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Posted on Oct 24, 2011 in Electronic Games

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

By Curtis Szmania

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. PC Game Review. Publisher: Tripwire Interactive. Developer: Tripwire Interactive. $39.99 

Passed Inspection: Immersive single player campaign, several informed tutorials, squad/tank command, large and detailed maps, historically accurate weapons and tanks, minimal HUD for realism, online battles with up to 64 players, an unlocking system for multiplayer, many options available for online hosts/servers.

Failed Basic: Often clumsy gameplay, annoying and unintelligent AI, graphics are lesser than the competition, redundant single player objectives.

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The Eastern Front during World War II was a struggle of idealism, sweat, blood, and exhaustion. There’s only a limited number of FPS games that have delivered the conflict between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to PC gamers, and even fewer that have given players the opportunity to experience the battle from both sides. Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 brought forth this opportunity in 2006, allowing large multiplayer clashes that simulated many different battles of the Eastern Front. But just recently Tripwire Interactive released a sequel to Ostrfront 41-45 called Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. It’s well known that Heroes of Stalingrad has included a single-player campaign which was absent in the first one (though didn’t hurt its reviews). So will this sequel achieve just as high marks as the original, and will it offer gamers the same longevity?

I answered the call to arms by jumping into the single-player campaign (I figured I would first learn the game here before getting into online play) which is extensive, offering about 30 missions. There are two campaigns available: the Axis Campaign, which is the only campaign available at first, and the Allies Campaign, which is unlocked after the Axis Campaign is finished and is naturally enough (for a game situated on the Eastern Front) a Soviet campaign. The first mission of the Axis Campaign is a training mission, or tutorial. Here I learned nearly all the concepts of controlling the infantry soldier: jumping, crouching, running, sprinting, leaning, running while crouched (yeah, that’s right), diving, getting in the prone position, and vaulting over short walls or through window sills. I had to go through an obstacle course–which is always entertaining and immersive–in order to learn how to perform these actions, which was akin to the first couple Call of Duty(s). But it’s discouraging when faced with the necessity of trying to remember how to perform all these movements; during gameplay I often had to refer to the key assignments listed in the game’s “Options” menu for reference. I also became familiar with all the useable weapons (the German versions) from the handgun, bolt-action rifle, submachine gun, portable light-machinegun (on bipod), and stationary light-machinegun (mounted on a tripod).

Key new features come to light during this part, like the adjustable iron sights and blind-firing over walls, as well as less-visible features like realistic ballistic projectories. I noticed immediately that the weapons were very detailed and pains were taken to make them historically accurate. The ability to take cover is also implemented here, similar in technique to Brothers in Arms or Rainbow Six Vegas, adding an intuitive tactical facet to the game. After hurling a couple “potato mashers” I became familiar with the different methods of throwing grenades, which can be done either underhand (short distances) or overhand (long distances). Players also have the capability to “cook” grenades–though not a new feature to FPS—if they don’t want to give the enemy the chance to run away from their thrown explosive.

My first action was in a small village outside Stalingrad called Spartanovka. Before I got my baptism-of-fire, I was briefed on the tactical situation around the village. The briefing discusses the events leading up to the battle, followed by a map of the mission. Here the objectives are discussed in the order of which they will be assigned. For example, I was ordered to take the church within the town, the two housing blocks behind that, and then finally the town hall. We were to clear these areas of enemy personnel. The briefing is a great addition because it gives players a better idea of how they’ll go about assaulting each strongpoint, what approach they’ll take, etc.

Once deployed, I took off running with my men in grey towards the first objective. I noticed immediately this wasn’t like any other World War II FPS; this was much more realistic. While running, German soldiers will carry their weapon in one hand, holding it from the top, grasping the barrel near the sights. I found this unique and also historically accurate. During my sprint towards the church the HUD presented a stamina bar, indicating the stamina I had left in order to continue my run. The HUD is very minimal with only the mini-map a permanent display. Like the stamina bar, most of the HUD appears when it is needed, but one can always press and hold “T” to display the full HUD. This is a great feature for those that play on plasma screens (like me) because it helps prevent image-retention and burn-in. Not to mention, it also keeps more of the screen visible by not having it cluttered with unnecessary graphics.

As I reached the church I was on the lookout for cover, as Ivan was shooting at me from its windows. As mentioned before,the game uses a cover system, but is a little tricky to operate. At times, I was unsure if I was behind cover or not. Also, the button used for taking cover “Left Ctrl” is used for many other things like dressing wounds, resupply and picking-up weapons. What’s more frustrating is that this dilemma can’t be solved in the key assignments of the game’s options because all of these actions are categorized under one key, the “Use” key. There is no way to pick a separate key for taking cover, dressing wounds, etc. Though player movement is a bit more clumsy and difficult, it does project realistic soldier movement during wartime, contrasting with the quicksilver maneuvering found in Call of Duty games.

After players have beaten the Bolsheviks in a couple missions they’ll get promoted to squad leader. Once one gets promoted, they’ll be leading three groups of soldiers: a Rifle Group, an Assault Group, and a Fire Support LMG. Players will be able to give orders to these groups—which number three men each-—like attacking an objective, moving to a place visible to the squad leader, or to follow the squad leader. This feature certainly makes the occasional idiotic AI troop movements a little more bearable. Giving the players this ability to be squad leader sending allied troops around the map makes the battlefield a little more realistic, because they’re now moving around in groups of three using fire-support and performing flanking maneuvers. Before the squad leader promotion is reached friendly troops move about the map in a solitary fashion oblivious to what their comrades are doing. The enemy AI troops move around in this same fashion, throughout the campaign without coordinating movements amongst themselves or performing any type of tactical maneuvers.

