At the start of the last decade the gaming market was saturated with shooters set during World War II. At one point it was so bad that I felt Nazis lost their universal bad guy appeal that almost every shooter relied on. And if you no longer have an innate dislike for the people you're shooting at, what's the point? This saturation led developers down new paths and onto the concept of modern warfare, a trend that doesn't seem to have played out its role yet. This paradigm shift makes it quite refreshing to once again play a shooter set during World War II, especially when it's done right.
The online game Red Orchestra from Tripwire Interactive started life as a mod for Unreal Tournament 2003, with a focus on realism and gritty warfare. This made the game tremendously popular, a popularity that continued with later releases, the latest being Red Orchestra 2 in 2011. The formula that made Red Orchestra so successful was the same as in the TV-series Band of Brothers and Pacific. The player was transported down into the dirt with soldiers, in the mud and smoke, where a stray bullet could end a life and wounded were left bleeding instead of regenerating their health in a matter of seconds like some videogame depictions of war.
Tripwire Interactive's newest addition to the series is Rising Storm, which deals with the conflict in the Pacific Ocean between the United States and Japan. Even though this is towards the end of the war some of the most brutal and bloody battles were fought in this period, and Rising Storm captures this desperation. In many ways it feels exactly like playing in an episode of the Pacific. You run over a hill with your fellow soldiers. A calm, almost sorrowful melody plays in the background. You jump into a trench and round a corner. An enemy starts to turn and you shoot without aiming. He falls so fast and inelegant that it's almost sad. No congratulatory text pops up to tell you how many experience points you've been awarded with. You shot someone and he died. A split second later you get a bullet to the head because you didn't get to cover fast enough.
Realism and a high difficulty has always been the biggest selling point for Red Orchestra, and Tripwire Interactive seems very aware of this. Close to every server in the beta client I got to play was set to Realism Mode, where a single shot in the right place will kill you, you'll bleed to death if your wounds are left untreated and there are no visual aids aside from your eyes and your iron sights. As I move to log in the game even makes an effort of pointing out that the server is realistic, and that this is synonymous with what other games define as Hardcore Mode. I assume that Tripwire will provide servers for the less enthusiastic players, while the true Red Orchestra experience will still be found on the realistic servers.
The gameplay is quite simple and can best be compared with the classic Battlefield 1942. Two teams fight over control of a series of checkpoints. One team defends and one attacks. If enough soldiers from one team occupy a checkpoint, they capture it. The match is over when time runs out or all checkpoints are captured. It's a system that's been used countless times before by similar games and it works, especially when Rising Storm presents these potentially arbitrary checkpoints as strategic objectives. Attacking Point A is suddenly more interesting when you know it's a gun battery that needs to be taken out for reinforcements to advance, or an anti-air gun.
I have to point out that Rising Storm is in beta and that the version I tested didn't always work as intended. It suffered from slow controls, sticky cover mechanics, graphical hiccups, people stuck to the scenery and hits that weren't instantly registered. I also had Punkbuster act up at times, throwing me out of servers all of a sudden because my machine didn't talk to their servers fast enough. I found this strange as I never experienced any latency or slowdown when I was playing.
But minor issues aside, Rising Storm is a joy to play. The fear of death adds a whole new dimension to the game. It's quite an adrenaline rush to have survived for a while and get the drop on an enemy soldier, knowing that it could easily have gone the other way. You don't feel skilled, you feel lucky. It's not the same run and gun attitude you get in Battlefield or Call of Duty. At times a match could organically devolve into a trench war, because both sides were reluctant to leave cover and expose themselves.
The graphics are vivid with smoke and lighting effects that made me duck and cover when artillery shells went off around me. In the graphics settings there's also an option for post processing effects which makes the game look like an old war film, which I greatly appreciated. The sound effects are also crisp and it's a refreshing change of pace to not be told that I'm out of ammo, but rather hearing that "I'm out of ammo"-sound in absolute clarity.
Red Orchestra 2 does not do the player any favours and it's a better game for it. It's brutal and not very accessible. If you're used to games that forgive your mistake and give you second chances, you'll meet a steep learning curve in Rising Storm. You have to think as if you're in a war and keep your head down accordingly. I'm very excited to see how Rising Storm will look when it's finished, because it's already a fantastic first person shooter with a brilliant approach to the World War Two setting.
Bonus: A couple of recent GRTV pieces on Rising Storm below:
Loading next content