Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
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In the Summer of 1942 the elite forces of the Wehrmacht started the attack on the city of Stalingrad – the major strategic location on the Volga river, which would severely cripple Soviet defenses if captured. The Red Army understood the situation too and was doing everything to stop the enemy from taking the city – one of the biggest and the most important battles of WW2 had started, which became a major turning point in a whole war.
At the start of the 21st century, WW2 became a very popular trend in video games, especially so in first person shooters. Soon every big publisher wanted to have their WW2 FPS on the market in massive amounts, which by 2006 led the setting to being over saturated and less interesting for the gamers, as all those games were very similar. By that time it seemed that any future WW2 shooter would have only minimal differences from all the others, but some people were thinking in a different way.
During those times, a small mod team decided to enter an Unreal Tournament modding contest with their WW2 FPS mod, which was quite different from most games on the market. Red Orchestra: Combined Arms didn't aim for being a Hollywood film, it aimed for realistic multiplayer. That team won the contest and made their own company after that – Tripwire Interactive. Their first work as a company – improving on their original project, creating a standalone Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45. Although 2006 was full of similar WW2 games, Red Orchestra was released as still unique in its realistic WW2 gameplay, although it wasn't as good looking as high-budget titles. After the success of first RO game and Killing Floor, Tripwire has decided to take their time and effort to make a new and improved Red Orchestra title – Heroes of Stalingrad. Let's look at the result of their long work.
Quick running, bullets whooshing around, the cannonade in the distance, nerves at the limit – manhole at last, quick dive for some safety, now there is some time to try to find and hit the enemy. The multiplayer matches in Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad are intense and brutal. Realistic game mechanics mean no regenerating health, no medpacks and almost certain death even from a single bullet. Some wounds don't kill instantly, but produce bleeding wounds which have to be bandaged quickly, otherwise long death from bleed out will happen when everything dips to black while you helplessly pull the trigger for the last time. There won't be a moment in this game when you feel like some terminator killing machine, you always feel as human in a dangerous zone.
War is brutal
Red Orchestra 2 is a class based multiplayer game with several game modes. One of them being Territory, where you have to capture zones of the map to win, in some maps both teams try to take the whole map, while in others there is an attackers/defenders configuration. Another one is Countdown – where both teams have one life per objective with attackers being able to call a wave of reinforcements (respawn) several times during one match. While those two modes enforce class limits, the last one – Firefight AKA team deathmatch has no class limits and random spawns. Even when almost all classes are full, there is enough Mosins and Karabiners for everybody.
The great war requires a lot of people, and the game gives that, supporting up to 64 players on a server. Most maps are big enough for that and also have both horizontal and vertical scaling for 16 and 32 player servers like in old Battlefield games. To help such teams remain organised there is a chain of command via several squad leaders and commander, which can give orders and provide cover using smoke grenades. The commander is also able to call a recon plane to find exposed enemies and call for artillery support, ranging from simple mortars to the massive "Katyusha" rocket barrages. Each shot, grenade throw and explosive attack must be taken with care, however – weapons hurt everybody, including your comrades, so knowing where your team is and being able to quickly discern friend or foe is crucial for success.
The weapons and their handling win a lot from the game's realistic approach – each of them feels differently and forces you to use it in correct way to succeed. Unlike almost all other games, the weapons are really there – they react to environment , can't clip through walls and you can put them on ledges to reduce the shaking for more precise shots. First person cover system allows you to choose how much to expose seamlessly while aiming. Together with good old lean, crouch and prone this allows you control over your position rivaled only by simulators like ARMA. LMGs work very well with this system, not allowing you to act like Rambo when not mounted due to recoil, while allowing big freedom of rotation while being fixed on a tripod.
