An action packed realistic war experience that rewards patience.
Red Orchestra Ostfront 41-45(RO) is a complex and challenging FPS game that manages to create a slight barrier for entry to players not used to realistic open war games while still being great at the same time. While many players still enjoy Rainbow Six with it's great realism, that doesn't guarantee they'll enjoy an open warfare game based on realism. Things become much more chaotic with the presence of machine guns, tanks, artillery, anti-tank guns and well hidden snipers sprawled out across a wide open battlefield. RO can hold up to 50 players on a single server in addition to that, so it's understandable that many people may not be able get past that realism barrier when it's coupled with the chaos and hell of an actual full-scale battlefield.
I write this review in order to recommend this game as well as show you both sides of the fence for the complaints and praises. I hopefully will be able to help you decide whether this game is the game for you or not. As I'm writing this review in the Summer of 2008, I will not be reviewing under the standards of today, but of the market when the game was originally released.
For those that don't know, Red Orchestra originally began as a free mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. It won the grand prize for the Make Something Unreal mod contest which earned Tripwire $50,000 and the license to create a retail game with the Unreal Engine. Did they create something worthy in the crowded FPS market, or did they end up releasing a polished mod with a price tag?
You should know the history of WWII, so I'll only focus on the setting. Obviously the setting is set on the Russian Front from years 1941-1945. Many of the major battles set in between these years have been created into levels. They range from the initial attack into Russia to the freezing cold urban streets of Stalingrad and all the way to the siege of the German capital covering all weather types.
Luckily for the developers of RO, the Unreal engine aged extremely well with the newer shooters of the time. All of the weapons, uniforms, players and vehicles are detailed very well. One complaint is that though the textures are good for buildings, the interiors are rather dull in certain levels with either barren hallways or repeat objects thrown around the place. Though I have no idea what WWII tracer rounds looked like, some players seem to be confused about the lime/yellow tracer rounds. While that may or may not be accurate, you can be sure that the rest of the weapons and vehicles are authentically detailed to their real life counter-parts. Tripwire did a great job at capturing the interior of vehicles. You can shift around in the tank to multiple views for all three tank positions. It's also nice for immersion when sitting in a half-track with other soldiers and watching them nervously wipe their face and bury their heads in their hands. Overall, I still believe the graphics hold up to this day for the reason that they're gritty and realistic with devastated landscapes.
The sound in this game is just great. All of the weapons sound fantastic and unique. You'll absolutely know when an MG is firing down on you and you'll know from what direction it's coming from without even seeing it. You'll also hear whether it's behind a building or from a far away distance from the slightly muffled shots or the echoes in a wide open map. Tanks sound perfect from outside and inside. The sounds of the rotating turret and sounds of shells hitting opposing tanks as well as yours are great with a loud metal clang letting you know someone has been hit. I dare say it may be the best sounding tanks out of any other game. Like most other FPS games, sound is also vital for your survival. Players breath heavily after sprinting for a while, so it's dead giveaway to yourself or the enemy hiding around the corner. When you spring to cover and plop down into a prone position, chances are anyone near you knows exactly where you are from hitting the dirt. I believe there's some music in the game, but I turned that off after the first day I got the game.
Here's a widely opinionated area of the game. The number one complaint about the game from people who never managed to enjoy the game is the long reload times. The main issue is with rifles. You have to fire all rounds in a clip fed rifle before being allowed to reload.(KAR/Nagant, etc) After that, you have to watch your character slowly enter the clip because I suppose it may or may not be as simple as just shoving it in there in real life. The animation is so excellently detailed that I have assume that it IS how they're reloaded. I personally see no problem with the reload time. It's barely longer than many other games with realistic weapons. However, compared to other WWII games with the same rifles, the reload times are much longer which I suppose may be the problem when players aren't used to seeing that with the same weapons they've fired in other WWII shooters for years. Another complaint is that you have to click again after firing to load another round in the chamber with the bolt. I've never had a problem with this, but that may be because I'm a twitchy FPS gamer that clicks like crazy in a firefight. Aside from the rifles, all of the other weapons are perfect and while there are quite a few actions in the game, it's no more than you're used to seeing in other games such as the Battlefield series or Day of Defeat. Everything is fluent and responsive in the controls department. The tank controls are a bit more complicated, but easily manageable after your first time in the tank. You move the turret using the WASD keys and change views using the scroll wheel. You may want to look up the online manual before playing around in one.
