Red Orchestra: Combined Arms
Red Orchestra: Combined Arms Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Tripwire Interactive
Pub: Tripwire Interactive
Release: 2004
Players: MMO
Screen Resolution: N/A
Combined Orchestra
by Sean Engemann

Essentially a Cinderella story for perspective indie developers, the Red Orchestra series was born from a victory in the Make Something Unreal contest using Unreal Tournament 2003 and 2004. After Red Orchestra: Combined Arms won the contest, the developers formally became Tripwire Interactive and created Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 in 2006. Five years later, we are at the cusp of a new release, Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, using current programming technology, but keeping the integrity of the real war simulation intact.

A total conversion mod, Red Orchestra: Combined Arms was highly praised for its authenticity and realism, which few WWII shooters have ever dared to embrace. Despite the graphical prowess of any current FPS offerings from series like Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and even Brothers in Arms, they can't hold a candle to the raw grip of Red Orchestra.

Red Orchestra: Combined Arms Screenshot

The basis of Combined Arms stemmed from its historically accurate title. The Red Orchestra, composed of anti-Nazi resistance and Soviet espionage rings within Germany, was a name given by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (I hope I never have to spell that again), the head of the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police). The game actually took us to the Eastern Front, but the sides were static, with players controlling either Nazi or Soviet troops. With geographically accurate maps, most battles were waged outside, between ruined villages, through sparse plains and grasslands, and in the abandoned streets of cities.

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Although the accuracy of the background was an important element for the developers, it played second fiddle to the dedication involved in the gameplay, with many elements putting players as close to being a WWII soldier as virtually possible.

The first obvious omission when starting the game was its lack of a heads-up display. There was no radar, no enemy indicators, and no ammo count. That's right, if you wanted to avoid the empty "click" of your weapon during a standoff with the enemy, you had to keep a running tally of ammo used in your head. However, your total clips remaining were listed on screen. The clip capacity was all true to life, so you wouldn't find a 200+ rifle magazine in Combined Arms.

Red Orchestra: Combined Arms Screenshot

Marksmanship also required a good deal of study; there were no crosshairs (except while using the sniper rifle), so lining up a target required the use of the weapon's iron sights. Shooting from the hip was far less accurate. You could crouch or go prone for increased aim, but still wouldn't be completely steady. Even with a perfect headshot in your sights, there was no guarantee you'd hit the mark. Combined Arms factored in real-world elements like bullet drop and spin, as well as flight time, which applied wind and gravity after the bullet had left the barrel. Even reload animations were authentic, as was recoil, giving this game a steep learning curve.

There were no supersoldiers in this game, so you could forget any hopes of shields or regenerating health. Whenever you were hit, you were either hurt or dead. A limb shot, while not usually fatal, did slow you down, with a leg shot causing you to limp and an arm shot expelling your weapon from your hands. Most often, one shot to the torso or head could kill you outright, but fortunately the respawn time was quick. A soldier silhouette on the screen indicated which part of your body was lame, and you could bandage yourself to keep on moving. That was the closest thing to a recovery you could get.

Red Orchestra: Combined Arms Screenshot

Later versions of the game brought the inclusion of vehicles and tanks, like the Soviet T-34s and the German Panzers, all which fit the period and were excellently detailed. The only sad exclusion was the lack of any air support, which was a noticeable deterrent to the simulation objective of the developers.

While obviously alienating a heavy demographic of the FPS community, the Combined Arms team built a faithful crowd of simulator buffs, with no sugarcoating or hand-holding in any of the gameplay elements. The experience may not have been as thrilling or cinematic as others you've come to know, but it was likely the most visceral of the bunch, with every move and shot potentially bearing the weight of success or death.

With Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad nearly upon us, it was only fitting that we pay tribute to the mod that made it all possible in the first place.

By Sean Engemann
CCC Contributing Writer

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