Sniper rifles have iron sights and 3D scope
Another interesting feature which comes as part of historical accuracy – sniper rifle iron sights. There were no specialised sniper rifles during WW2, only the standard rifles with a scope attached, leaving iron sights intact. Switching to them during game is helpful when an enemy appears close to your position or you're relocating. All guns and tank weapons also have a distance dial, where you can just set sights for some distance to help adjust the aim for bullet drop. The reloading is also a bit tricky, as only bolt action rifle load bullet by bullet, when you use magazines, you don't just have some bullet pool, partially empty magazines remain in your inventory and can be used later. There is no ammo counter, the only way to check how much ammo is left , is to take the magazine into hand and get an estimate of its weight.
There is an unlocks system in Standard and Action game modes based on both the class and weapon experience. The unlocks include bayonets, different magazines, fire selection modes, etc as well as other weapons. Long-time players will have the better equipment than new ones, so leveling fans will be happy.
Last, but not the least – big boys vehicles, tanks. Currently there are only 2 tanks in game – Soviet T-34 and German Panzer IV, but quality comes well over quantity here. Each tank is modeled in very good detail from outside and inside, with many different parts considered, which affects its performance in the battle. Sitting at any position inside the tank allows several positions and viewpoints, which exist in that tank. All crew members are on their positions and AI controls them when humans for those roles are absent, player can quickly switch into any tank crewman, when they are alive, but have to actually crawl inside the tank when they die. The damage model is very detailed, allowing hits to different elements with their consequences and appropriate armour reaction. No jumping in or out of the tank however – spawn with a tank, die with a tank. With few more tanks, this game may become the best tank simulator ever.
Tank interior is fully modeled
Calling RO2: Heroes of Stalingrad a multiplayer game is completely correct from some point of view, even though there is a Single Player button in main menu leading to German and Soviet campaigns. Those campaigns even have story, shown via cutscenes (with nice artwork) between battles, which are narrated from the solder diaries and propaganda lines. However the missions themselves are just sets of multiplayer map variations with bots instead of other players. Some missions in German campaign are tutorials on the movement, combat and commanding roles, which give good idea about standard German equipment. Campaigns are in chronological order by story, so German one must be completed before the Soviet campaign can be started.
The quality of bot matches is a mixed bag and map dependant. On some maps, bots take correct positions and fight almost like novice players which leads to a nice SP mission. However, on other locations, it seems that some "imbecile switch" turns on in the bots and they start acting in unimaginable ways, ignoring all the orders you give them. Enemy bots fare a bit better as they don't try to base their actions just on player's location. Even such problematic behaviour is still an improvement compared to Ostfront ones. All in all, the SP is worth to play on easier difficulty levels for new players to familiarise with maps and game mechanics.
- Gameplay: Realistic WW2 multiplayer FPS
- Arms: Authentic weapons and maps
- Audio: Quality sound effects
- Voice work: Authentic voice work with native voices present
- Shooting: Correct ballistics and weapon behaviour
- Agility: Detailed position control & First Person cover system
- Campaign: Bot skirmish based Single-player
- Community: Relatively small community, lots of online servers are filled with bots
Nowadays gamers are overrun with modern day shooters, before this the FPS marketplace was awash with World War 2 shooters, and boy does it feel good to be back. It’s been too long since I virtually felt the heavy, cold wood of a Mosin Nagant rifle in my virtual hands, and it has never felt so good. Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is a no holes barred, gritty, realistic WW2 shooter and is arguably as close to a real war as you would want to get. The singleplayer portion of the game acts more as a tutorial for the main, multiplayer section. Based on singleplayer alone RO2:HoS suffers from some terrible AI and is down right infuriating at times but head online and the shooter comes into its own.
Online users can expect 3 different game types and 7 classes to choose from, including hero versions of some classes. The graphics, at least on full settings, are quite impressive. Rooms are littered with debris, smoke billows out of car and tank wrecks, and shadows cast a forboding atmosphere over the darker battlefields. The audio quality is top notch, with all weapons sounding authentic and booming. And the eerie silence after hearing footsteps on the wooden floorboards of the building you’re in, followed by silence is second to none. Overall the difficult, dark, daunting WW2 experience has the potential to be one of the best, if not the best WW2 multiplayer game of its type. It demands patience, concentration and teamwork and I wouldn’t have it any other way.