Updated Thu, Sep 22, 2011 by Stow
All you hear about realistic war shooters these days are Call of Duty this, Battlefield that, but you know what? It’s time for a history lesson. Much like how Counterstrike was the mod that sold millions of copies, there was a mod that moved copies of Unreal Tournament 2004. Its name was Red Orchestra.
The game has always been about pure realism. Your sights waver, and you can hold your breath for precision shooting for a moment. If you get hit, you are probably dead. Perhaps most jarringly for classic FPS players, there are no crosshairs. If you wanted to hit someone, you had to aim down the iron sights, a system now universal to the modern war FPS genre, but first introduced to the masses here.
When the name of the game is 'one shot, one kill', you have to choose your cover and vantage point very carefully.
So what started as a mod eventually went full retail, and they weren’t about to let it die there. Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is more of that pure war experience. Console and twitch warriors beware – this game is still not for you. But for those of us that prefer a slower, more deliberate and realistic style of combat, Red Orchestra 2 scratches the itch quite well.
Red Orchestra 2 focuses on the combat experience as much as it does the gameplay itself. If you’ve never played the original, you might be really confused. Your HUD is barren. No health count. No ammo count. No magazine count, no real clue as to what is going on unless you press your tactical map or full map…. And all of these decisions are intentional. You don’t have any magical displays in combat in reality, and you won’t on this battlefield either.
This makes every combat decision a serious choice. If you’re squaring off against an opponent at medium range and an open field separates you two, and you both have 5 shot bolt-action rifles, when you hear the fourth shot, do you jump your cover and try to make a move? Reloading in this game is no laughing matter, and you are defenseless during it. But that last bullet could be fatal even if it isn’t a headshot. Getting hit in the heart is just as bad as getting hit in the head, and I cannot believe this is one of the few games to acknowledge that a heartshot is just as good for ending someone’s life as a headshot.
Taking a page from some other shooters, a cover system is now in play and with it, blind fire. This is NOT your Gears of War blind fire system where you can somewhat aim it with a third person camera. If you are firing blind, you have no goddamn idea what’s out there. Yes, you can sometimes score kills with it if someone is charging down a hallway, but it’s a defensive panic method instead of a viable way to soften/kill players. The only unrealistic thing is how fast you respawn, but staying dead for more than 10 seconds in a FPS is a good way to make your game less fun than it really is.
Note that there is a single player component to this game, but it’s…. somewhat lacking. With a Soviet and German campaign, each mission is prefaced by lots of war clips and some well done accents, but the gameplay itself is nothing more than a bot match of the multiplayer maps targeting specific objectives. The bots aren’t anything stellar either—they’ll bump into each other, charge headlong into a pair of soldiers behind cover and… you know, they’re just like your allies online, so never mind.
Pictured : a squad about to be obliterated by a grenade. Also, we're all looking rather zombified.
This is also a game you’ll have to reconfigure the keyboard for very quickly. Crouching and prone are very important, and some actions such as the sprinting prone dive require you to hold W, L-Shift, and then tap Alt at the same time. What? Who thought that was a good idea!? There’s even what I’d have to call a Battlefield 1942 throwback joke with the button to replace your machine gun drum being 6 for some silly reason. For those of you too young or not in the know, the default key for your parachute was 9. Sometimes I really think the control layout is an afterthought in PC gaming…