Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Tripwire Interactive
Pub: Tripwire Interactive
Release: September 13, 2011
Players: 1
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence
World War II In Reality
by Robert VerBruggen

It's hard not to feel conflicted about Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. It is obviously a labor of love for developer Tripwire, and it contains plenty of great ideas that few other games have tried. Both of these attributes are rare in modern first-person shooters, especially shooters set in World War II.

But thanks to a small budget, Red Orchestra 2 feels incomplete, despite the many years it spent in development. It's a few major patches away from being a great multiplayer experience, and I couldn't get much enjoyment out of the single-player mode at all.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Screenshot

I have a great deal of respect for all of the things Red Orchestra 2 does for the first-person shooter genre, so I'd like to start there. To me, the most important development is a first-person cover system. As shooter fans know, most cover-based games have been set in the third person—and even Rainbow Six Vegas, a rare first-person game with a cover system, pulls out to a third-person view whenever you hide behind a protective barrier.

RO2's cover system is so simple and effective that it's amazing no other developer came up with it first. You push an action button to get into cover, and unlike in a third-person game, you can't see what's going on unless you stick your head out and risk getting shot. You can shoot blindly if you're just laying covering fire, but otherwise you have to lean out and aim. There are problems with execution here—sometimes going in or out of cover can be glitchy, and sometimes you can't take cover where you clearly should be able to. But this is, by far, the most realistic representation of cover ever in a video game.

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RO2 also offers unparalleled realism in a variety of other ways. There's no real HUD (though you'll see bars that represent your energy when you run and your health when you get hit). There are no crosshairs on the screen to guide your attempts to run-and-gun. You have to bandage yourself quickly if you're shot non-fatally, and close encounters with enemies are over quickly. Even the tanks are realistic, painstakingly designed to resemble real tanks.

The guns are carefully designed to mimic their real-life counterparts too, right down to their range, bullet drop, and iron sights. With many weapons, you'll need to adjust the sights to hit targets at different distances. Your hands wobble realistically, adding another layer of difficulty to hitting what you're aiming at. With no HUD, you have to check your gun to see how much ammo you have.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Screenshot

In the game's best multiplayer moments, all of this works. This is one of the few FPSes on the market that truly requires focus and teamwork. To be frank, when I play FPSes online, I usually get the sense of ten or twenty people randomly milling about, killing each other when they get the chance. In RO2, I get the sense that slower-paced, tactical gameplay is truly rewarded. You can't get ahead without keeping yourself out of the line of fire and changing your strategy to fit the type of gun you're carrying. And the experience of shooting from a hyper-realistic tank is amazing.

Not to mention the fact that these are large-scale battles, with up to 32 players on each of two teams. There are three modes: Firefight, or team death match; Territories, in which you attack and defend objectives; and Countdown, a single-life mode in which one team tries to accomplish various objectives while the other team resists. There's also character progression for stats junkies. You can become a "hero," which gives you access to better weapons, along with a stats boost to the people around you.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Screenshot

That's in the game's best multiplayer moments. But there are not-so-great moments as well.

Cheat Code Central's (souped-up) computer seemed to work well with the RO2 servers—I managed to find and join games in no time at all. However, other gamers haven't been so lucky: Many have reported that the server screen makes their game crash, and that they have to choose between a low frame rate and low-quality graphics settings once they start playing.

Also, despite the game's aggressive stance toward "punk busting," the maps themselves often reward subtler forms of cheating, especially spawn camping. Before you learn the maps, you'll spend a lot of time spawning, running toward the sound of gunfire, and getting sniped by someone you can't even see. Further, the glitchiness of the cover system can result in unfair deaths, and some players seem not to use it at all. Sometimes, the game won't let you mount a machine gun or go prone in locations where you should be able to.

These are problems that can be fixed with patches, and Tripwire is known for post-release support; they've already promised free updates with new tanks, another campaign, challenges, and co-op. We can look forward to great mods as well. But it's hard to spend $40 ($50 for the deluxe edition) on a game for what it might become, rather than what it is.

Screenshots / Images
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