Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad – PC Game Preview
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. PC Game Preview. Publisher & Developer: Tripwire Interactive.
The shriek of artillery tears through the sky. “Is it ours? Or theirs?” I ponder only for the blink of an eye. It doesn’t matter; if it lands near me I’m gone no matter which side’s commander called it in. I dive inside a building to find shelter and hope the shells pass me by; if not, I’m not sure the flimsy structure will be enough to protect me.
So goes another moment of life in Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. The highly anticipated sequel is approaching release, and I’ve managed to spend a few hours with the game in order learn what’s in store. In short, Red Orchestra 2 keeps the best of what made the original game great, and has added new gameplay that will broaden its appeal to mainstream FPS gamers.
Fans of the original Red Orchestra are going to be pleased. The game is still hardcore; bullets are unforgiving. A single shot to the wrong (or right) area will take out an opponent, and a wound to a limb may or may not be fatal, but may impair performance if you survive. Players can use bandages to heal; failure to do so can result in bleeding out and death in a matter of a few seconds.
…it’s going to replace Call of Duty on my hard drive when I’m looking for a military FPS fix.
Realistic damage isn’t the only feature which sets this game apart from the pack. One of the more innovative concepts introduced in the original game was the use of walls and windows to steady a shot. As the player arrived at a point on the map where a structure could be used to steady aim the player could take advantage of this to reduce the error introduced by breathing. That’s right, aim actually is disrupted by simulating the effects of breathing. Red Orchestra 2 takes this mechanic to a new level, and players may now not only steady their aim, but also “cover” which allows players to take cover behind any available terrain. The advantage of using cover is that a right mouse click pops the gamer in and out of shelter more quickly. Another crazy cool feature is the ability to blind fire from behind cover. While in cover – but without revealing yourself – you simply hit the left mouse button to fire. This allows the player to blind fire over, say, some sandbags, which can be useful when you want to provide covering fire without exposing yourself.
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A picture starts to emerge that Red Orchestra 2 is going to be an iterative sequel of the original game. But the developers at Tripwire are a cagey bunch, and just when you think you can predict where they’re going, they spring a few surprises on you.
Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark
Yes, Red Orchestra 2 is going to have a lot of the features of the original game and improve on them, but there is more to it than just that. There are three major additions to be included in Red Orchestra 2 that place it in an entirely different category of game. First, there will be complete single-player games for both the Soviets and Germans. Second, there are two new multiplayer game modes which will provide different play styles and make the game more appealing to mainstream FPS gamers. Third, there is going to be a cooperative multiplayer campaign.
All of these improvements are welcome. The original Red Orchestra was a multiplayer-only game. Great fun for those of us who love hard core World War II shooters, but the steep learning curve and single type of game (domination) meant that it had an intensely loyal following, but one that wasn’t huge (as in Call of Duty huge). Great as far as it went, it didn’t have broad appeal. With Red Orchestra 2 that may change.
The first thing Tripwire added was a single-player campaign mode, which allows gamers to become accustomed to the style and mechanics before they step out into the multiplayer shark tank. As the reader may have gathered from above, Red Orchestra is not a run-and-gun type of FPS game. The color scheme is demure – players are difficult to identify especially when stationary, and guys that run out in the open without popping a smoke grenade for cover quickly get taken out. Sometimes only a brief muzzle flash will reveal the location of an enemy, and sometimes you never see or hear it coming. With the realistic damage system and emphasis on team play (small unit squad tactics will dominate a disorganized team) the game style becomes quite realistic.
Taking cover behind some rubble. Note the tiny silhouette and spark of light to the right on the rubble next to the building – yeah, that’s a muzzle flash.
Players who don’t thrive on that style of gameplay will find a new casual style of multiplayer game. Called Firefight this is the tried and true Team Deathmatch done Red Orchestra-style. Fragolicious from start to finish, gamers interested in maximum carnage should find it a blast.
A third multiplayer game has been added that ups the ante for hardcore players. Red Orchestra’s original game mode of Domination had a neat twist – there were limited amounts of “reinforcements” or respawns available to a team. A team that wasted its lives without purpose ended up losing quickly. That game, Territory, still exists but a new, even more intense game called Countdown is being added. Here players start with one life. As defenders on the map get taken out they are done for the round. The assaulting team, however, has two waves of “reinforcements” which are triggered by the team’s commander. Reinforcements are simply a trigger to respawn. The game is objective based, and each side takes a turn at assaulting and defending areas on the map. Each side’s success is timed, and the side which assaults the fastest (or defends the longest) wins. The limited number of respawns bring a new strategic twist to a game. The choice as to whether and when to consume a respawn can be a game-winning (or losing) decision. It’s lonely at the top.
