Red-Orchestra-2--Heroes-of-Stalingrad-Review Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review

   07/10/2011 at 09:14       Stuart       4 COMMENTS. - Score 4/5
 - Red Orchestra 2, Heroes of Stalingrad, Tripwire Interactive, Shooter, World War 2

Brutal is the only word to describe Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, absolutely, punishingly brutal. Take a bullet and you die instantly, or worse, take a fatal wound and bleed out slowly, stumbling forward as the screen darkens; the last thing you hear the screams of your comrades as they suffer the same fate. Or are they your screams?

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is the sequel to the popular Red Orchestra: Ostfront 1941-45, itself a ‘sequel’ to the famous Red Orchestra: Combined Arms mod for Unreal Tournament. As Allied Russians or Axis Germans, you’ll take to the streets and fields of Stalingrad with a variety of period weapons and a great need to shoot your opponent in the face.

Red Orchestra (both the mod and the later Ostfront) gained a reputation for brutal realism that has in no way been diluted by Heroes of Stalingrad. The majority of players will be using bolt-action rifles, with only a select few on either side given the opportunity to use sniper weapons, early SMGs and anti-tank rifles. Squad Leaders are given smoke grenades and the ability to mark artillery strikes, while the Commander role can call down the artillery, force early respawn of your reinforcement wave and request recon planes that will highlight enemy positions via radios placed around the map.

Teamwork is essential, with most maps favouring capture/defend game play over several objective areas. Maps range from sparsely populated housing blocks to the tortured rubble of Stalingrad centre and everything in between, each one peppered with trenches and shell holes with multiple pathways to the all-important objectives. Learning the map locations is key to survival – it’s startlingly easy for a good team to set up heavily on one objective and make it almost impossible to assault, so effective flanking, suppression and above all communication are paramount if you expect to emerge victorious.

Traversing those maps, it doesn’t take long before the run & gun mentality bred into our poor empty souls by COD and its turgid brethren is viciously expunged. War is Hell – literally – thanks to the game’s suppression mechanic. Close bullet-strikes and ricochets, explosions and even seeing your friend killed (in any number of interesting ways) cause the suppression mechanic to kick in, blurring and obscuring your vision and affecting your aim. The game’s cover system allows you to dig in behind almost any object, with Rmouse zooming you to your iron sight and popping your head over the top to take the shot. A decent lean and prone system is present too.

Accompanying this are the sound effects – the screams and howls of the dying, the roar of shells, rifle cracks and distant impacts alongside the stilted, yet eerily appropriate ‘comments’ of your squad mates. Run for too long and you’ll find yourself panting and muttering under your breath about needing a break, and while the repetition and occasional inappropriately-timed comment can rob the atmosphere a little, for the most part it adds a flavour not often seen in shooters. Hearing a Russian voice in a German compound is often the only warning you get before a grenade rolls into the room, and after a while you begin to pick up on the visual and audio cues automatically, waiting for your squad mate to catch his breath before you both make the sprint across no-man’s land.

Visually, while not stretching the Unreal 3 engine to any great degree, the environments and effects are impressive enough to convince, though character models lack detail and there is some occasional clipping. Tanks are impressively rendered and limited destructibility, along with realistic bullet penetration adds a nice level of detail. You won’t need a supercomputer to run RO2 at a reasonable level, and TI are working on addressing performance bugs and other launch issues through patches.

Yes, yes, I know. Tanks. Both Axis and Allied sides, on some maps have access to one or two T34’s and Panzer IV’s. These lurching metal beasts can be incredibly powerful in the right hands, and the interiors are beautifully represented, with a damage model that allows for any number of appropriately realistic catastrophes. Sitting next to the (very visibly unprotected) ammunition store is quite un-nerving when the shells are flying. Vision in these monsters is limited (unless of course, you stick your head out and risk getting it shot off) and crafty infantry can obliterate them with anti-tank grenades and AP rifles if they drop the ball.

