I've been playing Red Orchestra 2 for the past few days, and every time I boot it up, I get a strange feeling. Like I'm playing through the ghosts of video games past. Which, considering the game takes place on a virtual representation of a battlefield where nearly one million men lost their lives, is eerily appropriate.
The first ghost you encounter is that of the Second World War shooter. While Call of Duty: World at War wasn't released that long ago, the fact major publishers have shied away from the sub-genre in recent years doesn't hit you until you realise you're back in a shooter with no night-vision. It feels like an eternity since I played a World War Two shooter.
Maybe the break has been good for the games, maybe it's the fact Red Orchestra 2 adds a few different takes to them than Medal of Honor and Call of Duty managed, but it never feels like you're playing a tired, worn-out old claptrap of a game, something that missed the bandwagon by five years.
You instead feel like you're playing a prequel to Brink. And this time, it works.
Red Orchestra 2 is built around the idea of the "control point" multiplayer game. It's the primary multiplayer mode, and even the bolted-on singleplayer campaign is little more than practice for this, albeit with useless bots. Players choose a side, choose a class then battle over maps full of buildings and strategic areas that must be seized. Put more of your men that the enemy has in a building and a timer starts; outnumber the enemy long enough and you'll take it.
It's not a new idea for this game, but it works really well thanks to map design that turns each stage into a pocket-sized recreation of the Battle of Stalingrad itself: you lose a lot of men clearing out a fortified enemy position, you move up fifteen feet, and you do it all again. The way buildings are captured also encourages teamwork, forcing everyone to stick together like real soldiers and not go running around madly like a pack of lone wolves.
This means there's a lot of suppressive fire, a lot of melee combat and a lot of grenades, again, just like the real thing. Adding to the realism is the fact the game doesn't pussy out and make you a 1940's Superman. Instead, one-shot kills are common, as are entirely random deaths caused by things like artillery fire. While these could be frustrating, quick respawns (often right at the frontline) negate any ill-feeling towards the Gods of Internet Death.
What I'm digging about this game is that it takes the frantic nature of, say, Modern Warfare but marries it with the more considered, realistic approach to combat found in games like ArmA. Your guns have ballistic drop and you don't know how many bullets are actually left in your clip, you can blindfire around corners and take cover (ala Gears, Uncharted). You need to actually set up a machine gun before using it, and you need to "dial in" the range of a target on rifles.
Oh, and there are tanks.
Don't think of this as a comprehensive review - I just wanted to write something about the game since it would otherwise be lost amidst the blockbuster lineup that's on its way - so if you've got any questions (or tips!) you'd like to share, jump into the comments section below.