Preview: Rising Storm 2 is a tense time In Vietnam

To understand what Rising Storm 2 is all about, it’s useful to look at the legacy of the company that created it.

Tripwire Interactive began as a team of modders specializing in the Unreal Engine. After winning  the NVIDIA Make Something Unreal Contest they released a little game called Red Orchestra: Combined Arms on Steam. Though the idea of a World War II FPS wasn’t new, the game's emphasis on realism was. The lack of crosshairs, very little on-screen information, and one shot kills attracted many fans away from the more traditional bullet sponge, action focused shooters of the time.

Fast forward more than a decade, a few expansions, and a sequel later, and that hardcore tradition continues with Rising Storm 2. Developed by Antimatter Games with support from Tripwire Interactive and co-published by Tripwire Interactive and Iceberg Interactive; Rising Storm 2 is a tactical FPS that continues the tradition of Red Orchestra in a very different setting.

Rising Storm 2 takes place in the dense jungles of the Vietnam War, and though the trappings have changed, the soul of Red Orchestra lives on.

Realistic warfare in a Vietnam setting 

It should be said that these impressions are based on the Closed Beta version of the game, so any features or issues mentioned here are subject to change in the finished release. No doubt more modes, maps, weapons, etc. will be added, and what’s already here will be more polished.

You begin a match by selecting a class, and for the most part they are the typical online FPS war game tropes: heavy Machine gunner, rifleman, sniper, etc. As in Battlefield, there are vehicles, so if you’re the type who likes to fly a chopper and reign death from above Apocalypse Now style, Rising Storm 2 has you covered.

Once on the map, you spawn at a selected point, and off you go. There are options to join a squad with your friends, which is cool, and even be a squad leader if you’re the type who likes to be in command. This is the ideal way to play if you want to be successful, because in Rising Storm 2 communication with your fellow grunts is vital.

The two multiplayer modes available in the Beta ( I assume there will be more) are Territory and Skirmish. Territory is a fairly straightforward 64 player contestation scenario, where each team tries to take control of a series of points (A, B, C, D, etc.) by killing all opposing forces near the area.

Skirmish is focused on smaller, 8 v. 8 battles, and involves constantly capturing objectives to increase the time in your spawn window. Once that window closes it becomes an intimate battle for the last man standing.

These sound like simple premises, and they are, but there is a virtually infinite amount of strategies for offense and defense in this asymmetrical warzone. Do you want to use the heavy weapons of the United States military to call in a napalm strike? Do you want to slowly sneak through the jungle and hit them from the flank with the more stealth-based tactics of the The NVA and Viet Cong? Figure it out, because if you mess up, you’re dead.

And you’ll die a lot, especially at first. I was never an expert at Red Orchestra, and the unforgiving gameplay takes some getting used to when coming from more traditional online shooters like Battlefield or COD. Everything from bullet trajectories to firing modes vary from class to class, and if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll be dead quick.

This franchise prides itself on realism, so if one or two shots land, you’re gone. This can be frustrating at first, but as you start to understand the harsh terrain and demanding strategy it adds a level of intensity that I really came to appreciate. This is not an easy game, and the learning curve is high, but that makes it all the more fun when things fall into place, and you and your team start getting kills and scoring points.

Graphics and Level Design


In lieu of a tutorial (in the Beta at least) there is a “Free Play” mode that allows you to try out the classes without worrying about getting shot in the face. It was the first thing I tried, and when it loaded, I was not thrilled. It was UGLY. Terrible textures and an empty landscape did not bode well. When I joined my first actual game, I was skeptical.

See? Told you.

My initial cynicism turned out to be unfounded. While it’s not the prettiest game around (sub par character models and a silly running animation come to mind) the level design and attention to detail are remarkable.

The maps are MASSIVE. Even with 64 people in the game there were large stretches where I didn’t see anyone. Large maps in other games sometimes suffer from repetition or a feeling of emptiness, but that is not the case here.

Clumps of jungle seamlessly blend with burning houses and rice paddy fields in one map, a network of tunnels spreads out underneath a napalm blasted hill in another; everything is clearly handcrafted by meticulous designers. I’d be happy to spend an hour or two in each environment with nobody trying to kill me, just so I could explore each unique location.

The cramped, urban sprawl of Hue City in particular stands out. The city is enormous, and no two areas are similar. Each street and empty building has a character all its own.

This is some of the most refined level design I’ve seen in a multiplayer shooter, resulting in both close quarter bayonet battles and long range sniper fights on the same map. The weapons are lovingly rendered; even the inside of the helicopter cockpits have small details to appreciate. This focus on getting everything just right is awesome, especially when considering the size of the development team.

This game was clearly a labor of love, and though the controls and hit detection are sometimes wonky, it’s easy to forgive when so much is done right.

Performance

While the open maps are exceptional, the long draw distances and densely packed foliage make Rising Storm 2 fairly hardware intensive. If you have an older CPU or GPU, you’re going to get some pretty low FPS, especially when the smoke grenades start going off. Again, this is a Closed Beta, so there may be more optimization before release, and even more after patches, but you’re going to need a fairly beefy rig to enjoy this game in silky smooth 60 FPS.

Issues like dropped games, frozen systems, totally off collision detection, and weird (sometimes hilarious) glitches were pretty routine, but that’s to be expected in an unfinished game. I’m assuming these problems will be for the most part mitigated in the final build, though that's not a guarantee until it actually happens. 

Rising Up

When Rising Storm 2 works, it works extremely well. Some of my favorite moments with the Beta were moments of isolation. When I was exploring the vast maps, seeing the sun burst through the trees, and hearing the mortar fire and pop pop of M-16s in the far away jungle.

And then, suddenly, the gunfire wasn’t so far away. Suddenly it was all around me, and as the adrenaline hit I’d become desperate, running for shelter, dropping prone to survive. The best part of this game is when you come face to face with someone and know that with one wrong move, it’s back to the spawn point.

Other times you’ll be simply be walking in friendly territory, and BAM, you’re gone. Sniper. Or a headshot from a scout's pistol. Or enemy napalm fire. Or a jerk of a teammate who wasn’t checking his corners properly and mistook you for the opposing team. There are SO many ways to die in Rising Storm 2, and until you start to understand the intricacies of the systems at play here, expect to die a lot.

When you start to understand the depth of the gameplay, planning an assault on Bravo with your team and pulling it off is endlessly satisfying. Executing a plan with a good strategy and a quick trigger finger is a wonderful feeling, especially knowing that one mistake will send you six feet under.

Rising Storm 2 is at times too ambitious for it’s own good, but when it works, it’s unlike any other tactical FPS out there. It’s significantly less polished than Call of Duty, and lacks the accessibility and destructive environments of Battlefield, but it has an attention to detail and an unforgiving edge that set it apart in the best possible way.

Assuming the performance issues are addressed, I can’t wait to come back to the finished version so I can die some more.

See you in ‘Nam.