Game Review: Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
Release: Sept 13th 2011
Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Available Platforms: PC only
Players: Single & Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: Mature
Website: Tripwire Interactive
This review will be a little different than our normal format here at Platform Nation. We feel that Red Orchestra 2 players have such differing opinions and experiences that the game deserves two points of view on our review of it. So without further ado, I will be reviewing this with Platform Nation’s very own Vincent Lynch.
While downloading this on Steam I was getting very excited about it. I’d seen the screenshots and the trailers and expected nothing less than a brilliant shooter that only a PC could power comfortably.
What a fool I was.
As I loaded the game up I saw that it had not one, but two campaigns. The first had me playing as Axis (are we allowed to say Nazi anymore?) and the second campaign had me playing as a Russian. Both of these sounded like they would be really interesting. I expected the Axis campaign to humanise the soldiers who fought for Hitler, to portray them as the young men that they were, with lives back home. That didn’t happen.
What did happen was a poorly scripted black and white movie between each level that told no real story and gave me no real incentive to complete my objectives other than the fact that they were there to complete. It just all felt so pointless without any narrative. Now I know that this hearkens back to old school shooters when the objective was to just shoot whatever crosses your path, but we expect more as gamers these days. These are the days where games tell stories as well as delivering some kick-ass gameplay. These are the days when it’s not enough to just run and gun, we need motivation, character development and damn it, we need to know why we should take warehouse #1.
Red Orchestra 2 gives us none of that. In fact, it is so obviously not interested in any kind of narrative, that when I turned to my AI team-mate, I saw his name was Fritz6.
I got so bored that I made up my own stories. You see, Fritz6 had a young sweetheart in Canada who he had to leave and answer the call back to the Fatherland so that he could fight for his country. He still wrote to her though and when a bullet came out of nowhere and ripped through his chest, he gave me a bloodstained letter, asking me to promise that I would send it to his sweetheart. I told him I would send it. Then I ran into the middle of warehouse #1, guns blazing with vengeance on my mind – and promptly got my fool head blown off by a bullet from unknown origin.
My spirit then rose from my body and suddenly I became Fritz7, machine gunner.
It’s awful. Single player is simply multiplayer maps populated with bots and passed off as a campaign. I felt insulted.
The goals aren’t defined very well, making it easy to lose your team and end up on the wrong end of the map picking edelweiss and scratching your ass while the fritz bots do all the work.
Dying in Red Orchestra is brutal and often feels unfair, although I’m sure it also felt that way in real war so I won’t complain too much about it but it does spoil the fun somewhat.
While I get annoyed from dying I never feel as if it’s unfair. In other shooters like Call of Duty I get frustrated to no end when people get kills by using “dolphin diving” and other exploits to gain the upper hand. But in Red Orchestra 2 everything feels so balanced, and most often I find my deaths are due to my own impatience. If I had crawled across the street instead of trying to make some half-witted attempt to run head on into enemy machine guns I might still be alive…
The guns in Red Orchestra are great though, and shooting feels good. There is also a distinct lack of HUD with ammo information etc which I found refreshing as it made me keep checking my ammo situation before I took a shot. The graphics are also nice to look at, albeit a little bare in some places. The main problem is that the graphics are so badly optimised that a powerful system is needed to get everything running smoothly on ultra.
I was quickly introduced to the Team command system after proving my worth in the first mission and being promoted. I can honestly say that I’ve never played with a system that is less intuitive than Red Orchestra 2’s clunky team command ‘dial’. I told a couple of Fritz bots to take cover behind a wall and they ran in front of it, getting themselves ripped apart by bullets in the process. I asked a couple of other Fritz bots to attack an area so that it would flush out some Russians but they ran around like idiots. It felt like my whole AI team had just arrived on the short bus and after battling with the system in the first place, I really didn’t appreciate that.
In the end I just gave up with telling Fritz bots what to do and just followed them into battle.
It’s a tradition for PC games to tack on multiplayer in these situations. Only now in modern Western game design are we seeing an emphasis on both singleplayer and multiplayer in franchises that were historically based around online play (such as Bad Company 2). Classics like Unreal Tournament, Battlefield, and many other series’ usually featured single-player modes that were just meant for practicing, and Red Orchestra 2 is no exception. In many ways Red Orchestra 2 does not feel modern at all; instead it comes much closer to capturing the essence of 90’s PC shooters. The original game was solely multiplayer and that is all I expected from the sequel. It is true that the single-player in this game is very lacking, and I experienced many of the same problems as Paul. I too had soldiers running to cover on the wrong side of a fence or wall. They also seemed to ignore orders to hold position or follow me, and often I felt that most of the mission objectives were being completed by them and not by me. But I don’t want to punish the game for including a singleplayer, even if it is fairly lacking. What I did find quite questionable though was the lack of a multiplayer tutorial. The initial missions of the singleplayer teach you basics, such as aiming and taking cover. But no where are the modes or mechanics of the multiplayer explained, such as what you should be doing as a Squad Leader or how weapon encumberment works.
I loved the (now) old school shooters of the ‘90’s and even though some games had a non-existent singleplayer and an amazing multiplayer, there were others that had both. Games such as Medal of Honour: Allied Assault (a game which stole a lot of hours from me) paved the way for the games of today, showing that you can have a great story and still leave room for brilliant multiplayer action. Truly this was the evolution of modern day gaming. I have no problems with a game being solely based around multiplayer, my problem is being tempted with not one but TWO singleplayer campaigns that turn out to be rubbish. Paying customers should expect more these days.
