I don’t know how most of you feel about realism in your videogames, but I for one by and large use videogames to escape reality. Oh sure, I’ll play some risk-like epic strategy game occasionally with historically correct troop specifications and geography and such, but a realistic FPS? I mean, seriously, how long am I expected to survive when I can’t slap a band aid on a bullet wound or a use a turkey dinner to heal shrapnel injuries? Still, for those of you looking for a realistic FPS, filled with many, many sudden deaths and lots of limping around, I can’t say that I’ve found one better than Red Orchestra from Tripwire, not that I’ve looked, and not that it’s a particularly crowded field in any case.
Red Orchestra recreates (and those of you with an actual interest in history are going to have to judge for yourself just how well, because that’s certainly not me) Hitler hammering on the Russians during WW2. As far as I’m concerned, groveling around one village trying not to get my head blown off by a sniper is just as good as any other, but perhaps they do represent actual historic places. It also recreates many of the weapons and the vehicles of the time, and right off the bat I’m astonished that anyone ever managed to kill anyone in previous wars. Machineguns spray wildly. Armored personnel carriers are basically lumbering beasts practically begging to be slaughtered by tanks. And tanks, oy, they require a crew of two people (driver and gunner) working as a team to kill anything. Your character becomes fatigued from running fairly rapidly, and, as already mentioned, there are no health packs lying around to patch you up – once you’re shot you’re shot, and the associated performance hit doesn’t get much better with time, and one shot kills are more common than not. Weapons have no targeting crosshair unless you aim down the iron sights, and even then the weapon can waver significantly if you are fatigued, and don’t forget to account for gravity dropping the bullet a few inches during flight. Yes, that’s all in there.
The problem with Red Orchestra, or perhaps you won’t think of it that way, is that realistic wargames almost by definition require some kind of significant teamwork, and that’s a lot to ask of a bunch of yahoos running around looking to shoot something. All the open land (much like in real war, I suspect) is ruled by snipers, tanks drive around jockeying for position and lobbing shells at each other, while villages are crawling with infantry trying to get cover to shoot from. There is a clear division of labor (heck, the tank crew member doesn’t even have a primary weapon when he appears, though he can pick one up from a body), and a lot of these elements are going to have to do their separate jobs to be good at this game. I’m not good at this game. I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the discipline, and I’m not presently set up for VOIP, which is admittedly native in the game and in very heavy use by the regular players. What I can tell you is that just a few guys who are good at this game on one side can totally decimate us yahoos on the other.
I’ve read that Red Orchestra started as a mod to UT2004, and it really feels like that. It’s a limited game, much like other mods such as Day of Defeat and Counterstrike. While Red Orchestra has many different maps, weapons, and vehicles, it basically has only one style of gameplay – one team trying to either capture or destroy key locations or items held by the other team. If you’re looking for CTF, onslaught, or deathmatch variants, you’re not going to find them here. Installation can take place either from disc or download from Steam, but either way the game has to be authenticated through Steam which, not to belabor the point as I’ve written about Steam in the past, is a nifty distribution concept, but in actual implementation is a royal pain to use. There is effectively no single player game, providing only a collection of poor bots to play against on the multiplayer maps to give you some practice with the weapons and familiarity with the maps. You’re going to have to learn the game mostly on the unforgiving killing fields of Russia, and if you look around I’m sure you’ll find my corpses lying there in plentitude. Playing to game is easy, but being good at it is something else altogether.
Red Orchestra looks very nice, much like CS: Source, DoD: Source, or CoD2 for that matter. We’ve reached a new paradigm for how good war games can look now, and I for one am very happy here. Distant gunfire sounds distant, while up close they carry some real punch (enough so that my wife asked me to turn my speakers down). The world is full of explosions, and your vision wavers if a bullet comes close to you, and guys are yelling out warnings or orders to each other all over the place. Let’s just say that the chaos of war is one of the major things that have been recreated.
Tripwire has done a good job with this hyper-realistic physics mod at a reasonable mod price. It’s not exactly my cup of tea; I think it’s tilted too strongly towards people who are good at it, and every day they play it they get a little better still, but perhaps you could make that same argument with CS or DoD. Perhaps they could level that out a little with improved practice bots or a newbie server or something. Regardless, I’ve got to give it big kudos for being something that feels absolutely unlike any other FPS out there in many ways. I think it’s worth supporting for that reason alone.