Red Orchestra 2's Pacific-theatre standalone expansion, Rising Storm, appeared last week and offered tough-as-nails World War II multiplayer for the discerning FPS player. I waded on to its tropical beaches with my rifle above my head. Here's Wot I Think.
Ugh, even I am doing it.
Exasperatingly, it seems impossible to mention Red Orchestra 2 or expandalone Rising Storm without picking up a trenching tool and unearthing remarks on the terrible launch issues faced by the original game. They did ruin the experience for plenty of folk – a stats reset wiping unlocks being one of the worst of the issues – but I can't help thinking they ended up providing a superb game with an ill-deserved reputation. Red Orchestra 2 is a brilliant and beautiful game, and one of those titles that I think anyone with an interest in shooters on the PC should take a look at. Really, I recommend it that highly.
There's a knock-on ramification of RO2's launch and subsequent shaky community building, which is that populations are fairly low across the servers, and the same is currently true of Rising Storm. Not low enough that you can't consistently get a great game, I stress, but enough so that there are a bunch of servers filled with bots. A friend joked that it was a shame that a 64-player game only had sixty people playing it in the world, and I had to laugh. He's wrong – you can usually find quite a few busy servers – but nevertheless this should not be true of a game of this calibre. It's a startlingly-realised piece of work, built on the kinds of foundations that make the PC such an appealing place to do your gaming.
The story behind the game is a fascinating one: the SDK for Red Orchestra 2 was made available to a group of modders months before the game shipped, and the subsequent results of that access was Rising Storm, which Tripwire went on to publish. Modding moving into commercial gaming isn't exactly unheadof, but Tripwire have pioneered in that area, and this seems like one of their most successful experiments. Rising Storm is a fine piece of work, a collaboration between amateurs and pros that is deserving of attention. Your attention, Steve.
Anyway, enough contextualising: to the game itself.
At the heart of it are 64-player battles on maps which portray major scenes of conflict from the real World War. Red Orchestra's signature feature motif is that the sides are not symmetrically balanced in the way that other games tend to be, and instead offer an “asymmetrical” balance. What this means in practice is quite different abilities and weapon types, which in play sort of even out. The Japanese have abilities which increase suppression (and they themselves are less susceptible to the effect, I think), while the Americans have a range of firepower which includes the nightmarish flamethrower, and these in themselves can help with that morale-crushing exercise in bombardment.
As in RO2, there's plenty to learn about the way this game works, like that suppression mechanic, like breathing and managing your stances, or supply of bandages. There are even penetration values for everything, so expect to be shot through a wall by a sniper until you can learn what really provides cover.
The game itself is constructed from a series of objectives that must be either defended or attacked, and co-ordination between players (and between squads, for which there is a Battlefield-like structure that allows you to spawn on the squad leader) is essential to take or hold terrain. The dynamics of this provides for some thrilling moments, and the additional tools that the game provides – like being able to call in artillery strikes – means there can be suddenly and brutal shifts in the battle flow.
Precision and authenticity are the big watch-words for this game, but it's hard to really say how much authenticity a videogame is able to offer. You are always going to be confined to the way in which FPS games do these things, from limited fields of battle to the awkwardness of stances. (Arma 3's compromise for that latter issue is the best I've seen, I have to say.) But realism is treacherous terrain, as every simulator ever known has discovered. Being realistic is not what games should aim for, but instead to be internally robust and consistent. That is what Rising Storm manages. What I can say is that the “feel” of the game is even and engaging. The gun-feedback, suppression effects and other battlefield atmospherics combine to produce a dense, robust experience that kept me clicking even after horrible and annoying deaths.
There's always a thread that runs through commentary on FPS games with any amount realism, from Planetside 2 to this, about the power of snipers, artillery, and so forth. And it's worth saying that this game isn't a romping deathmatch, and you will be repeatedly killed from the bushes. Even in the “action mode” you can expect the action to be creeping, and the gun-fights to be sudden, lethal rifle exchanges which happen more because someone messed up than because someone displayed any raw twitch skill. This is a good thing overall. Yes, it's going to see many ragequit, but taking the time to learn the tactical and spatial awareness required to read the game and know what's going on is one of those gruesome difficulty curves that pays off in (even the most humble levels of) mastery.
The “killed by x I couldn't see” complaint is strong here, granted, but I know some of you understand the deep reward of hunting down and killing those camping bastards, and how a deep tactical proficiency in such games provides quite a different reward to the bunny-hoppy speed-run delights of other FPS games.
This means its appeal will be... focused. Like a laser.
Unlike a laser, the game is not as pretty as I had remembered RO2 being, being rather muddy, but I suspect that's partly due to the false lens of memory, and I can't really deduct any proverbial points for the enormously detailed and realistic maps. Rising Storm is one of those games which remembers the craftsmanship of such things, and while they're not all breath-taking, there's an overall workmanlike feel to it all which suggests the team really know what they were doing.
There are some oddities under the hood, not least of which is that Red Orchestra 2 owners get the Rising Storm content by default, but can only play the rifleman without purchasing the full game. Probably worth the upgrade, but it's basically a mandatory multi-gig additional download even if you don't.
Anyway, I want to conclude by saying: take a chance on Rising Storm. It's tough, unforgiving, and not always the prettiest game, and I think most of you know roughly what to expect from that formula. But I am also pretty certain that it will be more and better than you expect, particularly if you haven't played either game before. It's filled with accomplished features and brave ideas. It's filled with realised ambition, which is more than you can say for most AAA games.
This is a big, bold, PC-centric multiplayer project that needs and deserves a thriving community, and RPS readers are just the excellent sort of souls I'd like to be met by when I log on to one of its servers.