You should know by now that this is completely an online focused game, but for those wishing to learn the game before heading online, there are bots to practice with in all of the maps. They're quite bad, but I'm not going to detract from the score in this area.
RO has one of the better communities out of any FPS out there. Most of the players are very mature and helpful to new players unless you're a sniper and the enemies MG is mowing down your team. They'll get pretty angry if you take the teams single sniper slot without taking down key targets. The game is very much based around team work in some of the maps. While some urban infantry maps don't require team work, you can expect the majority of maps to require it. For assault/defend maps, you will NEED coordination on your team. However as we all know, getting an online team to cooperate isn't always as easy as it sounds. You won't be able to one man army in this game, so expect to work as a team in order to win. It should be noted that most every server has friendly fire on, but as I said, most of the players are mature and forgive TKs. Though the game isn't nearly as populated as many other popular FPS games, you'll find there are plenty of servers running at all times. There are only a few 50 player servers, but they're generally always easy to get into. The voice chat is about as clear as you could expect compared to Half-Life engine games.
Where to begin? The best thing about this game is the huge amount of variety in almost everything. Weapons, weather, environments, map types and vehicles are all varied and make for an experience that won't become dull. One thing that I absolutely love about this game is the diversity in the maps. Nearly every time of battlefield situation is found here. There are infantry only maps, infantry and vehicle/tank maps and pure tank battle maps. This includes the environment as well. There are maps made for dense urban combat and building to building firefights. Though there are some wide open infantry maps, they won't be nearly as large as others. Some interesting levels are the maps in highly detailed forests where visibility is very low until you're in the enemies face. The large cities are usually too condensed for large tanks to enter, so this leaves to close quarters firefights. This is easily the most action-packed type of map. There's also maps with wide open plains intended for full tank battles. While it's recommended you fill your tank with a crew, it's possible and easy to go solo. These can lead to very intense battles as you come over a hill with your tank line and meet the enemy tank line looking straight at you.
We're left with the infantry/tank maps. Usually these maps limit the number of tanks allowed to 2-3 max. In cities, tanks are absolutely vital to victory. You'll need a full crew to win these maps. A driver, a gunner and the machine gunner. There are other open field maps dotted with small villages or farms to fight for as infantry while the tanks duke it out in the fields and cover their infantry. There's quite a bit of foliage in the larger maps, so it is possible to crawl your way to the enemy base without being seen. This is also great for snipers and hiding anti-tank soldiers. Speaking of classes, there are a large number of classes all with a unique selection of equipment similar to what you'd expect from the genre. The number of classes and the number of classes allowed per team depends on the map. One interesting feature of RO is that the variety of weapons also depends on the time line of the maps. If the map is set in 1941, you won't expect to be using an STG-44 or many semi-automatic rifles and new models of older weapons. All of the weapons are very different between sides with the exception of rifles. As you can expect from a realistic FPS, most shots are one shot, one kill. However, for shots that don't kill, it will wound a particular section of the body shown by a body icon turning red where you were shot. This will limit your capabilities for about ten seconds be through movement or aiming. Being shot in the hand will result in your weapon and ammo being dropped. It should be noted that bullets do have to travel to their intended target. If you're used to say the Half-Life engine where most of the games will have bullets or buckshot reaching your target the exact moment you fire, then you may have to adjust a bit for this game. Shooting at a sprinting target at a long range will often miss unless you lead your target. At close quarters, you won't notice this much, but playing a sniper and shooting from a distance will require you to lead your targets if they're running.
Overall, RO is a wonderful game for fans of realistic war games. It does require and reward patience. If the thought of slowly crawling into a position or running from cover to cover to avoid being shot makes you think "boring," then this game may not be for you. The game is slower paced in that you have to move carefully and seek cover often. You can't run straight down a street expecting to own everyone you see because more often than not, you'll die withing seconds of moving out in the open in the middle of a firefight. Since there are so many positions for infantry to dig in, you won't get a chance to get a shot off playing run'n'gun.
If you're a fan of America's Army, Operation Flashpoint or their spiritual successors, then this is the game for you. If you're interested in a breath of fresh air from the other fast paced military shooters of the genre that rewards patience, teamwork and feels more realistic in that you have to move carefully, then this is absolutely worth the price of admission and a low one it is now. You can find RO on Steam for around $10 which is $10 well spent. I'll see you in game, comrades.