Red Orchestra 2 preview: barrel-swapping heroics

Evan Lahti

red orchestra firing from cover

Weapon barrels: we take them for granted. When we click our mice in a man-shoot game, we have the small assurance that the steel tube attached to our trigger will carry out our instructions ("CTRL + X 'bullet'"; "CTRL + V 'bullet' in 'man'";) and won't overheat to the point of destruction. Earlier this month at GDC, I got a look at an updated build of Red Orchestra 2 on PC. One inexplicably exciting detail shown for the first time was barrel swapping. Another was RO2's nuanced and exciting progression system, which, happily, will be much more organic than how you rank up in games like Call of Duty.

Unloading an uninterrupted stream of shots with your machinegun in Red Orchestra 2 will overheat your barrel. That's relatively normal; we've seen that mechanic in any number of yawn-worthy, this-is-the-part-of-the-game-where-I-shoot-a-turret levels in other shooters. In RO2, though, a smoking MG barrel can be fully destroyed--at our GDC demo, Tripwire Interactive's Lead Tester and Community Manager Jared Creasy dropped his machinegunner prone, sprayed his MG34 for seven or eight seconds, and burnt out the barrel. The weapon wouldn't fire. The time it takes to destroy a barrel, of course, may change as Tripwire continues development, but I loved what followed: in first-person, Creasy's Axis soldier opened the feed cover of his weapon, slid the unusable barrel out, and pushed a new one into the weapon. Each machinegunner will have one backup barrel. "You'll have a hunk of metal to throw at the enemy if you use them both," says Creasy.

What I love about Tripwire's attention to detail in RO2 is the way it always seems to be in service of giving players more tactical options. Little to none of it seems exclusively in place to serve historical accuracy: Axis and Soviet footsoldiers both have distinct sprinting animations, for example, because the armies were trained to hold their weapons differently while running. Axis soldiers sprint with their rifle or submachine gun at their side, in one hand. But that touch improves gives you another way to identify enemies at range: you're not just trying to gauge helmet shape at 300 meters, you're studying the moving silhouette of the man you're aiming at. That's terrific.

"Here's the mission, men: cover our comrades while they play horseshoes."

Single-player for all, heroism for some

Other than that promising mechanic, Tripwire was talking about RO2's single-player and its "Heroes" progression system. RO2 will contain an Axis and Soviet campaign, with each worth 6-8 hours of gameplay. We aren't expecting single-player to be the focus of the full release--none of it's been shown, and Tripwire is a multiplayer developer first--the SP probably won't be a cinematic, traditional campaign as much as a way of framing the multiplayer maps in historical context, from what I can tell.

RO2's titular "Heroes" system refers to the game's multiplayer character progression. Tripwire VP Alan Wilson explains: "We wanted to achieve a number of things with the Heroes system. Part of that was driven by the fact that we wanted to model the way real soldiers gain experience by giving players the ability to gain experience and capabilities. Part of it was driven by the desire to improve our matchmaking system to more easily match up players with other players of their skill level. And some of it was driven by the idea that we want to make a visual distinction between players of different levels."

"Players can rank up in three ways--overall honor, class based rank, and per weapon proficiency. As you rank up your class you will get improved abilities and a better choice of weapons specific to that class. With the weapon proficiency, the more you use a particular weapon, the better you will get with handling the weapon. This affects things such as how well you handle recoil, or how quickly you reload." Wilson adds that a player's honor level will be a matchmaking component: "Really disruptive players will essentially get 'negative' honor and must play on 'remedial' servers with the other TKers and griefers until they learn to get along with the rest of us."

Stalingrad has seen better days. She could use a backrub.

What appeals to me more is Tripwire's approach to representing that rank in-game. It'd be incongruent in a serious setting give players tiger facepaint or a golden MP40 to show off their Hero status--instead, Wilson explains, you'll begin to resemble a dusty, experienced trooper as you rank up.  "As you progress, your appearance in game will change subtly, from the clean, tidy recruit through to the battered, battle-hardened veteran. And for the players who make it to 'Hero' level, there will be some unique abilities and priority access to some weapons--including enemy weapons. In terms of variations--we'll probably wind up with about six visibly distinct variations per class, so that the player looks more battle-hardened (as well as battle-worn) with each level. And the classes are visibly distinct from each other, carrying the gear relevant to their class."

But being a Hero won't simply grant cosmetic rewards, Wilson adds: "Heroes will also affect team members around them in game, reducing the effects of suppression when under fire and increasing the speed at which they can cap objectives, for instance. But, as always with RO, there is a counter to it: when the Hero gets himself shot, that will have an immediate and opposite effect on his team members around him. While they confer some benefits to their team, they also become a priority target."

God, what a heap of welcome complexity. I'm wooed by that last bit about balancing: the idea that Heroes can negatively impact their team (however slightly) by dying could introduce a novel sense of responsibility to keep yourself alive. It reminds me of the role of some classes TF2--a good Medic or Engineer knows how to build or heal, but an excellent one respects that running out into the open by himself usually hurts his team's ability to win.

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