Red Orchestra Ostfront delivers a deep and immensely satisfying online WW2 shooter that breathes life into a tired genre
Developed by Tripwire Interactive, Red Orchestra: Ostfront was borne from the extremely generous "Make Something Unreal" competition sponsored by NVIDIA; which saw Tripwire Interactive setup with a $350,000 Unreal Engine commercial license and $50,000 spending money for its total conversion of Unreal Tournament 2004, 'Red Orchestra'.
For those of you who haven't heard of the Red Orchestra sensation, it deploys gamers to the Eastern war-torn battlegrounds of World War II, portraying the struggle between Soviet and German forces. Ostfront continues in this fashion, delivering an array of extremely detailed and varied environments that set the backdrop of this comprehensive but starkly original multiplayer experience.
From the moment you enter the game, you are treated to the grandeur of Ostfront. Whether you are fighting on the snow-blanketed tarmacs of a Krakow military airport or the flat, arid grasslands of Ukraine or even in the streets of imperial Berlin itself, you can literally feel how big and imposing these landscapes really are. The amount of detail put into the architecture and environments is phenomenal- Tripwire has done some fantastic work here.
The graphics engine itself is a heavily modified Unreal 2.5 engine- for those in the know this is actually a fairly out-of-date package, but it doesn't do "too much" to hinder the experience. I'd like to emphasise that because some may well jump into Ostfront and be disheartened by the lack of bump maps and the sort of cutting-edge tech that we've been spoilt with of late. In fact, Ostfront doesn't have even the expected basic options, such as Anti-Aliasing and Anisotropic filtering. It was only until after visiting the official forums I was informed that the best way to play Ostfront was to force these advanced settings in your graphics card control panel. That aside however, the graphics are still great- the accuracy and detail put into the player models and weapon models does justice to the exceptional presentation of Ostfront as a whole. This game was certainly not rushed- painstaking effort has been made to ensure attention and detail that is rarely seen in popular releases.
This detail is carried through to the animation and physics employed in Ostfront. Shying away from the "hitscan" approach that is commonly used in online shooters (whereby your 'hit' is determined instantaneously as soon as you fire), Ostfront uses a complete "projectile" system- each bullet fired is actually traversing the in-game space. This allows for an ultra-realistic experience, particularly noticeable when trying to fire at long-distance targets- you have to appropriately 'lead' your target before firing. As well as this, Ostfront has also surprisingly departed from the staple 'crosshair' common to almost every other shooter imaginable. All weapons have fully 3D "iron sights" and are true to their real-life counterparts. There's no "shot counter"- you'll have to keep count of your rounds- and when you reload with a full clip, you may find yourself unexpectedly short a little later on when you re-use what was left. Features like this are what lend Ostfront its 'realism'- patience and thinking prior to pulling that trigger is required in order to take away a sizable chunk of enemy brain matter and not end up on the receiving end instead!
Yes, Ostfront also packs dynamic rag dolls complete with life-like gibs. Everything from hit location, power and distance is calculated to determine if you are merely slowed for a time by that hit to your arm, or if it's severed completely and has effectively incapacitated your ability to continue fighting. Suffering a wound like this in Ostfront will remove you from the game play and back to the respawning queue- you can't do anything but die out on the front lines sans an arm or leg. Similarly, having near-miss bullets whiz past your head will result in a disorienting 'blurred vision' that puts off your aiming- nearby grenades going off will produce the same type of concussive effect, which can be used to great advantage.
As well as pools of blood and realistic bullet effects, the other thing that many players like to see in World War 2 shooters is tanks. Let's face it, when those trailers were released over Steam, the thing that captured the most attention was the promise of tank warfare- which thankfully Ostfront delivers in bucket-fulls. In most of the 13 maps offered at release, there is the option of selecting a "tank team" class, which enables you to drive or man any vehicle available. The armour divisions in Ostfront are neither overpowered nor overshadowed. A very satisfying balance is struck whereby tank and infantry forces need to coordinate to complete map objectives. There are a variety of different tanks to roll around the battlefield in, each with their own firing strengths and weaknesses, armour weak-points and armour hard-points and as such, require time to get familiar with each one. On the flipside, as an anti-tank class, firing a panzerfaust (RPG) into one tank with a flat front will have completely different results to a tank that has a sloping front- there is really a high learning curve to Ostfront that will only be fully realised after many practice sessions.
Another rewarding (and highly addictive!) aspect to tank warfare is discovered when you first hear the generous bellows that radiate around the tank cabin when the main cannon is fired and the bassy thuds of return fire reverberate around you. The sounds used in Ostfront are exceptional! Each weapon or vehicle has its own distinct sound on the battlefield and there's no bothersome background noises to distract you while scanning for enemies- you hear only sounds that have been made by other players. The sounds are heavy and powerful, and they really lend weight to the deadly and unforgiving warfare experienced in Ostfront. As well as great weapon sounds, Ostfront also has an easily accessible voice command feature sporting authentic Russian and German 'commands' and responses (and taunts!) for communicating with your team mates.
On the topic of communication, Ostfront diverges from the popular WW2 shooters in circulation at the moment by providing a well thought-out, tactical and team-based communication system. VOIP is built into the game play interface and compliments the available voice commands- you have the option to "talk" to your team, the entire server, or just those players "local" to your position. Such an intuitive communications system supports the notion that Ostfront isn't your typical 'run and gun' game- even in public servers you'll find that your team will employ crafty tactics and flanking manoeuvres to flush out your enemies and complete the objectives. Failing to do so usually equates to a really short game and your entire team being thoroughly steamrolled into defeat, so there's a real emphasis on team-strategising.
The classes and weapon load outs offered by Ostfront also support this idea. Two of the classes that stand out in particular are the commander and tank commander. These are support-based units that have different abilities to a regular soldier. The commanders are able to call in artillery fire on any location they can get line of sight on with their binoculars. Through the simple use of a (strategically placed) radio the commander is able to have his desired coordinates "called in" and the designated area bombarded by heavy artillery fire. On some maps artillery seems to occur too often and can impose heavy tolls on your team. Fortunately, the general 'pushing' nature of game play means that artillery won't be effective for too long, and generally the under-equipped commander won't be able to withstand a frontal assault.
Ostfront is definitely a game that "grows on you"; if only because there is so much content and detail to wrap your head around that you only come to appreciate it once you have a solid understanding of the game play mechanics. It is definitely worth spending time to familiarise yourself with the maps, weapons, vehicles and other features in the single player 'Practice' Mode prior to jumping into a multiplayer game. Tripwire has understood the need for this and has graciously included a full 'bot' player system to pad out your single player experience! The bots have varying and customisable difficulty and will provide a good starting point for you to learn how things work in Ostfront. The bots can even be added to a multiplayer game to entice players to join if needs be- this is a really neat and handy feature if you want to have a LAN game but don't have enough players to fill out a map.
If you're looking for a 'realistic' multiplayer experience that rewards teamwork and tactical game play, then you'll find Ostfront hard to pass by. Its thrilling depth and true-to-life game play mechanics magnify its appeal as a breathtaking shooter. Through a well-balanced and unparalleled blend of tank warfare and infantry combat, Ostfront manages to capture the essence of World War II on a grandiose scale and successfully draws the player into an immersive and grisly warfare experience.