By Mike Bezek
We all need a little perspective in our lives. It’s something that allows us to improve our perceptions and bring understanding to the misinformed. In today’s world, being placed in the shoes of the elite British SAS or typical Army grunts is the typical way to go in any warfare game. But in the name of perspective, Red Orchestra 2 places you behind the carbine of Nazi soldiers during the Battle Of Stalingrad, which is a stark contrast to the norm. The focus here is realism, as being shot more than once is most likely death. But just like war itself, Red Orchestra 2 eats up the newbies, services the veterans, and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to the uninitiated.
Red Orchestra 2 takes places during what is considered to be the turning point of World War II: The Battle Of Stalingrad. You are a field commander of a small platoon of soldiers that engages petty targets in a cat and mouse game of flushing “Ivan” out of his hiding spots and capturing objectives while leading your soldiers to victory. This looks great on paper, but in practice, it falls flat on its face. The main problem that I had when first coming into this was that I had not played the previous iteration, which now seems paramount in the ability to play this game without frustration. Besides the quick introduction to movement & and guide on how to place a shot and line up my sights, the rest of the game is up to you to figure out.
The first few missions of the game will introduce you to the game’s functions – oh, and also how quickly you will die. For example, not even 3 seconds into a mission, an air strike was dropped on my entire squad, killing everyone and giving me an instant game over. In my attempt to persevere, I discovered that my allies happened to spend a lot of time shouting and screaming at targets that I could not see, and the information given was of little to no help. When my fellow Nazi soldiers weren’t shouting random phrases, they liked to take long vacations running in circles and getting stuck in the various trenches that are spread throughout the maps. This is where my aggravation started to set in.
When you die, you automatically shift to any nearby unit after a few seconds, and it is up to you to make sense of what exactly is going on when you shift. Countless times I have respawned as a unit that is rushing blindly towards enemy fire, which leaves me no time to react. Other times, I am dropped into a soldier who is staring at a wall by himself far away from battle or I get placed in one of the two soldiers who have been running into each other for 2 minutes whilst in a trench.
Pitiful AI in a game that focuses on squad-based gameplay is a huge misstep on the developer’s part, and it shows through in the command portion of the game. You are given, with little explanation, a command wheel that allows you to give orders to specific units of your squad. Attacking, defending, ordering air strikes and capturing objectives are available at all times to be used at your disposal. What would really help this command aspect is if my subordinates would listen to the orders given, instead of running blindly into a building after I command everyone to follow me. The system is iffy at best because squadmates randomly decide to go off and do what they want unless you direct them with the click-to-move tool and drag them along with you. While I do realize that realistic combat situations employ this piecemeal movement tactic, all the fun is sucked away when you must rely on it to prevent your squad from attempting suicide at every turn.
Let me paint a picture for you: there is a mission in the game where you have to capture multiple floors of a large building in order to secure it. After managing to overcome the second floor, I commanded my unit to attack the next objective, which is the 4th floor. I arrive to a hail of gunfire and manage to sprint to a small corner where I could snipe away at my enemies. After a few minutes of intense exchanges of heated metal, I noticed something: I was alone. I quickly escaped back to the lower levels to find my squadron either looking out the window or running in circles around the room. It was as if the AI was confused about the altitude of the building’s multiple levels. There were no enemies to kill on their floor, so they wandered aimlessly. I was eventually able to coerce them out of the room with promises of candy and lollipops, but this is unacceptable in a game mechanic.
War Ain’t Pretty
Russia is not known to be a very artistic or creative place, as the communistic ideology is represented clearly in the facades of every structure in the country. Like the USSR , RO2 is steeped in old and uninspired designs, which gives the feeling that you are playing a title from 2006. While characters, weapons and ambient environmental effects are well done, the textures found on the ground, buildings, and other assorted items are nothing short of ugly. Bland, seemingly haphazardly designed textures parade throughout the maps, which brings other attempts to beautify the environment to a screeching halt. The condition this game suffers from is an acute case of an incohesive visual experience. Sunshafts break through trees and scatter light on the ground as you lie in wait for the perfect shot, but you simply cannot ignore the fact that the doorway to a factory looks like a square with some dirt on it. Slapping pretty effects on a poorly drawn landscape only causes the glaring oversights to become impossible to ignore, and it begins to break up the realism.
