Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is Tripwire Interactive’s follow-up to 2006 title Red Orchestra: Ostrfront 41-45… and it’s a hot mess. RO2 has more giant, hairy bugs than most South American countries. The graphics engine is so mangled, you’d think it was attacked by a roving pack of wild dogs. You’re going to need to wear a helmet, because the game crashes so often. And in spite of all of that, it’s some of the most fun I’ve had playing a shooter. Ever.
Red Orchestra 2 is primarily an online multiplayer first-person shooter set against the backdrop of the second World War. What sets the Red Orchestra games apart, in spite of mining a very familiar territory, is their uncompromising authenticity. Firstly, there is no targeting reticle or cross-hair. To aim your weapon you must use the sights. This change alone dramatically alters the pace of the game and helps make RO2 unique.
The bullet modeling is excellent. The guns are incredibly lethal, one shot being all it takes to kill or get killed in most cases. Which is good, because most of the rifles used in WWII were bolt action, so missing a shot can be a mistake that costs your life. Nothing makes you feel quite as naked as the second or so it takes to bolt your rifle and line up another shot while your enemy is zeroing in on your head. Bullets drop off with distance in a way that just feels right, requiring you to aim higher or adjust your sights with the mouse wheel to hit distant targets. Sub-machine guns dance around in your hands under automatic fire like an angry bronco trying to shed its unwanted rider. The sounds of your weapons and those echoing in the distance are wonderful, and really help create a sense of immersion.
Because the weapon and damage models are so realistic, not much concession is made for balancing. Each weapon excels at its designed purpose and feels immediately out of place when used in the wrong situation. Rifles are great for medium to long range targets, but will be outmatched in close quarters by most other weapons. Sub-machine guns aren’t very accurate and can be hard to inflict damage with at moderate range. It’s very frustrating at times to feel like you’ve lined up a decent shot, squeeze off a three round burst, then see your enemy sitting unscathed. Machine guns are incredibly deadly and accurate, but can only be fired while mounted on cover or in the prone position, leaving the machine gunner vulnerable to sharpshooting enemies. The result of these different weapons mixing together is an exciting game of cat-and-mouse that encourages players to move intelligently and use cover to their advantage.
One of my biggest complaints with the original RO was the difficulty of trying to line your weapon up on a windowsill or sandbag to stabilize it. With the implementation of a true cover system, RO2 fixes this snag, making it easy to use the environment to your advantage. Also added is a blind-fire system and the ability to lean around corners. This makes the movement in the game feel far less clunky than it did in the original. Peeking your head up to try and locate an enemy, then changing positions and lining up a headshot feels incredible in RO2. Though the maps provide plenty of opportunities to utilize the cover system, they do so without feeling gamey or contrived. The environments look and feel great, with partially destroyed buildings and artillery craters dotting the maps. Some maps feel unfair or unbalanced, but I mind less than in other games, as often times this just feels in line with the rest of the presentation: realistic without concession to the player. RO2 isn’t working very hard at making friends and it doesn’t really care if that makes you upset.
And that is a significant part of the problem with the game. It can feel intentionally obtuse. There are times when I wondered whether the designers were trying to make the game confusing. While there is a tutorial of sorts, it’s disguised as “Single-Player.” While a lot can be learned by new RO players in the single-player “campaign,” I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it. The campaign mode is simply the multiplayer maps, played with bots, and the bots are probably the worst I’ve ever seen. They are dumber than dumb, painfully unaware one moment, and supernaturally-accurate crack shots the next. It’s worth mentioning that there are great intro cinematics with brilliant artwork before and after each mission, but to see all the work that it must have taken to make these cinematics get wasted by bolting them onto a terrible campaign is less reasonable than Germany’s decision to invade Russia in the first place.
On top of that, the game is in a sorry state. It was clearly released too early, as the bugs are frequent and obvious. Though in the week since release, significant strides have been made to correct stability, framerate, and connection issues, the game is still quite broken. I cannot remain connected to a game of more than 25 or so players for more than a handful of minutes. The game crashes to the desktop a few times over the course of a 2 hour play session. There are clipping and environment issues present. There are maps that offer one team a significant advantage. As it stands, I cannot necessarily recommend that you purchase the game today. The technical snafus can take a significant toll on your ability to enjoy the game. But, given time to correct the errors present, I think it’s a shining example of what a shooter can be. This is the kind of game that makes me glad that I own a PC.
In the end, RO2 is a wonderful, but flawed game. It is the John Nash of videogames, interchangeably brilliant and insane. If you can take the time to learn its quirks, you may find that you love it in spite of the fact that it will sometimes seem to actively dislike you. And if you can do that, you’ll have one of the most atmospheric, tense, and exciting multiplayer games in years.
Pros: Great guns. Cool environments. Brilliant sound. Fantastic gameplay.
Cons: Obtuse. Punishing realism. Poor menus and UI design. More bugs than an insect house.
FINAL SCORE: 8 out of 10