Developer: Tripwire Interactive
Publisher: Tripwire Interactive
After five long years in development, Red Orchestra 2's Steam launch wasn't the triumphant celebration it ought to have been. In fact, it was a total bloody shambles. Pre-loads went wrong. Files were fragmented. Servers went down. A mandatory patch had to be rolled back after it broke the game instead of fixing it. It was like the bad old days of Steam instability had come back to haunt us - to punish us for our complacency - but the Red Orchestra 2 code is now just about stable enough to review.
And a good thing too, because the multiplayer is absolutely incredible.
You'd expect multiplayer excellence from the creators of the original Red Orchestra total conversion, and Red Orchestra 2 proudly delivers. Each gametype is a tense and nerve-wracking experience that trades Call Of Duty-esque sillyness for brutally authentic realism. A single bullet from the enormous range of perfectly-emulated period weapons is usally enough to cripple you or slowly liberate you of your blood supply, making cautious tight teamwork much more important than lone wolf heroism. 64 player matches including deathmatch and territory capture gametypes expand and contract depending on the numbers of players involved, creating a dynamic and exciting experience that's difficult to learn yet incredibly satisfying to take part in. Oh, and there are tanks... which are awesomely satisfying to command yet require strong infantry support and cooperation to survive.
The astounding level of authenticity makes the multiplayer an absolute blast; a refreshingly uncompromising simulation that caters for a specific brand of hardcore player who's grown tired of the bunny-hopping, teabagging status quo. Weapon sights have to be manually dialled in for range. Machine guns have to be deployed and protected from flanking attacks. Each class, be they SMG-equipped storm troopers or scoped snipers, all feel relevant and powerful thanks to each map's mix of wide open spaces and tight quarters. Squad leaders act as mobile spawn points, and commanders can call down all manner of artillery and aerial support. The sheer intimidating depth of the multiplayer suite is absolutely astounding.
Red Orchestra 2's cover system is worthy of a special mention. Left control snaps you into your wall or barrier of choice, with the ability to lean in any direction or literally blindly fire over the top. A nifty surpression system (sorry, Battlefield 3, but Tripwire has beaten you to the punch) makes incoming fire distort and and grey out your vision, effectively emulating the stress and terror of being under suppressive fire. Yes, the cover system is genuinely excellent... but on the flip side, it also doesn't always work thanks to inconsistent collision detection.
Server instability and major crashes seem to have been mitigated by the latest patch, at least as far as I've experienced. However, the forums are currently full of error reports and potential balance issues - so it falls to Tripwire to sort it out over the next few weeks and months. If their excellent support for Killing Floor and the original Red Orchestra taught us anything, they definitely will.
Red Orchesta 2's singleplayer mode is more than just an introduction to this multiplayer masterclass. Two full campaigns (from the Axis and Russian perspectives) place you and a squad in the thick of Stalingrad's brutal theatre of war, and sets you some offensive and defensive objectives to complete. It's vaguely reminiscent of the original Ghost Recon in that your teammates will usually dispatch enemies before you even see them, and newcomers would be forgiven for quickly becoming exasperated and overwhelmed by the whole thing after being killed by the umpteenth unseen sniper. Stick with it, though, and you'll discover that squads can be assigned orders using a (clunky) radial selection wheel and that methodical planning, not idiotic charges, pay dividends.
It's worth noting, though, that some odd friendly AI sometimes makes the action resemble a Benny Hill sketch rather than a tense battle. Allied soldiers often run around like headless chickens, into and out of doorways and sprinting around with merry abandon before being reduced to a crawling, sprawling pile of meat by a sniper's bullet. If you've ever seen the old Scooby-Doo corridor chases, you'll know what I mean. Oft-repeated sound effects ("Stay down, rat!") break the sense of immersion yet further, resulting in a campaign that can't sustain its intensity. Oh, and one of the missions is broken at the time of writing. It's a good effort from such a small team, but it just feels too much like an ancient - if hardcore -botmatch to fully recommend at this stage.
Graphically, Red Orchestra 2 looks absolutely exceptional on its maximum settings. Nifty advanced features like ambient occlusion rub shoulders with optional post processing effects (such as film grain that makes the experience resemble a classic war movie) to create a beautiful if barren set of battlefields. Animations are impressive, textures are pleasingly high resolution, the FOV can be tinkered with to your heart's content and explosions will make you flinch involuntarily in your seat.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it? The only problem being that I couldn't get anywhere near the highest performance settings without the experience turning into a stuttering, chugging, wheezing slideshow... despite the fact that the review PC is definitely more powerful than the recommended specs. Red Orchestra 2 isn't just unstable, it's inconsistently unstable, meaning that some players can run it without incident whereas others can't play it at all. It seems to hate ATI graphics cards. It sneers at single-core processors. Crossfire? Don't even bother. Buying into Red Orchestra 2 is a complete gamble at the time of writing, as you simply won't know how it will run - if it will run - before you've put the money down.
Considering that this is the tried-and-tested Unreal Engine (albeit a bespoke custom job that taxes the industry workhorse to breaking point), I can't get my head around exactly why Red Orchestra 2's performance and frame rate is so patchy. Tripwire Interactive certainly has their work cut out, and we hope that a demo will eventually become available so that potential customers can try before they buy.
- Wonderfully hardcore multiplayer
- A staggering degree of historical authenticity
- Pushes the Unreal Engine past its limits...
- ...leading to unstable frame rates even on high end PCs
- A host of aggravating bugs
- Inconsistent singleplayer campaigns
The Short Version: Red Orchestra 2's compelling authenticity and outstanding multiplayer suite are marred by a host of inexplicable technical issues that affect both gameplay and performance. Tripwire Interactive are known for their exceptional aftermarket support and will doubtlessly kill these problems over the next few months, but before they do, I can't give Red Orchestra 2 the glowing recommendation that I'd so dearly like to.
Review score subject to change, so check back soon.