What does bring that realistic tout of the game back into perspective is the excellent sound design in terms of the varied weaponry featured. The crisp crack of pulling the trigger on each gun is an intense and satisfying experience for the ears. Small arms give an accurate audible feedback to let the player know that it will not be a reliable weapon for a firefight, whereas wielding a hulking machine gun resonates with an authoritative and deafening roar, which assures that nothing will be left in your wake.
This extraordinary auditory experience is unfortunately broken up by the recycled and overused voice tracks that do not sync up very well with the cohesive gunplay. Your fellow comrades will yell various phrases as they run around the battlefield, attempting to let someone, anyone know that there is, “a machine gun over there”. While these are intended to be helpful tips to you (somehow), flooding the air with yells and shouts from the same voice that provide little to no tactical benefit go from annoying to grating in a matter of moments. After I heard the same voice scream in a fitful rage for the fifth time as a unit bum-rushed a Russian soldier in an awkwardly animated rifle-whipping fight to the death, I had to turn off the sound.
Setting the mood for each mission is a dramatic and war movie-grade melody that loops continuously throughout. While it does help you get into the mindset of the desperate struggle of two armies pushing against each other in almost apparent futility, the incessant looping causes it to quickly become background music instead of a rousing battle anthem. It would have been better served in smaller doses during key moments in the battle to draw the player in emotionally.
From my research on the previous iteration of the Red orchestra brand, I learned that getting my money’s worth was possible through the online multiplayer option. So after a hefty dosage of the single player campaign, I decided to head over to hopefully visit the better side of a game. I hoped for an experience that would shine if it relied on real players, rather than a brain-dead AI. Unfortunately, I was greeted with empty servers, and a glitch-ridden refresh button that emptied my active server list and forced me to restart the game. The servers that showed players listed in the roster were also empty, and bringing up the scoreboard had me up against a lone player on the other team. In fact, out of the 92 active servers that were available to me, it showed a total of 9 players online in several different servers.
I’m not sure if I have logged on in extreme down times, or the game has been a commercial disaster, but this sort of showing 2 weeks after release does not bode well for the future of this game.
Hans The Exterminator
I have decided to dedicate a small part of my review just for the bugs that infest this game so mercilessly. In my gaming career, I have played many games that have been released with bugs, some game-breaking, and some mildly aggravating. Red Orchestra 2 tends to lean towards the former for me, and here’s why.
Clipping is a huge problem that will surely impact your gameplay experience. Being able to get so close to a wall that you are capable or seeing the textures inside of a building while simply attempting to peak around a corner will get you killed. The AI needs to be tweaked so that my squad can attempt to lay fire on a building from behind cover, and not continuously jump on and off of obstacles like a child in need of Ritalin because it cannot seem to find the proper side from which to attack. When I issue orders to move to a specific spot, I am greeted with the response of my team moving wherever they please. If I had the ability to court-marshal my unit for disobeying my orders, every single one of them would be sitting in a gulag in Northern Russia right now.
In fact, bugs are so rampant that the screenshots for this game were taken in my sudden ability to free-float in some missions in the game after hitting the “Complete Mission” button.
Tripwire desperately needs to fix this experience now, because it is broken and sometimes even unplayable in its current state. It is very obvious that this game still needs further testing in the beta phase in order to weed out some very glaring omissions in basic testing.
Is It Worth Your Money?
The price point for Red Orchestra 2 is $30, and is horribly unjustified. A game that found life as a mod years ago seems stuck in old technology that does not reflect the price tag. As a customer, I would be deeply angered that an experience like this is so loftily priced and yet still obviously needs to be in the beta phase. Not being able to complete missions smoothly because of lackluster and empty AI is among the laundry list of reasons that needed to be addressed before release. Personally, I am all for realistic games like ARMA and the original Ghost Recon, but this here is not a very good showing for a genre that has had many years to mature.
Red Orchestra 2 Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 5 hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio – Yes
- Bugs – Plenty
- DRM – Steamworks
- Control Scheme – Keyboard and mouse
- Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
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