Hearing a man screaming for his mother as he bleeds out on the floor, his vision slowly fading to black and his crumpled body unable to move is, we don’t doubt, one of the true horrors of war. Nobody can do anything but watch him die and, as he struggles to take his last breath, nobody even has time to reassure him and lie that everything will be okay. It’s a humanising snap from firing bullets at an almost faceless enemy to a realisation of: ‘What the hell are we doing?’ It’s a feature in Red Orchestra 2.
As anyone who played Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 (the original) will know, Red Orchestra 2 is a multiplayer WWII shooter set on the Eastern Front, rather that the vastly more commonly visited war in Europe. Capable of being run on 64-player servers, using both tanks and class-based infantry and a level of detail that we’re only used to seeing in the Arma series, it’s a realistic shooter where a single shot to the chest can kill. There’s even an option to have to manually chamber a new round on a bolt-action rifle. Developer Tripwire Interactive has included a fairly lengthy singleplayer campaign too, but really, this isn’t why anyone is buying the game.
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Detail and specialty run through Red Orchestra 2 like a vein, with player classes that are incredibly specific and by no means equal in ability, which is fine when so many people are playing at once. The lowest and most available class is the rifleman, who's given a basic bolt-action rifle at the start, but better weapons become available for this and all other classes as you gain more experience. The elite rifleman, for example, gets slightly better rifles from the get-go, while the assault infantry class gets submachine guns and automatic assault rifles.
We haven’t even touched on the machine gunner, anti-tank, tank crew, tank commander, squad leader and commander classes yet either. Instead we'll just say that the range of classes is extensive, and allows for a hierarchy of orders to pass through the players.
Tripwire has made more significant - and possibly revolutionary - changes since Ostfront than just class tweaks though. When people talk about how certain game mechanics have been standardised for the best, they talk about how Mirror's Edge revolutionised movement, Gears of War did third-person cover, Thief did light-based stealth and so on - if all goes as it should, they will say that Red Orchestra 2 did first-person cover. It’s elegant and flawless once you understand the system.
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Here's how it works. When you run to cover you get a small icon at the bottom of the screen that tells you that you can glue yourself to it, and it’s only been in the rarest of circumstances (a dead horse, if you’re interested) where the cover system didn’t allow us to hide behind something we thought we should be able to use. When ‘glued’ you have a new icon that rates the cover under which you're hiding - green, orange or red - which lets you know how likely you are to still end up being killed.
From cover you can shuffle along to an edge and keep pressing a direction to lean out and take a quick look, and then you can right-click for iron sights to swing your body around more to take aim. Of course, if it’s too dangerous to do that, you can blind-fire wildly. It works the same for looking over walls or through windows too - press forward to peek up, or use your iron sights to look over properly. Or, again, just blind fire. While you probably won’t hit anyone while blind firing, you will at least scare them off - that's another of Red Orchestra 2's new features.
Soldiers are not super heroes, especially in WWII. These are men dragged from their families to fight for The Motherland. No food, freezing temperatures, lice – war is horrible and stressful even before the other side start shooting at you. So, when the bullets fly, it can easily push you over the edge - your vision will blur, you'll be less able to move, your accuracy will go to hell and you might even scream. It gives an increased incentive to use suppressive fire and a handy feedback mechanism for saying: ‘If you go out of cover now you will die, idiot.’