World War II shooter Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 somehow manages to do the impossible: it makes ultra-realism fun. It shoehorns extremely accurate ballistics, vehicle and weapon modeling into a game that requires close teamwork in order to win. The retail price of $24.95 sets it apart even further in the teeming town of WWII Shooterville, and makes Red Orchestra a can’t-miss title for fans of team-based shooters looking for something substantially different.
With no real single-player game except for a self-contained practice mode, Red Orchestra is designed around objective-based online play for two teams of 16 players. The subtle aim of the development team has been to encourage mature teamwork by chopping out obvious awards for lone-wolf players, such as those that aim at simply killing the most opposing team members. Instead, it rewards players who help their comrades achieve team goals, like capture and control of key objectives. Being part of a cohesive, winning team is its own reward.
Both infantry- and vehicle-flavored levels are present on the Eastern Front, in addition to several mixed armor/infantry battlefields that illustrate the nuances of combined arms warfare. Only specific classes are able to pilot certain vehicles, and there are generally enough to go around so that there isn’t a crush at the beginning of the round to snatch a tank from your teammates. This is a nice break from sparse vehicle availability on games like Battlefield 2.
Clambering inside one of the superbly-detailed armor units in Red Orchestra illustrates how team-play is built into the game. Commanding a German Tiger tank is a three-person affair, with gunner, driver and commander; tanks require close communication between all members of the crew, or those claustrophobic cannons quickly become coffins.
Thankfully, when you jump inside your vehicle, there is a vehicle-specific voice-chat channel opened up automatically to make things easier for your crew. Realistic ballistics come into play big time in tanks; you’ll have a hard time not staring in amazement as white-hot rounds get lobbed downrange. Fired incorrectly, glancing shots will carom off your enemy’s hull and bounce off - wrecking something else nearby - causing many holy-crap-did-you-see-that moments.
Infantry weapons are just as true-to-life: bullet drop, time-of-flight and zero on-screen reticule (iron sights on the weapons only - just like grandpa used) give combat an extremely realistic feel. You’ll need to lead targets and arc in your rounds in order to hit them. Two different players can even kill each other with distant shots fired simultaneously.
The developers at Tripwire Interactive are tightly knit with the Red Orchestra community and plan to release freely available updates and content often. As usual, the online-only nature makes for a steep learning curve, but the excellent community that surrounds this game makes RO an even stronger value.
For players that are sick of Normandy, put in for a transfer to the Eastern Front - you'll love every minute.