A Round Swap in Countdown.
For the techie gamers who follow these things a major change to the game is the upgrade of the game engine. Red Orchestra was based upon the Unreal 2 game engine. Red Orchestra 2 has been written using the Unreal 3 engine. That might be inside baseball to the non-techie gamers, but the short answer is that the game has stepped up a notch, and the new game engine has allowed some new tweaks to be introduced to the franchise.
As mentioned above one of the new tweaks players can enjoy because of the new game engine is the cover system. In addition to that there is a suppression system. It’s nothing elaborate, but if you begin to take fire that comes close but doesn’t hit, the suppression system will kick in and the screen will start to shake and blur just a little to simulate the effect of suppression in combat. The effect isn’t hugely dramatic but it will impede a bit of your aim to simulate the effects of being under fire, and this takes the game one step closer in term of realism.
New ballistics have also been introduced. Bullets will penetrate walls according to the weapon’s firepower; players who suspect someone is behind a brick wall can attack it with a rifle; a submachine gun will typically penetrate through a door. Leading a moving target is always a good idea, and bullets (well, any projectile) will drop over distance. In one game I watched an enemy tank repeatedly fire short of my position while I calmly bracketed his tank by elevating my gun and then brewed him up.
Speaking of tank combat, that has been tinkered with, too. The original Red Orchestra’s tank game may have been a bit too team-oriented. As inviting as the concept sounded, not everyone relished the joy of being someone else’s driver while they took the glory of blasting away at the enemy. Teams that worked together in this fashion had a real edge over solo tankers, but, well, it wasn’t as fun.
Tripwire noted the issue, and has fixed it in Red Orchestra 2. Now the WASD keys will move the tank no matter what position the player is in (driver, gunner, turret). And while each tank’s insides have been painstakingly recreated and drivers can pop their heads out of the tank or button up, it is now much easier to control the tank solo. Gamers who still want to have real people crew some or all of the positions can do so, but it’s no longer a handicap to go solo. Well done, Tripwire!
Red Orchestra 2 introduces the concept of Honor. As the player accumulates experience with weapons he achieves rewards that eventually allow personal statistics to improve. Don’t expect super-hero-like reflexes, but there are small performance improvements to reward persistent gamers. As your skill improves you will be able to aim a bit faster or bring your weapon to bear more quickly. There are a few weapon unlocks so, for instance a sniper may be able to unlock a better scope and the like.
For audiophiles there are new weapon sounds. Each weapon’s bark is distinct, and it doesn’t take long to distinguish between the deceptive purr of the PPSh and the racket of the MP-40. 3D audio – one of my favorite features of any FPS game – features heavily in Red Orchestra 2. Players will get audible cues, but may not often know whether they’re friend or foe. Uncertain though those sounds may be, players ignore them at their peril because much of Red Orchestra 2 is about ambush, surprise, and tactical innovation.
On the technical side, servers will be able to host up to 64 players (32 v 32). Server admins will have a nifty web-based tool to manage game servers in order to adjust settings to make the game easier for starting players or more hard core for long-time players. As can be expected from a game that found its origins as a mod, there is a ton of mod support, and an SDK is expected to be available on release day or shortly thereafter. Cagey modders will be able to create just about anything using Red Orchestra 2’s mod tools, and there are already gleeful whispers of some crazy mods like dinosaurs. Who knows what twisted creativity lurks in the minds of some modders?
Set for release on September 13th, Red Orchestra 2 can’t get here soon enough for me. Red Orchestra 2 is going to deliver an intense, hardcore game that will also have a high quotient of fun for casual FPS fans. Based on what I’ve played so far Red Orchestra 2 is going to dominate wargamers’ hard drives for a very long time to come – and it’s going to replace Call of Duty on my hard drive when I’m looking for a military FPS fix.
About the Author
Jim Zabek’s latest obsession is a steampunk minis game called Dystopian Wars. When he’s not scheming to build more gargantuan Metzger robots for his Dystopian Wars army he can be found playing Red Orchestra 2′s Beta or a wargame like Combat Mission: Beyond Normandy. If he’s not gaming he’s probably really sick, and the best Get Well cards contain either blank checks or a gift certificate to his local game store.