The old Red Orchestra mod, which is now approximately a single forever old, and was a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004 and 2003 before it, was a classic. A total conversion, it recreated the conflict between Russia and Germany on the Eastern Front during World War II. It was also a famously difficult game to play, combining realistic ballistics over large maps fought over by both infantry and vehicles. It was, effectively, a grittier, more realistic version of the Battlefield games.
It was also, well... obviously a labour of love. The animations were a bit clunky, there were some buggy bits of code, and the game’s UI was obviously not designed with ease of use in mind. But for a mod, and one that was free besides, it was fine. And man, we lost so many days to mastering AT rifles and making life hell for tankers... So, with all that fine nostalgia making us misty for simpler times and les grey hairs, how does the new, non-mod and costs actual money Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad actually stack up?
Well, it’s telling that our original Red Orchestra experience was much, much smoother. At launch, Heroes of Stalingrad is a mass of potential bugs, errors and glitches that is stopping many from being able to enjoy the game – and, sadly, that includes us.
I want to believe (and headshot Nazis...)
This is yet another of those cases where it’s almost impossible for us to see the great game that Heroes of Stalingrad could be for massive array of bugs between us and that experience. It’s also true that there are a lot of people who have nothing but praise for the game, and are having bug-free experiences. They’re posting screenshots (and a lot of abuse) of just how glorious the game looks, and we agree.
But it’s like we’re looking at a whole other game.
The thing to remember, here, is that Heroes is a game you have to buy. It’s a retail product, and that’s the standard we’re going to hold the developer, Tripwire Interactive, to. That being the case, if we’d paid money for Heroes we’d be feeling pretty stiffed right now; as it is, we certainly feel that that’s a lot of our download cap we’re not going to get back. We’ve a litany of issues with the game, some that come down to transient bugs that are only affecting some of the game’s population, others that seem to simply be poor design.
First up, the game has a serious frame rate issue that regularly drops the action down to a picturesque, but unplayable two or three frames per second. The game is pretty, and it really gives the Unreal engine a walloping, but that there’s no excuse for that kind of performance. Even when the game runs at higher rates, there’s some serious stuttering – in a game that features such demanding ballistics, this is a real killer.
The game’s UI is also remarkably amateurish, to the point that the original game feels like a much more polished product. Poor mouse movement combined with some terrible design can often lead to the most intense frustration when you cannot find the proper ‘continue’ buttons or graphical settings, and the lack of a manual of any kind just makes it even more frustrating.
In game, you can see how great the game should be, but aside from the frame rate issues, there are a few baffling design choices. Heroes features a cover system; this seems not only like an odd inclusion for such a hardcore game, and is not helped by the fact that it’s difficult to use.
But, all that said, when the game does work, it’s like the sun breaking out from the clouds. Map designs are large and involved, the gunplay is challenging but oh-so-rewarding, and the sound is possibly some of the best we’ve heard in any game of this type. The voice-command system is particularly good. The different classes, from tankers through to snipers and infantry, and the mighty machine gunner, deliver some serious variety and tactical flexibility. The Commander class, with his ability to bring on artillery and mortar strikes, is particularly good, not only to play, but just to have a round – there’s nothing quite like watching a position get shelled back into the stone age before you rush over the top to assault the shell-shocked (and the game does have an effective suppression system) survivors.
At the moment, though, whether or not we believe the game will overcome its issues comes down to having faith in Tripwire Interactive to support and improve the game. The company has a great record for just that, though, so we expect Heroes of Stalingrad to be that rare game that despite serious issues at launch, will only get better with time.
For now, though, you might want to hold off for a week or two...