World War II holds a peculiar place in history, being both a time of great brutality and heroism that makes it an incredibly rich historical period to tell stories in. TV shows, novels, movies and video games have had a tendency to create a sense of grandeur and horror, often attempting to recreate the grand battles, artillery explosions and relentless fighting that occurred on the battlefield. While one might argue that the setting has lessened in popularity in the past few years, Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is an entirely different sort of video game than one would expect from the first-person shooter genre and from World War 2. Based in Roswell, GA, Tripwire Interactive released Red Orchestra 2 as a sequel to Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45.
Where as most shooters such as the Call of Duty and Halo series tend to be thrilling, orchestrated battlefields where you take on the role of one hero, involving hordes of enemies, guns and regenerating health, Red Orchestra 2 takes the opposite approach. One bullet will kill you, enemies are hiding in wait everywhere and running right into the middle of a firefight will more often than not get you and your squad wiped out. There is no counter that tells you how much ammunition you have left, and being in a tank simply means you are simply riding shotgun in a moving metal coffin if you aren’t smart about it.
To be more specific however, Red Orchestra 2 is missing many of the ‘traditional’ elements of similar games that makes it initially difficult and rather frustrating to play. This is a patient man’s shooter, with tactical thinking required to complete a level that takes into account the wide range of options and some simple, but useful squad commands at your disposal. The single-player portion of the game has two campaigns that cover both the German and Russian perspectives during the battle for the Eastern Front, with short tutorial levels that pop up between missions. Most of the story is told on a broad scale of the campaign during video cutscenes, rather than attaching a name and face to your particular character. The entire game is built around multiplayer however, which makes the campaign missions equivalent to playing an online game full of computer opponents rather than other players. While these experiences aren’t terribly memorable, they do serve to teach players how to work in online battles.
Adding to the learning curve is the inclusion of realistic elements like bullet drop and adjustable sights. The cover system implemented here feels like it works effectively, keeping players out of harm’s way until they pop up to fire. There is a lot to account for when playing this game, but after one or two battles, something just clicks into place that lets you adjust to the sharp differences. Entering a crowded online match can be incredibly fun when there are up to sixty-four players running around in squads, carrying out their individual roles over particularly large maps. Commander and squad leader roles are vital for calling in artillery and recon planes, and there are tools to remove underperforming players or otherwise prevent griefing. An experience and weapon leveling system are also in place to keep track of players’ multiplayer progress, unlocking weapons and upgrades over time.
Vehicles are also available in the form of tanks, though utilizing one of these metal behemoths requires multiple players and some teamwork to be effective. Despite the armor and heavy guns these bring onto battlefields, they can be shockingly vulnerable if they are unsupported or outmanuvered, as the battles are ultimately decided by foot soldiers rather than heavy armor.
The graphics can be pretty most of the time, and many buildings can be demolished with enough explosions, yet there are some glaring issues to be addressed. Frame rates can drop unexpectedly, there are clipping issues and the game crashes to desktop on odd occasions. These bugs aren’t especially game breaking, but are annoyances that Tripwire Interactive should address in the near future. While DLC and expansions are being planned to keep the experience fresh for players, one important point to note is that Red Orchestra 2 supports player mods, a feature that too few game developers include these days.
The bugs and steep learning curve are considerable hurdles to overcome, but Red Orchestra 2 is a welcome addition to the genre of first-person shooters, bearing unique qualities that set it apart from the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield. This locally-produced gem has its rough edges in its current state, but it is worthy of considerable interest for players who are tired playing identical shooter games and may develop into a even better gameplay experience over time.