After my awful experiences with Red Orchestra 2’s single player campaigns, I soldiered on with a very British stiff upper lip and delved into Multiplayer. This game is obviously multiplayer focused so what could go wrong? Surely this is where I would be wooed by the genius work that Tripwire had put into the Unreal engine.
Most of the time, the game would crash when I tried refreshing the server list which never seemed to appear for me. It told me that there were thousands of people playing but no servers. I read somewhere that restarting the game helped sometimes and so I kept trying this until eventually I found a server, started the game and got shot by some idiot miles away from me who was spraying a submachine gun wildly and getting lucky pot-shots that killed way too easily. Hardly balanced, I thought, but carried on, hoping it was just a fluke.
Then I was killed multiple times by spawn campers – in fact, the amount of spawn campers sickened me. Even though the game has Punkbuster protection, it sure doesn’t bust spawn camping punks. Yes, I am bitter.
Vince: I did not have as many technical problems as Paul, but that’s not to say I didn’t have any. In fact I had a lot. Sound cutting out completely (even after the recent patch that supposedly fixed it), random freezing and crashing, stuttering, and overall horrid performance. On my 8800GT with almost all settings at low the game still struggles to stay at 30fps, and this isn’t some proprietary engine pushing state of the art effects, this is Unreal Engine 3, an engine so scalable it’s been ported to the iPhone. But somehow Red Orchestra 2, which does nothing notable in the graphics department – even on higher settings, can’t manage to run properly on high spec computers.
However when the game is working smoothly it is simply fantastic. Many realistic shooters fail to blend realism with fun properly. It may be realistic to walk a mile only to be taken out by an enemy you never saw, but it is certainly not fun. The original Red Orchestra suffered similar problems, often straying too far towards realism and making it incredibly hard for new players to get into the game. Red Orchestra 2, however, feels more refined, almost perfected, when it comes to mechanics. The cover system works smoother and more consistently, and is also easier to use. No longer do you have to position your gun in the perfect way to get it to stabilize. Aiming mechanics have also expanded, but at the same time, have become easier to learn. You can adjust sights for long-range shots and even switch between iron sights and scopes, and a new secondary zoom gives players a higher chance to be accurate. More importantly these new mechanics add depth to the combat without being exploitable. Running off Unreal Engine 2, Red Orchestra’s mechanics felt shoe-horned in; the game was playable, but it was certainly jittery. The additional experience and development time given to Red Orchestra 2 has helped fix those problems mostly, though it’s obvious the game still wasn’t given enough time. Certain bugs extend past just poor optimization, the most annoying being the bugged healing system and unintentional gun jamming. By default Left-Control is bound to be the button for healing, entering cover, and picking up weapons, and while you can change that to another button your cannot separate the functions. This leads to unavoidable deaths when you are trying to patch a wound, yet instead you keep exchanging your weapon with your dead comrades’. As far as I am aware, Red Orchestra 2 does not simulate gun jamming, yet many times when you spawn your gun will fail to fire for the first shot. The first patch was released earlier this week, but it failed to fix half the problems it claimed to address, making me wary of how long it will take to work out all the problems with this game.
The thing is, when Red Orchestra 2’s multiplayer works, it works brilliantly and I get these short moments of clarity where I can see the game as the stunning, hectic and immense experience that it’s supposed to be. The other 98% of the time I see a broken game that was rushed out. It’s such a shame.
I think the game works brilliantly much more often. Sure it’s annoying when the game crashes unexpectedly, or you spend the majority of the match looking at the respawn timer. But I was enjoying myself far more often than I was being annoyed. I don’t want to gloat, but I usually find myself very close to the top of the scoreboard, which I think is a major contributing factor to my enjoyment. Red Orchestra 2 is a great game, but it’s not for casual players. If you don’t have time to invest in the game then it’s probably worth waiting until you can. It takes a lot of practice, slow-methodical movement, and quick reaction time to get good, but when you do it’s worth it. The satisfaction I get from taking out a enemy with a single rifle shot from 250 meters away, or from cleaning out a whole enemy building on a hot streak is unmatched by any other game. Red Orchestra reminds me how much impact one soldier can have, and makes that feeling a reality in the game. Knowing a round was won due to your efforts is extremely gratifying and no other modern shooter gives me the same level of fun.
For those thinking of buying this game, I would suggest you wait a while and see if it gets fixed because it should never have been released in this state. It’s like paying to play an open Alpha. The graphics are so poorly optimised that a powerhouse of a system is needed and even then it can chug slightly. Anyone with a low to mid range system will have lots of problems, I had enough of my own running it on a 5890 complemented by a quad core processer and 8gb of DDR3. If you read the Tripwire forums, you’ll see that many, many people are also having lots of problems with this game.
Be ready to deal with bugs and frustrating deaths when you play Red Orchestra 2. In a way, despite all the efforts made to make this sequel more player-friendly, it’s still completely unapproachable for many people. If you like the fast-paced action of Call of Duty or Battlefield: Bad Company then this probably isn’t for you. However if it sounds fun to slowly crawl across a snowy wasteland to take out one well barricaded machine-gunner, then go buy Red Orchestra 2 now.
The Question now is, which review do you, the reader, agree with?
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We hope that you have enjoyed this Head 2 Head.