Thursday, 30 March 2006

Archive Review: Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45

(PC review)

The clash of ideology

We've all seen World War Two done before in games and movies. In fact it's been done so many times it's often hard to remember that the war itself was over 50 years ago! As an audience and consumer it's clear we mostly still crave WW2 games, whether they be realistic FPS titles or era themed RTS franchises. There is clearly something still intriguing about this war, it's armies, the weapons, and the general history of it all that appeals to almost every action junkie gamer out there.

Another interesting, yet hardly surprising, trend is the fact most of these WW2 games place you in the boots of a G.I taking on the Germans from the perspective of either a Ranger or Marine. It has become very clear that the more a WW2 game steers away from Saving Private Ryan / Band Of Brothers territory the more alternative it is automatically seen by the gaming community. Those FPS kids get a little tense when they can't get hold of an M1 Garand and hear some Sgt. yelling out that they need to take out "That damn MG42"!

I used to be a big fan of all these WW2 games until I realised 90% of them didn't add up either historically or in terms of combat realism. Most of them sucked on so many levels. I am talking here about the Medal of Honor franchise that EA milks like an udder. Battlefield 1942 was great but we all knew it was an arcade fest with little realism. The Call of Duty series was fun, cinematic, but clearly also a frag fest as opposed to some simulation style FPS. In fact I can't ever recall playing a realism based WW2 FPS game... until Red Orchestra.

RO came from a mod for UT2004 and has received a very extensive paint job. For once we see a WW2 game set on the Eastern Front. It's the mighty showdown of ideology between the Soviet Red Army and the bulk of Hitler's forces. It is only available on Steam which many of you may instantly consider a handicap right away. However Steam has seen some improvement since the release of HL2 and it now seems as good a platform to roll out games as any. The game can either be downloaded or purchased however I have not seen any copy of the game in stores so am guessing the retail side of things is hardly priority. Basically if you want this game you should have broadband anyway, so get downloading.

We have a game here that is really a mixture of FPS action and Tank simulation. I was excited by the tank aspect, being a WW2online vet, and was very attracted by the games armour modeling and physics. In RO shells will bounce off tanks if they hit from the wrong angle. Armour is sloped in all the right places and each tank has it's own weak points where you should be aiming for a kill. This is easily the most detailed attempt at armour penetration but it's far from perfect.

Within a few hours of playing the game I could tell all these fancy armour factors meant next to nothing when players realised each tank had it's weak spots modeled in exactly the same places. Once you memorise the 4-5 weak zones of tanks it's very easy destroying them with either another tank cannon or an infantry anti-tank weapon such as a Panzerfaust or Russian PTRD.

It's interesting to note that in WW2 Germany lost 80% of it's war machine on the Eastern Front. In reality the Western Front was a skirmish compared. I am not surprised by this when I play RO and watch Tiger tanks get destroyed by people firing bipod mounted 14.5mm anti-armour weapons. In reality such weaponry was a waste of time against anything that wasn't a car or truck. In effect the tank combat in RO is about as realistic as Battlefield 1942 with additional armour physics that amount to very little when you are taking on players with a few hours game time behind them.

Where RO shines is in the infantry combat sector. This is intense, realistic, stuff. You get no crosshair and must use your iron sights to effectively fire your weapon at the enemy. Incoming fire will blur your screen, making retaliation impossible and forcing you to seek cover and hit the dirt. Loud explosions rock your eardrums and artillery strikes throw you up into the air like a ragdoll. The physics are neat here with tracer rounds from MGs bouncing off metallic surfaces and shooting up into the sky. Bodies will realistically fall dead, dangle from rooftops, droop over terrain, and twitch as entry wounds bleed.

Killing an enemy in RO feels horribly real. One shot is all it takes and they will fall dead and lifeless. This isn't CoD or BF where a frag feels worthy of praise. Here killing is not really considered as much a skill as it is a way to survive the battlefield. The points you get are for all sorts, including supporting the capture of control points, and the amount of times you die does not show up on the scorelist. In truth a player at the top of the room may have not killed a living soul, instead always being on the front line and taking ground slowly and cautiously.

The maps are large but not vast as boasted by initial pre-release info. They feel like nothing compared to the BF series, or the old school legend that is Operation Flashpoint. They play more freely than most WW2 FPS games though, notably more so than the linear design of Day of Defeat: Source. The real problem with the maps is the stupid invisible walls and instant death/mine field zones that prevent you straying away from the edges of the map. In most games these edges of your gaming world are blocked off via terrain or at least a 10 second warning before death. RO is too harsh and the edges do not really show up clearly on the grid based map you can view.

With a mixture of city/urban maps and open country for the tank combat you get a mix but that mix is not remotely varied enough. You will find when playing RO on public servers the same 3-4 maps are constantly voted for in an integrated players voting system. The name Arad will particularly infuriate you. It's all about capturing ground DoD style. Some maps include objectives too but these are generally the unpopular maps. DoD tried this once too and soon gave it up. In other words get used to the "flag zone" style of gameplay.

Weapons wise it's all here... without the obvious American variety. Please don't spam public servers with "FFS where is the Thompson" or "I want my BAR". All the Axis guns are here so Kar98 ownage is an option. The Russian weapons are neat and very SMG orientated. You will find it pleasurable drilling your ammo drums dry. However there is no ammo count displayed in RO and you simply go on the note "mag heavy" or "light". Get used to memorising your firing rates.

Little elements to RO give a nice unique touch. For example you must manually work the bolt for the rifles, often change the barrel for MGs, and also have the ability to rest your gun on any flat surface. This lessens the weapons recoil rate and is vital for accuracy. However the implementation for this is not quite right and it would be nice to have a proper animation representing resting a weapon on a surface as opposed to an icon on the screen telling you it's resting. I am being picky in this respect though as the actual feature is awesome and unique to RO.

I never review games allowing the fact they will likely be continually updated influence me. It's a review based on an "out of the box" product. RO needs a lot of work. Many features are not here that need to be. If the game is meant to be realistic why no medic class able to heal minor wounds? Why no penetration system that enables certain cover to be shot through? Why no destructible environments? In OFP tanks could happily knock over bushes instead of being forced to drive around them! As it stands RO is an interesting development but feels lacking. All players do in it is call artillery strikes, snipe (or spam they want to snipe), hunt tanks, or hide on the front line in what is in reality an overly realistic battlefield. It's not fun, you feel like a very unlucky squaddie who can't do much with his bolt action rifle. This is great to begin but grows too frustrating... the balance is not quite there, yet.


+ Stunning warzone atmosphere

+ Realistic

- Too realistic for a game?

- Tanks are steel coffins

8.5 / 10

Should have been much more

by The Critical Alien
© 2006