Red Orchestra - Ostfront 41-45
There probably isn't much business sense in hinting to an advertising team that you want them to make your newest title sound ordinary. Chances are that sales would suffer if the game you've sweated blood and tears over for a number of years is boasted as 'ordinary' or 'quite good, but not that good.' It's not so much of a problem for games based around fantastical ideas, but for those aiming for infallible authenticity, making sure that your title is the most realistic to date is unquestionably imperative. That's why Red Orchestra - Ostfront 41-45's blurb, unsurprisingly, describes itself as placing you 'in the most realistic WWII first-person multi-player combat to date on the PC.' The inclusion of true bullet projectile ballistics is perhaps the most noticeable of these elements. Many of the others might've forced a nod of admirable ingenuity if Red Orchestra's other nuances, bits and bobs hadn't already appeared in games such as Battlefield and Counter Strike, but that doesn't stop it from pulling off a refreshing FPS experience.
Initially a freeware mod for Unreal Tournament back in 2004, Red Orchestra has blossomed into a freestanding retail offering that includes new and improved maps, levels with more grandeur and most importantly, improved game play. Set on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945, Red Orchestra is a LAN or internet multiplayer only romp based both on real locations and actual events from the set time span. Using a selection of weapons totalling over two dozen, you play in teams of up to 16 players across the game's thirteen maps with the objective of capturing as many locales as possible. Strategic teamwork is an absolutely essential element to contribute to a winning campaign, in part due to the lack of a radar. Without a preset plan of action, one weak or dissident player can ruin the entire tactical ideas and preplanning for the rest of the company. If that player is you, expect several expletives to float angrily in your direction, along with someone 'sensible' reminding you that you've not only let the team down, the online community down, but most devastatingly, you've gone and let yourself down. Shame on you, rapscallion.
As hinted upon, Newtonian physics play a huge part in the unforgiving realism of Red Orchestra. Unlike most first-person shooters there's no onscreen crosshair to help targeting. The lack of what is almost a given in other titles, means that any shots fired - excluding those at very close range - require a much more acute process of thought than you may be used to. If those factors don't complicate matters enough, the bodily functions of your character are also somewhat limiting - and before you ask, no, he doesn't stop to relieve his bladder. What it really means is that his ability to fire with the exactness often needed is hindered either when he is tired or injured. So, run for cover and then try to end the days of an advancing enemy and you'll find that your man's erratic breathing, the need to force carbon dioxide out and the oxygen into his blood, makes keeping still a problem. Similarly, if your brave solider is hurt in mid-battle, there's not a chance in hell that he's miraculously going to stumble across a big white pack with a red cross stamped on it nestled behind some bushes. Without it, a ruptured midriff or broken limb, as you can imagine, is going to have a negative rather than positive effect on his ability to fight. Tough luck.
Red Orchestra also boasts fourteen authentic vehicles to add depth and variety to combat. Controlling a tank between three users is a task that requires skill, levelheadedness, but patience most of all. It's an element of the game play that, with the right players in the right positions (one to fire missiles, another to manage the mechanical beast and another to drive) is really enjoyable. It works like the messages in horrifically boring corporate training meetings that demonstrate the problems that pulling in opposite directions cause - picture a variety of hilariously drawn cartoon animals and a straining rope - followed by the same three animals sat sipping cocktails underneath a palm tree once they've realised that working to pull together, compromising despite their differences is the way to efficiency, progress and eventually more money... into the pockets of their managers. Imagine that with three soldiers in a military vehicle instead of an elephant, a cat and a dog and a lot of dead people instead of the lounging around. There, you're some way to understanding Red Orchestra and probably somewhat further away from understanding that ridiculous metaphor.
While Red Orchestra supersedes many titles in the realms of reality, unfortunately it isn't the looker it might have been if it had been released a year or two ago. That's not to say that it's expansive and detailed environments aren't impressive. Or indeed that the appearance of everything from characters to weapons is more refined than in its here's-a-mod-for-the-princely-sum-of-nothing-pence older brother. Some of the load times are quite unbearable at times, particularly when you're eager to get going. One can't imagine the veterans of World War II telling their grandkids something along the lines of: 'Yes, Timmy. We couldn't wait to get it all over with, but of course the assault couldn't begin before the progress bar had reached 100%.' The game also suffers from the occasional jerk in frame rate which, as you can imagine, is often the difference between a wasted opposition soldier and an unwelcome bullet to the face.
Red Orchestra is a thoughtfully produced game that despite initial similarities is a world away from some of the more popular FPS titles out there (read Battlefield, Counter-Strike and the like). The stern difficulty level might upset some players, as might the lack of 'safe' features such as crosshairs and medical packs. However, if you really want your World War FPS' to be real, like, really real, then Red Orchestra is just about your best bet.