you will jump into the single player and if you never bothered with the multiplayer before doing so, you will probably end up thinking it’s very dull, with some questionable AI behavior. If you did play the multiplayer beforehand though, you will soon realise that it’s pulling the old Unreal Tournament trick of making you play the multiplayer with bots and the campaign “levels” are actually just multiplayer maps. It does try to fool you a little bit with some dialogue here and there and a voice over narration before the “mission” begins, but the ruse wears thin soon enough.

You can also play the campaign in co-op if you want to make sure a friend suffers along with you, but there is no matchmaking for it and there were no servers that were running the game type either, so I never really got to try it. The only interesting part of the single-player campaign is that it allows you to play as the Germans for a change. But then again, does that really count if you are just playing multiplayer maps with bots? I guess not. There are some squad commands thrown in, whereby you can order friendly soldiers to perform certain actions, but you can get by without ever really bothering with those. The campaign, if you still want to call it that, is incredibly dull and lifeless.

Maybe it’s not fair to be so harsh on the campaign (and I still use that term very loosely) of a game that’s pretty much selling itself on the multiplayer. Battlefield, Quake and Unreal Tournament have all done something similar. That didn’t stop them from being some of the greatest games of all time. Red Orchestra, however, is not in that league. Don’t get me wrong; there are moments where it clicks and it’s pretty great, but those moments are always too few and too short. The multiplayer is split across three different game types. Firefight is your run-of-the-mill Deathmatch; Countdown is sort of like Counter-strike, where you attack/defend an objective; and Territory is similar to Battlefield’s Conquest game type. However, for some bizarre reason, almost all servers running any game type except Territory are inevitably empty. So I hope you like Territory, because it’s all you will end up playing.

On the surface, the gameplay is also similar to Battlefield; large scale combat with classes set in the WW2 era. Each class has its own role and carries its own weapons, and the weapons are ridiculously well designed. Everything from recoil to bullet drop is present. This is as close as you will come to firing real World War 2 weapons, and the minimalist HUD (which I love) also adds to the sense of realism. Another great idea is that it limits classes in each team to a certain number. Anyone who has ever played Battlefield and ended up in a squad of snipers will tell you that this is a great addition on its own. I am guessing the objective was to have games, where each class is playing its role and no class is overpowered enough to have everyone spawn as it. It is a good idea. In theory. It is, however, let down considerably in execution, mostly because of the game’s aim to be as realistic as possible.

The main problem that arises out of this sense of realism is that your health is incredibly low. In fact, it’s almost non-existent. To say you die incredibly fast would be an understatement. Being out of cover for more than a second is an invitation to be killed instantly. Combine that with the fact that weapons dish out high damage and the infantry class weapon (the rifle) has a really long range, and it makes for combat that is quite unbalanced. Invariably, it leads to an incredible amount of camping by both teams. Just sitting in one spot and waiting for someone to cross your sightlines doesn’t make for good gameplay. Worse, it completely undermines the idea of having balanced classes.

But there are good sides to this level of realism as well. There is no friend or foe indicator in the game and the only way to tell if the person you are about to fill up with delicious lead is friendly or not is by their uniform, which I love even though it leads to the odd team kill every now and then (friendly fire is, of course, on). I also love the idea that to check the ammo remaining in your clip, you have to hold down the reload key and your soldier ejects the clip and manually has a look before inserting it in again. Beats looking at an ammo counter any day.

The camping, however, isn’t helped by the fact that the map design in the game is pretty hit and miss. Some maps are palatable, but a few of them feature big open areas with little cover, and of course, that leads to even more camping. Spawning as anything with a medium range weapon in those maps becomes pointless. Graphically, it’s passable at best, looking at best like the first wave of UE3 games. That isn’t really a deal-breaker, because this isn’t an AAA game with a multi-million dollar budget. Inexcusable though is the fact that the performance is all over the place. Random frame drops and lock-ups are ever present even after three major patches.

There is also a leveling up system in place, but it never does a good enough job at explaining why you should bother to level up. Not that it matters anyway; the recent patch wiped out all leveling up, achievements and stats and reset the game back to zero. Ironically, the bugs that were present pre-patch still sometimes crop up, leading to random crashes. Thankfully, that’s not really a frequent issue.

But despite those issues, the weapons still almost save the game. The recoil, rate of fire and bullet drop give you an extra layer of skill to master, so getting a kill still feels like a satisfying event. You even have to adjust weapon calibration depending on the distance you are engaging an enemy at. It also helps immensely that a full server of 64 players is usually chaotic fun. But despite all of that, there is an underlying sense that the game is over-complicating things just for the sake of realism (try driving a tank if you don’t believe me). Then again, should a game really try to cater to your inadequacies?

Conclusion

So maybe it really is my fault. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. Maybe a decade of playing polished shooters that gently caress my ego have made me soft and unprepared for the instant death machine that is Red Orchestra 2: Heroes Of Stalingrad. But I did try, Red Orchestra. I tried meeting you halfway. If only you had done the same.

Reviewer’s Rig:
Processor: Intel Core2Duo E6700
Motherboard: Gigabyte
Graphics: Nvidia 250 GTS
RAM: 4 GB
Keyboard: Generic Logitech
Mouse: Logitech MX 518
Sound: Creative Fatality headset
Other input device: Xbox 360, PS3 controller

IVG's Verdict

5/10
  • Fantastic weapon design
  • Large scale warfare
  • Poor performance
  • Limited game modes
  • Pointless single player
  • Poorly balanced multiplayer
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