Genre: Online Multiplayer First-Person Shooter
Release Date: May 30, 2013
Developer/Publisher: Tripwire Interactive – Rising Storm Team/Tripwire Interactive
Rating: ESRB M, PEGI 18
Retail: $20 USD
Red Orchestra 2: Rising Storm is the new standalone expansion to Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, built on the same engine and assets, and unifying the two games into one client. Developed by the Rising Storm Team of modders and overseen by Tripwire Interactive, Rising Storm is an interesting case of modders essentially making a game for the original game developers. How did this interesting development arrangement work out for the quality of the game?
The first thing you’ll notice is the unified client. Previous owners of Heroes of Stalingrad were updated to the new client regardless of having purchased Rising Storm, and are allowed to play on Rising Storm maps and servers as a single class and without the ability to gain experience. Purchasers of Rising Storm who had previously bought and played Heroes of Stalingrad have full access to all the classes and unlocks, and have had their progress from Heroes of Stalingrad carried over to the new client. Meanwhile, those who have bought Rising Storm without previously buying or playing Heroes of Stalingrad also have access to both games and full unlocks.
This system smartly prevents the base from being split while still being enticing to newcomers. On a bright note, experience gain and weapon level-ups are much faster in Rising Storm, and I’ve found it difficult to not level up at least one weapon a match. The previous Heroes of Stalingrad experience rate seems to be intact for that game, however, so there’s no mercy there. Interestingly, the previous Heroes of Stalingrad single-player campaign, generally panned by most players and reviewers, has been repackaged as a separate executable missing any multiplayer features. It’s probably for the best.
Rising Storm features six new maps, ranging from famous battles like Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima to less famous ones like Hanto and Kwajalein. Generally these maps are about the same size as maps in Heroes of Stalingrad, but the disappearance of tanks limits their size and complexity. Most maps feel tight and closed-in, with plenty of choke-points forced by map geometry, buildings, or trees. Even open maps without a lot of tall trees or obstacles feel tight, as they usually have a network of trenches and obstacles throughout.
The jungle setting also provides possibilities to use water as an obstacle, and there is one map that showcases this by forcing players to choose to either funnel into dry areas, or to brave the waters and suffer a large movement penalty. All of the maps use foliage heavily as a new form of cover, albeit one that is near useless if a player is spotted hiding in it. Players must always keep their visibility in mind, although this is a bit tricky since LOD levels can result in players being visible at long distances even if it appears to them that they’re completely covered by foliage.
Rising Storm introduces a bunch of new weapons, including a new balance dynamic to better represent the asymmetric warfare of the pacific front. Whereas in Heroes of Stalingrad both sides had weapons that had largely the same function, give or take a bit of damage or range, Rising Storm features weapons on either side that fill completely different roles.
The US side has a flamethrower and plenty of automatic weapons, while the Japanese side has a portable mortar. Both are very useful in Rising Storm’s tight maps as they can take out entire squads of people in a few seconds. However, their application differs wildly, due to their different ranges.
Flamethrowers are very useful in clearing out Japanese bunkers and trenches, but fuel runs out quickly and flamethrower carriers are prime targets for anyone who sees them. Meanwhile, the Japanese knee mortar can be fired from behind the front lines and can take out popular camping spots or concentrations of enemy soldiers.
However, US soldiers can loot mortars from dead Japanese soldiers, while Japanese soldiers cannot loot flamethrowers from dead US soldiers. This can be problematic as a liberated knee mortar can constantly be resupplied and kill swathes of Japanese soldiers, who are unused to having to deal with mortars, and are largely not protected against them by map design.
One of the biggest new gameplay mechanics in Rising Storm is the banzai charge. Japanese soldiers can organize large charges, which provide not only a suppression effect against enemy soldiers, but also allows charging soldiers to ignore damage that would have otherwise killed them. These charges are quite useful in taking positions or repelling invaders, but they are also very easily stopped by automatic weapons and flamethrowers. A single well-positioned flamethrower can easily stop a large banzai charge.
The gripping and emotive voice acting established in Heroes of Stalingrad is still present. You still hear your comrades’ death screams as they burn alive. You still witness their squirming and depressed pleading as they breathe their last. You still listen to their attempts at dehumanizing their enemy by using racial slurs and propaganda terms.
It’s very striking and lends a serious tone to the game, which fits nicely with its realism and gritty design. However, I do have an issue with the US voice acting, as all US soldiers have the same southern drawl done by the same voice actor, while the Japanese voice acting has three separate and distinguishable accents even to non-speakers of the language.
All of these additions are tempered by the fact that this is still the same old Red Orchestra 2 as ever. Bugs are ever-present and affect all parts of gameplay. The bugs that can freeze the game just after joining a server are still there. Warping through scenery and geometry is still possible. Getting stuck on ankle-high obstacles is still possible and deadly if an enemy encounters you at that point. Being unable to prone simply because you’re crouching and not standing is still present. Until very recently it was extremely easy to turn off all smoke effects and foliage without consequences.
Servers are protected by both the notorious Punkbuster and VAC systems. This would usually provide for cheat-free gameplay, yet there are still a bunch of .ini and settings file tweaks that can provide enormous advantages to players who use them. Punkbuster is useless as well, failing to detect most hackers, then accusing everyone on the server of speedhacking during lag spikes.
Joining a server can often be a painful experience since the server doesn’t reserve your slot until after you load, meaning you can join a server that has a slot or two free, but if people with faster computers or SSDs join the server after you but load the map faster, your join attempt fails. But only after you finished loading.
Weapons are not immune for bugs, and melee detection is often elusive. Being prone is often protection enough against melee attacks from enemies who are standing. Cancelling reload animations by shifting an inch to the right cancels reloading entirely, even if the animation was a few frames from ending and had already visibly “finished.” For me, the game suffered from debilitating file corruption which led to repeated crashing, necessitating a reinstall or cache verification after every 5-10 hours of playing. The rest of my games and files were still alright, and my hard drive is still in tip-top shape, so it was definitely a fault with the game.
Hit detection is still player-side even though the game relies heavily on non-hitscan projectile logic. The usage of the control key for almost every meaningful interaction means you could be trying to pick up a weapon and end up being attached to cover. Picking up that weapon may have been futile anyways as they have bizarre “detection boxes” that may be hiding underground while the weapon is still visible.
The release of the game was bizarre too, as the projected release date was simply “Summer 2012” until the extremely sudden announcement of the release two days before release itself. This was also odd considering that the game was in a semi-open beta state until then, and was still extremely buggy up to release day.
In the end, Rising Storm is just more of the same. It’s a pretty veneer of paint over Heroes of Stalingrad and not much more. The new weapons and the new maps are pretty and keep things fresh, but they’re not exactly revolutionary. Although Tripwire has promised that they’ll be adding in more weapons, vehicles, and maps, it’s hard to forget that they made exactly the same promises on the release of Heroes of Stalingrad.
I am torn about recommending the game to newcomers and veterans of the series alike. To veterans who didn’t grab the game when it was on pre-order sale for $11, it’s hard to justify the price tag. To newcomers, grabbing Rising Storm is probably worth it for $20, but the biggest deal-breaker would probably be the amount of bugs in the game. If you can deal with climbing the mountain of bugs in the game, Rising Storm presents a very fun and unique experience. I enjoyed it, and I continue to play it, but I am still left with a very odd sense of buyer’s remorse. Maybe it’s just sadness for a company that did not learn from their mistakes.