The competitive shooter market is tough: If you're not a battle royale success story, and you're not being delivered by a mega-successful triple-A studio, it can be difficult to make an impact at launch.
However, some games, with a bit of work and some time for word of mouth to spread, can cut a niche in the market and then live there, offering up an experience that no one else can offer.
Rising Storm 2: Vietnam (RS2V) is one of these games, and the unique experience it offers is a claustrophobic horror, every battle a nightmarish meat-grinder that can only be survived with smarts and teamwork.
On the surface, RS2V looks like many other tactical shooters. Soldiers creep into position, grenades thump, and helicopters fly overhead with a shrill BRRRRT as M60Ds spew hot death into the treeline. It's a military shooter, where each bullet could be the death of you, and teamwork is key.
However, players that sink any time into the game will start to see the terror that underpins every action. Individual soldiers pick through rice fields coated with an oppressive layer of fog, squads creep into maze-like tunnels filled with hostile soldiers, with no safety net except the guns of the infantry at your side. Pulling the trigger in RS2V is often the least important part of the game, with players instead having to learn tradecraft, perception, and good positioning to survive.
Indeed, a shot to the head, heart, or even spine causes instant death, so even the most skilled twitch player could come unstuck by a rookie player getting off a single round. The best way to win a firefight here is for it to be entirely one-sided, a bullet fired from behind a wall, or a burst of gunfire puncturing the treeline from a shooter concealed in a bush. The standard game-mode sees one team attack, respawning from Viet Cong tunnels or on squad leaders, taking a series of objectives as defenders fall back and set up traps, choke points, and firing positions. It's a war of attrition, and while objectives will occasionally centre on open spaces — a firebase carved into a cliffside, or a village in the clearing of a jungle — most of the time players are in low-visibility, fighting against enemies that are perpetually circling you, trying to avoid their own phantoms while playing guerillas in the mist.
RS2V's progression is centred entirely on cosmetics, with levels giving you additional armour options: a US G.I. might get access to a hat with a pack of smokes in it, or a shirt with the arms torn off. This means that every soldier has a unique flash of personality when you're stood next to them, but it doesn't make any real changes to the silhouette, something that would be a major problem for game balance when murky shapes are all you have to go on.
The shooting itself is tight and difficult. Learning how each gun handles is valuable here, but most of the decent kit is locked away in some of the game's special roles, which are limited by number. Most of the time, then, you'll be using the gun of your faction: often a type of assault rifle that has minor pros or cons over what the other teams have at their disposal, but primarily this serves to give each team some personality.
RS2V isn't a masterpiece, but it's a tactical shooter that deserves to find an audience for the way that it plays on its subject matter. The gameplay mechanics may not seem that different to its Pacific War predecessor, but the oppressive atmosphere and collection of wild and lethal weaponry lends this Vietnam-set shooter its own horror. By adding new factions for free on a semi-regular basis and also allowing for custom maps — often hosted on popular third-party servers, offering a high player count — has kept the game's community enthused, and as a result you can always have a good 32 vs 32 fight.
This means that the title occupies an interesting place. Certain Battlefield servers, tweaked and customised appropriately, can replicate the brutality of the combat, but no other game has yet provided any experience quite like this. While writing this, I played on a map set in the dark, snipers momentarily lit up by muzzle flashes before vanishing into the dusk. For a while, we held. Squads stalked the woods, sweeping the snipers away. Eventually they established a foothold and started pouring over our frontlines, clambering over trenches and bunkers, enemies crawling on their bellies under the barbed wire to get to us, clawing territory away from us and bleeding for every meter.
It's a million miles from the shooters dominating the market, but it's worth the helicopter ride over. Pick it up, play it, and experience the thrill of being terrified in an FPS.