Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review
Developer: Tripwire Interactive / Publisher: 1C Company / Played on: PC / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence]
I need to establish some points before I talk about Red Orchestra 2. First, I have the utmost respect for mod teams that move on to make full games. I feel there’s no greater measure of talent and perseverance than to cross that finish line on your first game. Second, I personally have enjoyed many ultra realistic shooters. I spent hours with Day of Defeat and the original Operation Flashpoint and loved them both.
Now that I’ve established that, I’ve rarely had less fun playing a game than with Red Orchestra 2. It has nothing to offer a gamer that hasn’t spent the last five years playing the original Red Orchestra and makes virtually no attempt to accommodate new players. On top of being merely unapproachable, severe gameplay and technical problems mean that this game in no way justifies its surprisingly high price.
Gameplay and Mutiplayer
I can appreciate RO2’s goal of recreating realistic World War II combat, but regardless of how realistic it may be, it’s simply not fun unless you’re willing to invest an inordinate amount of time both learning the game and excusing its numerous shortcomings. Red Orchestra 2’s single-player campaign focuses on the Battle of Stalingrad in Russia, but is really just a series of repurposed multiplayer maps with unimpressive AI, multiplayer is the game’s only real substance. Go by the numbers and Red Orchestra 2’s content appears substantial enough: three modes (excluding the campaign), around a dozen maps, nine player classes, and realistically modeled tanks with all the complexity of a full-on tank simulator. Despite that list of content, you’re most likely to find servers running Territory Control on one of three open, sniper-haven maps.
Territory Control is the game’s de facto main mode and basically breaks down like this: everyone snaps up all the sniper classes and camps out overlooking the main paths of travel down the map. If you poke your head out for just a second, you will die (maybe two seconds if you’re lucky). Most players are content to sit still in one spot for the entire round and wait for more aggressive players to wander into their field of view where they are easy pickings. This means that matches in RO2 devolve into duels of patience, or to put it another way, who can play the game less. I admit there’s a certain tension to slowly and safely working your way across a map, but that tension has no payoff when you get sniped instantly after crawling through shrubs for five minutes. On rare occasions you might win one of these duels of patience, but they are never worth the time invested. On top of that, there’s no effective anti-sniper solution in the game. Depending on the server’s realism settings, the game’s camera will pan to show you the direction from which you’ve been shot, but more often than not I’d be staring at view-obstructing level geometry like hills or walls than seeing who actually killed me… and that’s only if the server has that feature turned on.
I had slightly more fun in Team Deathmatch, which is more close-quarters action on smaller maps. Snipers are still a problem here, but at least you feel moderately empowered to maneuver behind them or use functional cover. Even when not plagued by snipers, basic gameplay issues permeate. Multiple times I spawned right in front of enemies, which of course led to immediate death. There’s a laundry list of other problems: sometimes you spawn staring directly at a wall, kills take three-to-four seconds to show up in the kill list (which causes you to second guess if you hit anyone or not), when you crawl in prone position you clip through walls so much you can see right through them… I could go on and on.
The game employs a progression/unlock system that grants you new weapons and minor stat buffs as you play. However, the game does a terrible job communicating what these unlocks are, how to get them, or why you should care. Pop-ups during gameplay will tell you if you have leveled up during a match, but it doesn’t say in what, how, or why. In fact, I didn’t know that leveling did anything for the first three or four hours until I dug through the pages of my profile. Here it shows you the equipment you could unlock, but only refers to it by text. Unlike the players I encountered who had adopted Russian names for the sake of role playing, I don’t have an intimate knowledge of WWII weaponry. Is the AX-24 (I just made that up) a pistol? Is it better than what I have? It could be a tank I guess? I suppose I could tab out of the game and read about it on Wikipedia, but I was already long past the giving-a-shit cutoff.
While I know that apologists will excuse Red Orchestra 2’s controls as complicated for the sake of realism, they’re straight up bad. The first of many problems is that there are simply too many states to toggle. You can crouch, snap to cover, bring up the iron sights, and even hold a button to steady your aim. That’s four buttons in sequence you have to hit to aim optimally, and four MORE you have to hit just to return to a basic stance. Say you’re hunkered in cover and a grenade drops at your feet — you can’t just bolt out of there, which is just absurd. I died several times because I was crouching or aiming or some bullcrap and I just couldn’t move.
There are countless other issues that make RO2 needlessly frustrating to play. Say you accidentally hit Y and open a chat window. You can’t just hit escape to cancel the text input, and it nullifies any keyboard input while the text chat is open. You have to hit enter to stop the text chat, which means that every five minutes some player says something similar to “wwwwwwwwaaaaadddaaaaaawwwws.” The game’s animation is extremely unpredictable as well. I can’t count the number of times I saw an enemy and clicked my mouse, only to have my gun not fire because I was in the middle of some walking animation that made my gun inoperable for some reason. Aiming over cover is a huge hassle as well, as the game attempts to dynamically shift your gun around uneven objects. That’s fine, except the gun will move drastically and create entire blind spots. Move it a pixel up, and the gun will completely change angle. One pixel down, and it will drastically pop back down. In several instances I’d try to shoot an enemy over cover but I couldn’t because the gun would just not aim where I pointed it. This game controls like a chunky, half-complete mod from 2002. That makes sense given the game’s development, but it’s inexcusable at retail price.
Graphics and Sound
Red Orchestra 2 is not a looker, though it does have some nice touches. Light rays cast from the sun and flaming barrels are particularly impressive, but everything else is drab and unimpressive. One could make the argument that the dilapidated and war-torn Russian environments depicted in Red Orchestra 2 aren’t all that impressive in real life, but from textures to geometry, the graphics are on scale with a game four or five years old. Animation is jerky and the game’s menus are filled with oddly warped text, which again, looks like a mod from years past.
Audio, on the other hand, is impressive. Gunshots and gunfights sound incredible whether you’re in the thick of battle or hearing the combat from a distance. The game’s music is fantastic as well, though it’s used extremely poorly. Sorrowful violin music plays throughout every match without interruption, which ends up being grating and aggravating. It’s also a strange betrayal of the game’s constant pursuit of realism, as I’m fairly sure mournful war anthems didn’t blanket WWII battlefields in real life.
The most fun I had in Red Orchestra 2 was trolling the game’s text chat. It reminds me a lot of League of Legends, in that it has developed a cult following and is only interested in catering to that audience at the expense of legitimate improvements made to control and presentation in the years since its inception. I can appreciate the goals and gumption of the game’s small development staff, but the game is just painful to play. If you’re the target demographic for this game, odds are you already bought it and you don’t care what I have to say. If you haven’t, there are about a million better uses of your time and money.
4 / 10