Getting killed in Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad is not like the usual death in a multiplayer first-person shooter. Most games in this genre see you dying heroically with the bodies of enemies all around you. Here, death comes very quietly. Typically, you die without a clue that anything is wrong, taking a single bullet in the head fired by an unseen enemy. This is both the appeal and the frustration developer TripWire Interactive's shooter sequel, as the World War II combat here is so realistic that you have to approach every battle like a real infantryman or you risk dying the quick and brutal death of a real infantryman. A few features have been added to the gameplay to make things a bit easier on raw recruits--most notably a pair of single-player campaigns--but this game remains one of the most authentic and unforgiving shooters on the market. It is sure to thrill serious students of warfare and sure to frustrate run-and-gun players looking for a quick WWII-flavored fix.
Authentic gritty combat and atmospheric maps of war-torn Stalingrad are the two main attractions of Red Orchestra 2.
You know the old saying that you never hear the bullet with your name on it? That pretty much sums up how combat works in Red Orchestra 2. The core of the game is a relatively typical territorial control mode in which teams of up to 32 players on German and Soviet sides battle over the wasteland terrain around Stalingrade circa 1943. But the battle mechanics are much more brutally realistic than in most shooters. Even though you take on the roles of standard multiplayer shooter troop types like riflemen, assault soldiers, and snipers, there are absolutely no concessions made to make it easier on you. There is no targeting reticle here. When you want to aim your rifle, you need to do it the old-fashioned way: by looking down the barrel and using iron sights.
Furthermore, there are no graphics to denote ammunition. If you want to see what you've got in the clip, you need to manually check it, and even then, you only get a vague idea of how many rounds you have remaining through text like "You have about half of a clip left." Most notably, single shots can and do kill. If you do something completely normal for the average shooter but incredibly suicidal in the real world, like charge through an open field toward an enemy-held ruined church, you will die. Chances are good that you will never hear or see the shot that kills you because it will come from the gun of a hunkered-down, smarter opponent who takes the time to line up shots from behind cover.
This is the blessing and the curse of Red Orchestra 2. There is only one way to play this game: You need to be incredibly patient, work with your teammates, and approach every situation just as real troops would have when fighting for Stalingrad during WWII. All of the limitations of the weapons here make it impossible to snap off quick shots with any sort of accuracy, which means that you have to take time to find a good firing position and then shoot carefully. Rapid firing means wild firing, which just alerts enemies to your position and gets you a bullet in the face. It also increases the chance that you will lose track of the number of shots that you have fired and empty a clip at the wrong time. If you don't shoot smartly, you inevitably run out of ammo at precisely the moment you need it and, again, wind up with a convertible skull.
New single-player campaigns offer a good way to learn the controls and get accustomed to the unique feel of battles.
This might not sound like a great deal of fun, and it isn't at first. Initially, the game seems chaotic and random, with a lot of sudden, unfair deaths inflicted on you by dug-in enemies that kill you without revealing their positions. You never know where they are until after you're dead, which is when the camera helpfully swings out and focuses in on them in their hidey holes. But after you spend some time with the game, you can't help but get hooked on how exacting a challenge it offers. If you get into matches with experienced teammates who work together, you can learn a lot just from letting them take the lead as you watch how they approach maps, clear buildings of enemies, and secure locations. Tension is ratcheted high because you never know when death will call. The pressure of having everything on the line all the time really pushes you forward, encouraging you to keep playing and building up your skills. You never even realize just how tense you are when playing the game until something happens that you don't expect, like an unseen Russian clubbing you over the head with his rifle butt--whereupon you practically jump out of your chair in surprise.