Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad Review
Death Simulation At Its Finest
©2011 Nicholas Laborde
Move to a building. Fire off a burst into the path of your aggressors.
Take a rifle shot in the arm. You have no bandages left. In the presence of your helpless comrades, you bleed out and die.
Such is life (and death) in Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad. Players won’t actually be killing, but instead, will be dying in the world’s newest iteration of top-class death simulation.
And you’ll enjoy every second of it.
For those who aren’t familiar with their history, Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad takes place throughout most of the Battle of Stalingrad, a vicious clash between Soviet and Nazi troops; the Soviets would not retreat, because they would not give up their city, and the Nazis could not surrender, because they were morbidly afraid of what the enemy would do to them if they fell into their hands.
One of Hitler‘s three biggest mistakes was invading Russia, and Heroes of Stalingrad reenacts that mistake. Hell, Tripwire did a great job of doing the unthinkable: making the German forces look like soldiers doing their job, not just evil fascists who want to rape your women and eat your children.
The vicious vivacity of the Russian troops is excellently captured, and the sheer amount of courage that the German soldiers had when put against insurmountable odds is captured in a way that no other game has done to date, especially in a primarily multiplyer-centered title.
New to the Red Orchestra franchise is a single-player mode, and it is quite a loose one; going with the actual historical context, players first trudge through the German campaign – something that to my knowledge has never been done in World War Two game prior – to experience what it was like from their perspective, and then they can reply the campaign essentially in reverse, as the Soviets.
Each mission leads in with a briefing by your commander, and although this isn’t the dramatic tale of brothers in arms fighting against all odds, it’s an entertaining break from the usual series tradition and a great way to train yourself for multiplayer scenarios.
The only true problem within the campaign itself is that the AI seems to always be against you. From very light-headed allies that tend to run out in the open when they really shouldn’t, to vicious enemies that will never cease their hunt, balance is something that has not quite stricken a particularly pleasant chord.
As this is not a game you buy for the campaign portion, it’s more than excusable, and their attempt to bring you into the history is very commendable.
And bring you into the history it will. Featuring some of the most rich audio I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of experiencing, this is the closest and most crisp recreation of a World War Two battle that you’re ever going to get. From the sharp cracks of rifles to the patter of machine guns, and the boom of artillery shells to the screams of a dying soldier, Red Orchestra 2 will immerse you in a way you never thought possible.
Small bits of original score are present, and what we are presented with is very impressive, although some specific tunes can get very repetitive very fast if you plan on playing a lot.
The game itself is absolutely breathtaking, running on an advanced version of Unreal Engine 3. Even on lower-end machines, you’ll more than likely experience very plausible framerates and smooth playtime, but I have found that poor optimization exists for higher-end rigs such as mine.
I’m all for getting more players in, but when I run the game at a little over twenty frames per second on a rig that would make this engine cry, it’s more than a little disappointing. This will presumably be patched eventually, but it should have been addressed.
Numerous little things need to be attended to, such as draw distance; from a long way away, enemies do not see foliage, whereas you can be what you view as concealed in the grass, but not know that the enemy can see you in the wide open expanse.
All little bugs aside, Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is a beautiful, breathtaking production that will entice you to take up your rifle and fight for your country.
Lock and load
So far, you’ve read this review and taken in my points about the realism and faithful recreations that Red Orchestra 2 has to offer.
When it comes to weapons and gameplay, I have only this to sum it up: if you’re a gun nut who has been looking for the most accurate and realistic World War Two shooting experience, then Heroes of Stalingrad is your game.
Every weapon that you could possibly think of [up to 1942] is in the game, and painstakingly recreated to feature every single detail you could possibly imagine. As mentioned in our preview, some have complained that the holy doctrine of historical accuracy was broken by including an Mp.44 within the game; and to clear up that discrepancy one last time, the one in the game is an Mkb.42.
Yes, it was in circulation, and yes, it was extremely rare, and even more yes, it wasn’t a predominant weapon at Stalingrad, still being a prototype of sorts – but it existed, and did eliminate its fair share of Soviets in 1942.