The meat of the game is in the multiplayer, and the single player experience does suffer from ‘training mode’ syndrome as a result. Two campaigns (one Axis, one Allied) take you through each multiplayer map with bot-teammates and enemies, with a smattering of unskippable ‘boot camp’ sequences designed to demonstrate the order wheel, tank and commander abilities alongside the more mundane ‘how to throw a grenade and adjust your sights’ stuff. While the boot-camp sequences are at least useful, the campaigns themselves are ruined by the terrible bot-AI. Respawning often finds the bot you’ve taken over standing stupidly in the open, leading to an insta-death and respawn-circle that only ends when you finally move to a squad mate in cover. There’s no way to select what team-member you return as either, which results in some irritating moments stuck with an anti-tank rifle when you’re trying to take a building, or something equally useless. The AI pretty much leaves you to do all the work yourself, so being forced into roles arbitrarily is awkward at best, disastrous at worst.

In multiplayer however, it shines. 64 player servers over a good number of large, well made maps and three game modes (though Territory, the objective based one is almost all you’ll see online) gives you a good chunk of game to sink your teeth into. The near-inevitable inclusion of stat-tracking and weapon unlocks has been blighted since release by bugs, but a stat-reset (and new achievement) are due in the next patch and will hopefully fix the problem. Once it does, progressing through the different classes will become a more enticing exercise; as it stands now you basically get it all for free, cheapening it somewhat.

Juxtaposing the thin, empty single player against the chaotic beauty of the multiplayer is a curiously appropriate way of viewing RO2 as a whole. It has wonderful ideas like the suppression mechanic, but the cover system is clunky at best and often doesn’t work when you need it to, or worse, glues you to a wall at just the wrong moment. Even the prone mechanic inexplicably doesn’t work in some spots, and in a game where the need to keep your head down is indelibly imprinted on you after a few hours of playing, things like this can become frustrating. Some walls suffer similarly – most you can vault over, but the odd one you can’t, even though it’s only two feet high, and you’ll occasionally find the first time (and only the first) you pull the trigger after a respawn, nothing happens. 

There are two types of hardcore shooter players. Those who love to run & gun will not find a home here; instead they will be mercilessly punished. The type that join clans with military ranking systems and wear realism like a banner will adapt better, but even Ostfront veterans will find the games’ faster pace and smaller maps an affront to their nostalgia.

Everyone else - the ‘normal’ gamers looking for a fun blast - will find Heroes of Stalingrad bitterly frustrating, especially early on. You will be spawn-camped, you will be sniped, you will die in a hail of artillery or stabbed in a hallway. But despite the frustration, there is real beauty in these torn, wrecked landscapes. The sharp crack of rifle rounds, the breathless sprint from cover to cover through fire, smoke and blood, then pushing home the attack despite the carnage around you makes for an exhilarating game with much higher stakes than most shooters, and those that invest enough of themselves to beat the learning curve will be well rewarded. The burgeoning mod scene and excellent post-release support from Tripwire (forthcoming additions include a co-op campaign, and hopefully some tweaks to the AI and cover systems) are all good indications that the Battle for Stalingrad will continue to rage for a long, long time.

User Comments:

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peej - on 07/10/2011 at 15:47 wrote:
Y'know, much as I'd love EA / DICE to do another WW II based Battlefield, this looks like it more than fills the gap. Those tank battles look bloody awesome too. Great write up, cheers dude.

evilashchris - on 07/10/2011 at 17:07 wrote:
Nice review, Sir!

Sometimes I wish my PC was good enough to run this sort of thing, but then I remember how rubbish I am at them.

El_MUERkO - on 07/10/2011 at 18:05 wrote:
Good review of a (potentially) great game :D

Ironlungs76 - on 08/10/2011 at 09:34 wrote:
Very enjoyable read Stuart, thanks :)

Same as Chris, I suck hard at shooters but I appreciate from afar people who can play these well.

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
Khanivor - In response to: Battle Chasers: Nightwar Review - 281day(s) ago.
Enjoyed this, cheers!
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Looks who's back. Shady's back.
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