Rising Storm is as familiar as it is different. Many of us have virtually battled in the various theatres of World War II, whether that be the Eastern front, the beaches of Normandy, or the islands of the Pacific. In that respect, there's nothing original about Rising Storm.
What's different about Tripwire Interactive's WWII shooter is the way that it has been executed. There's so many subtle differences that really set the game apart from its peers, and importantly, it's these nuanced elements that make Rising Storm such an exciting game to play, and ultimately allows it to stand alone within the crowded sub-genre of historical shooters.
After a few games of action-orientated combat, players will be able to access the Realism mode. It's here that Rising Storm really comes into its own, and brings players into a visceral, violent and bloody world of tactics, gunplay and cover-hugging desperation.
Action playlists offer an experience more in-line with what the majority of players will be accustomed to. Comparatively it's still more deadly than your average first-person shooter, but there's still some room to manouevre on the battlefield. One false step isn't always a passport to the respawn screen, however, making a mistake is often fatal.
A lack of caution inevitably leads to a short life, and this pushes the player towards a very different play style. You can see it in the way that your comrades move through the maps, and how they interact with the environments around them. A cavalier dash through open ground is seldom seen on Rising Storm's servers, and when it happens experienced players can be seen grumbling in the text box on the left of the screen, virtually tutting at the inexperience of their peers. This is not a Call of Duty clone, and any attempt to play it as such is a recipe for disaster.
Cover is almost as important as the rifle you carry into combat. Without it enemy crosshairs will find you and send you back to the loading screen in double-quick time (where you'll often have to wait for more comrades to join you before being sent back into harm's way - an attempt to simulate reinforcements). In this respect it's a remorseless game that punishes far more than other games of a similar ilk. But while one hand may take away, it gives with the other, as Rising Storm provides a refreshing change of pace in a what many feel is a stagnating genre.
Floods of troops scurry through the rubble-filled carcasses of buildings. Snipers peek out of windows tracking down potential victims. Smoke grenades provide life saving cover for waves of soldiers to advance (relatively) unmolested. Every uneven bump or crater becomes a place to lay prone, providing a safer spot from which to survey the battlefield and plan the next move. Cover - glorious cover - provides respite as objectives are neared and the ferocity of gunfire increases.
There's six new maps included in Rising Storm, and they're spacious and varied. Attractive isn't the right word; they're often purposefully bleak and haggard, but there's an elegance to their design that makes them a joy to learn and explore. They are all pretty huge, which keeps things fresh despite repeated visits to the same locations.
Hanto is dank and swampy, and Guadalcanal has a familiar feel but is set against a backdrop of darkness. Pelelui is grey and industrial, with blasted concrete structures. Saipan is an urban environment, with players charging from a beach, through a town, before the battle rages across a railway line. Kwajulein is dusty, with wooden trenches etched across the environment. Perhaps the standout map is Iwo Jima. It's a bleak hillside that goes onwards and upwards, with both sides battling over bunkers and cracked structures on its uneven slopes.
There's not a lot of variety when it comes to game modes, but the maps have been designed specifically to support what's on offer. Both teams must attack and defend various objectives dotted around the environments, and this gives each battle focus and direction: this is not a simple slugfest. In order to overcome opponents teams need to coordinate, and failure to acknowledge the actions of your teammates will only hinder collective efforts. It gets easier when there's bots involved, on account of them being thick as pig-shit. When there's too many on one map it becomes a bit of a turkey shoot, so it's always best to gravitate towards servers full of human opponents.
The size of the maps, and they way that they've been put together, focusses the asymmetrical combat of Rising Storm. Allied forces have superior weaponry and troop scorching flame throwers, whereas the Axis forces can rig up explosive traps, fire mortars and have Banzai attacks that can be used to tip the balance of power at any given moment, allowing streams of sword-wielding troops to descend on objectives and overwhelm the American forces garrisoned within.
The combat itself is satisfying. Once you've found the game's groove, and your play style shifts accordingly, immense satisfaction is felt after each and every landed shot. The distance between both players is recorded for each kill, allowing players to take increased pleasure in their skillful acts on the battlefield. The guns all feel well weighted, and there's nice variety in the way that they handle. It encourages specialisation, you'll warm to certain firearms and become increasingly proficient when wielding them. There's slots on each team for different types of soldier, so for example, that means that there's only ever a couple of snipers on each level, which can be frustrating if that's how you like to play, but maintains balance. The versatile rifleman role is always in abundance, so there's always that to fall back on should your preferred class be unavailable.
The accuracy required from each player means there's a tough learning curve, and early encounters will usually see experience win out, but as much as losing is a horrible experience you can't begrudge the victorious team their win as superior tactics always prevail. Being on the losing side will often mean you're witness to increased amounts of brutality. Mortars land and take out advancing units, sending dead soldiers pirouetting into the sky, landing with bloody stumps where arms once were. Long distance shots that hit those who stray from cover encourage following teammates to hang back in defensive positions, sending a chill through those who've just seen a comrade cut down in a seemingly safe position. Nearby explosions rattle the screen, draining colour from the HUD, indicating your proximity to death, and giving immediate feedback to the player as to the raw power and extreme deadliness of the tools of war being utilised by the opposition. It's the most impactful first-person shooter out there, and pulls no punches in its depiction of war.
There's a couple of issues that hold the game back from greatness. Getting into cover doesn't always work as it should, and when it results in an unnecessary death it can be most frustrating. Melee combat isn't best-in-class either. Hit detection very occasionally feels a little bit off, but that could be down to other player's internet connections. Beyond that it's just visual issues that occasionally rattle the level of immersion; soldiers animations can sometimes look a little unnatural, and textures aren't as polished as they are in other recently released shooters. However, these are minor inconveniences, and are easily ignored when considering the whole.
Rising Storm is a brutal and hellish experience, full of graphic violence, an unparalleled approach to immersion, and a cutthroat difficulty curve. It's also satisfying, distinctive, and one of the best shooters on the PC at the moment. If you like your combat gritty and bleak, look no further than Tripwire's return to the historical battlefields of WWII.
Rising Storm launched as a digital release on PC at the tail end of last month, and will be available from retailers from June 21. Head this way for more details.
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