The weapons you would expect are here, and each has its own little perks and detailed things that make me smile like a madman each time I see them. For example, you can see the serial and model numbers on many of the weapons.
Little details abound, and they all make me far happier than they should. You can actually check the magazines of your near-full weapons, revealing actual bullets in the chamber and magazines. Snipers have the option of moving their scope up to use iron sights in closer business. German soldiers sprint with their weapon in one hand, while Soviets run with it in both – exactly how they were trained.
Tripwire paid attention to EVERY detail, and that is a major plus for any enthusiast – and anyone who wanted to truly get sucked into this pivotal moment in World War Two.
While this subject has been mentioned in the title and opening, it must be brought to the light once more: this game is not to be a work of art that our children will appreciate many years down the line. It’s a death simulator.
You are going to die. A LOT. Whether it be from not realizing that you have to dial in your sights in order to hit enemies at long distances, or simply not realizing that this is not a game about charging blindly into the open, Red Orchestra 2 provides the most realistic simulation of dying in a combat zone that you could ever ask for (or want, for that matter).
When you’re not dying, you’ll find yourself more than likely being in a messy state greater than or equal to the state of death. Fear not, for nearly any injury not in the head or heart can be patched up with your handy-dandy bandages!
But when you patch yourself up, you need cover. Not a problem! Slap the left control key, and you’ll stick behind nearly any stationary piece of wall, object or whatever else it may be that you end up behind.
Wait! After being in cover, the enemy knows where you are. That’s where suppression comes in, soldier! If you’re being shot at, you are quickly entering the state of suppression. Your vision becomes grey, blurry and shaky, and can only be returned to a normal state by leaving combat and calming down.
To aid those in suppression, a blindfire mechanic has been introduced to compliment the cover system, and it truly is a blindfire mechanic – you barely see your weapon when you blindly fire it, to put it specifically into words. This isn’t your Army of Two-esque system where you can see and even aim at your enemies from behind cover; Tripwire takes everything literally, and blindfiring is not exempt from this.
A few modes appear, but they are denominations of the same thing. Territories is your standard king of the hill mode, where teams must hold and defend objectives for a set amount of time. Firefight is based upon team deathmatch, and a mode exists to only contain tanks.
Tanks are my favorite aspect of Red Orchestra 2, as it is the only game that gives you the feeling of being an actual tank commander, or another member of the tank itself. Want to be a spotter? You can be the spotter. Want to man the gun? You can man it! Grab your best friends and load into a tank, as it’s one of the most satisfying things that can be done in Heroes of Stalingrad.
Several classes are playable, and are what you would expect: rifleman, assault, engineer, squad leader, marksman and tank commander. Each does what you would expect them to do, and can use the opposite faction’s weapons when leveling up far enough.
And that brings me to the last facet of Red Orchestra 2’s gameplay: leveling. A progression system is introduced, allowing your base character to progress through the ranks of battle over time. As you level up, your soldier becomes more battle-hardened; at first, he’ll be a young recruit, but by the end, he’s a battle-scarred aged veteran.
On top of this, individual weapons can level up to offer more accuracy, less recoil, et cetera. And on top of that, your character has an honor system; kill teammates, commit suicide, do anything of the sacrilege nature? Your honor level will drop.
Fight with your comrades, level up, get assists and capture objectives? Your level will go up! Certain servers can restrict entry based upon this level, so you want to be the most honorable player that you can be.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is an interesting piece to dissect.
On one hand, you have an extremely detailed, exciting, vivacious, thrilling, adrenaline-filled recreation of one of history’s pivotal battles.
On the other hand, you have a title that lacks a layer of much-needed polish, full to the brim with bugs, performance issues and little problems that will get to many players and even turn some off.
At the end of the day, Red Orchestra 2 is almost a multiplayer masterpiece, and the embodiment of death simulation at its finest.
With free expansion packs on the way that chronicle the Vietnam War, the Western Front in World War I, and the American fight in the Pacific theater in World War Two, coupled with mod support available to all, Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is one of the must-have shooters of 2011 on PC.