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Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review (PC)

There’s a fine line between an FPS game which feels “original” and one which feels “broken”, and Red Orchestra 2 blurs the line. Killzone 2 was renowned for its heavy, cumbersome feel and its momentum based movement was an acquired taste. In fact, so many gamers complained that the gameplay felt too heavy that the developers made it more responsive and twitchy in a patch two months after its initial release. Thus, Guerilla games admitted that they had misjudged their audience and their game was more “broken” than “original”. With Red Orchestra 2, Tripwire Interactive have taken the sludgy controls of more “realistic” shooters like Killzone and went even further. This is a game that feels so realistic – so much like a simulation – that its like no other FPS game you’ve played. Is this a good thing though?

It certainly doesn’t feel like if for the first few hours that you play. In fact, it never really feels like a satisfying game to play at any point throughout the single player campaign. From the first moment the game feels buggy and rough and you consistently feel like your running through treacle. This is the very opposite of modern FPS games like Modern Warfare or Battlefield where you’re movement is slick and responsive. While many may see Red Orchestra’s commitment to realistic character movement to be welcome, this isn’t like Rainbow Six or even ArmA. You never feel like a trained (but human) soldier. Instead, you feel about as useful on a battlefield as you would be in real life. In other words, you’re slow, awkward, fragile and hopelessly ill-equipped for war.

It’s not just that your physicality and human movement is modelled, its that its modelled badly. In the new Beta for Battlefield 3 you vault over cover physically but lithely, and although you feel like a person rather than a floating camera viewpoint, your movement resembles Faith’s from Mirrors Edge. In Red Orchestra 2 though, you painfully clamber over shallow walls and clumsily move from cover to cover. Once you make it to safety, you encounter a cover system that’s horribly awkward to use. Unlike something like Rainbow 6 or the recent, excellent cover system in Dues Ex it doesn’t switch you out to a third person view. Instead you become “sticky”, popping out from cover when you hold the aim button. Holding the aim button itself is something you’ll be doing a lot as the game offers no cross hairs of any sort. Its iron sights or guesswork, so aiming is slow and tricky, just like real life.

As a squad based shooter the game involves some simple command-based tactics. You are able to order troops to move to particular areas, assault designated targets or follow you into battle. While this may have worked well in a game with great AI, this is not Red Orchestra 2’s strong point. Both the ally and enemy behaviour is terrible with uniformly ridiculous tactics present on all sides. When not charging into enemy fire, your troops will be taking cover on the wrong side of terrain. The enemies meanwhile are completely inconsistent as they ignore you one minute before shooting you from the opposite end of the map the next. In Red Orchestra 2 you will die often, but its rarely for any reason you can fathom. Seldom do the enemies that face you pose a threat, rather its enemies you never see, hear or could possibly anticipate. With each death you return to the fight in the body of a new troop member of your squad with a seemingly random weapon load out. The flow of the game is all over the place as you hop from body to body with no real understanding of how to contribute to the battle and frequently your team seems to take objectives and push the enemy back with little real input from your own efforts.

When you dip into the multiplayer you begin to see how much of a last minute addition the singleplayer was. You come to understand that its really just the multiplayer with some thin storyline and 2D animated cut scenes thrown in between the multiplayer levels. Although those cut scenes may discuss capturing the church or storming the hospital they really just set the scene for skirmish matches where you can respawn each time you die and you play against poorly programmed bots.

The multiplayer itself is definitely an acquired taste, but its got a unique appeal of its own. The very antithesis of Modern Warfare, long minutes are spent moving through the ruined landscapes scanning every window and doorway before a shot from a mile away from a shooter you didn’t see kills you dead. It’s a brutal but rewardingly tense experience where a single kill is as satisfying as nuking a whole level in other shooters. The feeling of vulnerability and exposure is palpable.

Even when you become immersed in the game though, little frustrations abound. Pressing the jump button when you are crouching does nothing, instead you have to “un-crouch”. In fact the controls as a whole are a little too comprehensive, frequently requiring as many complex combinations as a flight sim. Tripwire say that Red Orchestra 2 is a game for PC gamers and it certainly feels that way.

The movement is sticky and you constantly get attached to scenery or lodged on random branches or low walls. When this causes you to be killed by a sniper a mile away and forces you to trek back to the front lines you’d be a patient gamer indeed if you didn’t instantly rage quit. Just like the singeplayer game, the combat all seems to take place at long range, and often with guns that feel ill equipped to hit anything that’s far away. The weapon balance doesn’t seem great either and while I freely admit to never getting particularly good at the game, there wasn’t much help offered to the new player to make anything more inviting.

As a developer struggling to make the transition from Mod to full Unreal-powered retail game, many of Red Orchestra’s problems are clear. At the same time, there is potential here. The game may be buggy, the singleplayer may be terrible and it may look like a dog on older systems, but there’s just enough that’s fundamentally different about it that its worth playing. During the right game, with a rig capable of showing off some of the prettier effects and with the right team mates, this can be a tense and involving game. The rest of the time though you will be wishing they had just put a bit more thought into the gameplay and a lot more polish on everything. Red Orchestra 3 then?

And one last thing developers. If you’re going to make me play as the Nazi’s in a game, let me play as the Allies too without unlocking their campaign first. Playing as the most evil regime history has ever known should be an option not a requirement.

5 random, unexplained deaths out of 10

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