After promotion to squad leader, a player can also direct artillery fire anywhere on the map by using binoculars. A huge bonus of having this type of firepower at your fingertips is the destructibility of nearly all buildings. Artillery fire, or even small-arms fire, can destroy fences, stone walls, and windows. But players have more than artillery to control once they get further into the German campaign, they’ll be able to command tanks. After the tank commander promotion is achieved players go through another training mission to learn the workings of the tank. There are four positions available in the tank: Commander, Driver, Hull MG and Gunner. Players can move from position to position within the tank, to take the place of a killed comrade for example. The interior of the tank is also well detailed; instruments and gadgets are portrayed in a realistic manner.

Additional realistic features about this unique FPS include the absence of crosshairs. So in order to aim effectively players must use the iron sights. Another feature is the fire suppression aspect, which works on enemy/friendly units and yourself. With this ability players can lay down concentrated fire on enemy positions, while another squad performs a flanking maneuver. Called fire and movement, the tactic was essentially developed by the stormtroopers during World War I and then adopted by the US military during World War II. Fire suppression is represented through a bar on the HUD for players. So although players can take cover behind objects, they shouldn’t get too comfortable because their fire suppression meter may go up if they attracting enemy fire. Players that suffer from fire suppression will find it difficult to function or maneuver. Morale is also tracked, a very important factor in warfare, and is represented through a morale bar. It is affected when players witness, or are proximal to, the death of friendly soldiers, which gives the same effects as fire suppression (more difficult to maneuver/function).

As mentioned previously, the graphics are focused on detail with an emphasis on historical accuracy. Though they’re not on par with the latest Call of Duty or Battlefield games, it is a huge improvement over the original Red Orchestra. The lighting effects are plenty and the maps are large and full of objects. Big maps are great for FPS’s because they allow for flanking maneuvers and squad dispersion—a good change-up from the FPS’s that lead players down street alleyways and restricted pathways with only one way to approach the enemy. The interiors of buildings are decorated with furniture, ornaments, and other obstacles which can be used for cover during the close-quarters engagements players may face inside.

With over 64 maximum players on each multiplayer map, the online play is immersive and challenging. There are three multiplayer game-modes available with a variety of options for hosts/servers to make customizable games. Firefight is a Team Deathmatch mode where players are spawned randomly and occasionally on maps that are too large for this type of game mode. Territories mode is where players fight for chunks of land, being given two or three objectives at a time. Players are spawned in fixed locations and less frequently within this mode. The third one available is Countdown which is similar to Territories but gives only one life per objective to each player. There is a time limit in this mode, which is good because it limits the amount of time dead players sit around doing nothing, though also limiting the range of strategies teams can use on each map. The many options available to hosts/servers include HUD adjustments and the choice to exclude certain weapons or game modes.

But Multiplayer isn’t without its technical difficulties. Online play offers an unlocking system similar to the latest Call of Duty games, but the feature was broken upon release. A patch has since fixed this problem, unfortunately resetting online players’ scores and stats back to zero. The unlocking system isn’t as robust as the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series, so players won’t eventually be able to become Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando—an unrealistic aspect of the other games, anyway. But players may experience pinging issues (depending on router settings and if Punkbuster is enabled) which will make gameplay jittery, frustrating those who are impatient—especially when trying to use cover. Sound issues may also arise along with occasional CTD’s, Though, in my opinion, the realistic aspects, effect and tracking systems of gameplay more than make up for these incompentencies. Also, Tripwire Interactive has a reputation of fixing game problems and responding to customer inquiries with great speed, so I believe these issues will be addressed in the very near future.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad definitely delivers a much-needed realistic, extensive, and immersive single player campaign. Though it isn’t perfect with its half-brained AI, unfortunate key assignments, and clumsy gameplay, the game does strive to present realistic warfare to the FPS genre. Players will be impressed with the large and detailed maps, historically accurate guns, the squad control feature, and the cover system. But at the same time, graphic enthusiasts may not be impressed when they compare it to the most popular FPS games of today. The best part of the game, and its designed intention, is the online play. With maps for up to 64 players, three different game modes, several realistic settings to choose from, and a stat tracking and unlocking system; the multiplayer gameplay is bound to be a favorite for years to come. Having already surpassed its prequel in total sales within just the first two days of launch, Red Orchestra 2 has a lot of potential and is definitely unique for its genre. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game becomes a classic.

Armchair General Score: 85%

About the Author

Curtis Szmania is an avid reader of military history, a hardcore PC war gamer, and enjoys building and overclocking computers. He reads from a variety of military history books ranging from Ancient Sumeria to the Korean War. He also has a soft spot in his heart for the underdogs in any conflict and is intrigued by a fighting force that overcomes overwhelming odds.

 

3 Comments

  1. Great review,i saw the game yesterday in a shop at i think $68 NZ dollars.So have to save a little now to get it,but also have older pc,so not sure will go straight away too?.

    And interesting to see outsold already the prequel in 2 days,but then how many did the older game sell,millons?.And the new one too then has sold more than that by some?.

    • This game is made by a very small indie developer in Atlanta, Georgia. They’ve been really busy patching the game and have recently released an editor for the game. Allowing the community to create battlefields for online play. The game is getting better and better as it grows older!

  2. Wow, great review. Summed it up quite nicely.

    Keep up the historical wargame reviews please!

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