The much anticipated sequel to Red Orchestra has arrived. Thousands of fans sampled the Beta version of the game, eager to get their hands on the full blown version, and I was no different. Steam teased me for a while, that download bar seemed to take forever, but I finally got my hands on it. And it doesn’t disappoint.
Red Orchestra 2 follows the events surrounding the Battle of Stalingrad spanning from 1942 to 1943, in which the Nazis attempted to take control of Stalingrad from the Soviets. The battle is renowned for its brutality and tremendous death count, and the game not only covers the battle itself, but the various other missions and confrontations taking place prior to it.
Heroes of Stalingrad offers two single player campaigns: German and Russian. The game allows the player to sample both sides of the story, viewing the battle from different perspectives. It’s actually possible to play as a Nazi for a change! It also delves into a new area of World War II, which was previously unexplored in the gaming world.
Red Orchestra 2 makes a change from the usual setting of Normandy. It takes the familiar genre in a new and unique direction. The single player campaign isn’t particularly in-depth, and perhaps could serve as a tutorial in preparation for the online multiplayer challenges, arguably where the average player will be spending most of their time.
Multiplayer-wise, RO2 certainly holds its own among the big boys like Call of Duty and Halo. There’s room for 64 players in any server, all taking part in the same multiplayer game. It’s a pretty daunting prospect, isn’t it? Naturally, it gets pretty insane. It looks incredible. Massive multiplayer battles are exciting and a giant plus for both newcomers and hardened fans of the series.
Art and Sound
This game is gorgeous. Like, seriously. It looks so sharp, especially in comparison to the previous instalment. It’s really polished and fluid. I love the variation in settings, too. My favourite had to be the snowy Red October Factory map. It’s dark and extremely tense, plus it looks so authentic you can almost feel the cold. The atmosphere of this area surprised me; I didn’t know it was possible to feel so afraid in a World War II FPS. Apparently you can. Thanks Tripwire, you’ve restored my faith in the genre!
Audio-wise, the game is equally excellent. Considering gameplay can turn in an instant from stealthy to all-out-craziness, it’s vital that the musical score and sound effects alike allow for such a drastic switch in atmosphere. The screams and cries of your comrades are chilling and terrifying, while the encouraging shouts of fellow soldiers can also serve to be motivating and even comforting.
The musical score itself is also impressive, composed entirely by Sam Hulick, one of the composers behind Mass Effect. The result is a fantastic soundtrack, varying from atmospheric haunting tones to impressive classical pieces. Hulick’s inspiration from composers such as Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff is clearly audible in the melodies throughout the game, serving to add to the depth and overall feel of the various settings.
Red Orchestra 2, in some ways, could be described as an elaborate game of hide and seek.. but with guns, which naturally makes it even more awesome. The cover system, a new introduction to the series, is obviously a key element in the game and it works really well. The maps are designed with lots of cover available and plenty of nooks and crannies to hide in. Or equally, lots of places for your enemies to hide in. They could be anywhere, man!
Another great element of the cover system is the ability to aim above cover slightly above your height, shimmying up or to the side. You’re also able to take cover behind something that would normally leave your head exposed to fire, a nice little touch. The thing is, the ability to take advantage of the cover system is totally up to the discretion of the player, sometimes working brilliantly while others leaving you as a sitting duck. I found the system slightly buggy at times, getting stuck behind certain objects isn’t fun in this game, it’s so brutal. But yeah, as the game progresses you begin to get a feel for which tactics are useful in different battles and maps.
The weapons. Oh dear god, the weapons. I love that rifle. Tripwire have certainly taken attention to detail when it came to the weapon design. The team have no problem showing off about their excellent weaponry, claiming “true to life ballistics, bullet penetration, adjustable sights, free aim, weapon bracing, photo-real graphics”. Pretty damn awesome if you ask me. Another thing I love about the actual firepower is how satisfying it feels to shoot someone. I realise that sounds a little bit sadistic, but you really see the bullet thud into their body. It feels like there’s weight behind the bullets and the guns themselves.
One part of RO2 that I can’t seem to get my head around is the slow death system; I’m not sure if I love it or hate it. On one hand, it’s great at first, really quite quirky and original adding further realism to the game. I was surprised the first time I found myself stumbling around, breathing erratically and desperately searching for a hiding spot to recover in. However, as time went on, I started to find it slightly annoying. There’s nothing worse than shooting some guy in the gut only to find five minutes later that they survived. Also, it seemed to me that once you began the “dying” phase, you’re pretty much a goner anyway. The screen goes all blurry-gray so you can’t see a thing, and as you’re stumbling around hyperventilating you might as well have a big red target on your back.
Fans of the previous game in the Red Orchestra series will certainly be expecting a lot from this game. I think it’s important that they approach it with an open mind, as it’s undoubtedly changed a lot since Ostfront 41-45. I reckon fans of the original will take a while to get their feet wet. However, I find that Heroes of Stalingrad feels a lot more natural in a number of ways, notably with the addition of the cover system and little tweaks to weaponry and shooting which make all the difference.
I found that a few moments of the game were slightly laggy, with a few glitches thrown in for good measure, which suggests to me that it wasn’t 100% ready for release just yet. Obviously, these are nothing more than teething problems. On the whole, I found Red Orchestra 2 to be excellent. It’s different from the generic FPS games out there; it’s brutal, it’s scary, and it takes no prisoners.