May 11, 2013

Postplay : Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45

22 June 1941.
The Germans wrecked our wire network to undermine our communications. Ninety-nine German divisions, including fourteen panzer divisions, have deployed against us from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
From now on we refer to those regions as the Western and Southwestern Fronts. In addition to the ground troops the Luftwaffe has attacked several airfields, destroying much of our air fleet.
I have received my orders a few minutes ago. I'm to go to the Western Front in an attempt to stop the Germans before they can reach our capital.
Many say our attempt will be futile, but I simply can't stand idle by while our country is under attack.

Despite the fact that I have put five hours into Tripwire Interactive's Red Orchestra: Ostfront 41-45 (ROO4145), I had to get that bit of back story from Wikipedia because not a single bit of story is included in the game. The only single player mode available is practice which is nothing more than the multiplayer mode with bots instead of humans. Remember when I said "I would love to try the multiplayer" in my preplay for this game? Well that's for the best because that's all there is to play.

Everybody knows that practice makes perfect, so in lack of a tutorial I got my feet wet in the practice mode. I randomly picked a team and went for the first class in the list. After spending some time adjusting the controls I arrived in an open field, standing next to some tanks. I was sure those tanks were just there for decoration so I looked around, spotted a town and started my hike towards it.
It was here that I first blew up. I couldn't have told anyone what had happened as all of a sudden I was flying through the air. It was suddenly clear that the tanks weren't there for decoration.
The rest of that first session included me trying to enter a tank but failing because I wasn't the right class. Trying to shoot the other tanks but failing because I needed to deploy my weapon but couldn't figure out how to. Trying to stay alive but failing because attempting to take down tanks with a handgun isn't a good plan of action as it turns out.

Practice wasn't doing me any good so I decided to jump into multiplayer. The first thing I saw upon spawning were tanks, tanks everywhere. This entire game seemed to only consist of chaos. Everyone was running around, randomly shooting at team mates or driving tanks through rivers without any clear purpose. I tried to join in on the fun and even made my first few kills during this match, but after ten minutes I had seen enough for one evening and shut down the game. When I noticed that it had only been 48 minutes since I started playing, I wondered how I would be able to play four more hours of this.

When I returned to ROO4145 the next day I went back into practice, determined to figure out what was what. Again I chose a map at random and to my surprise there wasn't a tank in sight. Instead I found myself on a hillside overlooking the area and soon I spotted enemy movement towards my position. I went into iron sight, took a second to track my enemy and went for the shot. I could see the man falling to his knees in the distance.
During the rest of this session I tried different maps and classes and things started to make a lot more sense. As long as I didn't stumble onto a tank filled map I was even having a decent amount of fun going against these bots. There wasn't a lot of challenge but handling the weapons in ROO4145 is fun on it's own. Everything handles very methodically making a missed shot something that matters. When you're using a rifle you have to prepare the gun after every shot before you can shoot again. I've put myself in a vulnerable position more than once because I instinctively reloaded my weapon after making a kill. When a reload is due, your best choice is to go into hiding because reloading your gun can take quite some time. This slow paced gameplay forces you to be careful and creates a feeling of tension that is surely one of the strong holds of this game.

Now that I was used to handling the weapons, I had to go back online. I joined a game that was taking place on a tankless map. The first thing I noticed was that I recognized a lot of the player names from practice mode. Turns out that even online most rooms are filled up with bots. This didn't take anything away from the fact that I was having fun though.
But whenever I got to a tank map, and there's quite a few of those, frustration took the upper hand. Even after figuring out how to get in a tank, operating it wasn't all that satisfying and the only thing the tanks add to the game play is a lot of imbalance. On these maps there's only a few classes that really have a chance of making an impact on the match. Other classes have no choice but to wait until they blow up. Perhaps if the maps were better adjusted towards this by creating corridors for these classes, allowing them to fight man to man and to surprise enemies from behind, it wouldn't be as much of an issue but unfortunately that's not the case.

Last thing that was on my to do list for this game was playing with a friend. Steam user and personal friend Imp had bought the recent Tripwire Humble Bundle including ROO4145 and joined me during my last hours with the game.
As with most multiplayer games it was more fun playing alongside someone you know. Especially the tank handling improves a lot when playing with a friend. In order to operate a tank in ROO4145 you have to have at least two players to do any damage. One player steers the tank while the other operates the gun. We had some fun trying to get the hang of this cooperation but didn't manage to score a kill.

While playing together we tried to jump around from server to server in between matches to get as much different experiences as we could. Our problem was that even though ROO4145 was part of the recent Humble Bundle there weren't a lot of people playing the game. Most servers were empty or filled with bots and the few that were populated had high ping resulting in laggy game play. This left us with three or four servers to cycle through. From those servers two were dedicated to tank maps and one was serving a big open map where everyone was throwing grenades at random resulting in pure chaos, leaving only one server to actually play the game and have fun.

This game is sold on Steam for €9,99. In my opinion that's a high price for a multiplayer only game with a small playerbase. If you already own the game and you have some friends to join you I would give it a go. There is some fun to be had, but not enough to play for hours on end by yourself.
The best way to play this game might be in an office space, playing LAN matches during lunch break. I can see how the proximity of the others players might result in a lot of fun. Being able to practice the different systems of the game with the same group of people for some time could really bring out the best that ROO4145 has to offer without the frustrating chaos and randomness that's going on in the online mode.


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