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PC Game Review: Unreal Tournament 2004 – Red Orchestra

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There are two new software releases tonight/tomorrow which have captured my attention. One of these you may have heard of: Half-Life 2 is a single player first person action game with what appear to be realistic physics. The game has been in production for years and the final product should be a very satisfying play. I purchased it a month ago and it has been downloaded and installed on my machine. The moment the game has been released, my copy will immediately become playable.

If you are anxiously awaiting HL2, this development story might help pass the time until it is released. As for me, I’m thrilled about this new game but there is another release which I am even more excited about. Heresy? Yes, and you can burn me at the stake, but please wait until I’ve had a chance to try out both games.

What could capture my attention more than Gordon Freeman’s next adventure? It’s not actually a new game. It is merely a new version of a total mod for an old game. A “total mod” is where a group of programmers and artists take an existing game and develop a new way to play based on the engine of an existing game. This has become popular enough that even HL2 comes with a Software Development Kit to encourage the development of mods. (It increases the life of the product and has a positive impact on sales.)

Red Orchestra is an Unreal Tournament 2004 based multiplayer mod which trades the modern scope of that game for the battlefields of WW2. Hasn’t that been done before? Over and over, but this is different in that it is based on the eastern front.




UT2K4 was not a big seller. The game is enjoyable enough and the graphics are decent, but it is just one shooter among so many. Red Orchestra stands out because it actually feels real. The developers did everything they could to make the game look and feel realistic.

The battlefields vary from bombed out cities (Warsaw, Berlin) to villages to factories to fields and trenches. Clear skies make target identification easy, but some battles are at night or in rain or even fog, making it far too easy to shoot a distant soldier only to find that it was one of your own. Most players are only concerned with finding the enemy, yet the artists crafted detail from the bottom of buildings to the top, even if it is three stories up. Rooms are filled with tables and desks, and lights hang from the ceiling. Every setting is believable and some are even haunting.




Gameplay is not the typical shoot your enemies, die, respawn, begin again. If you run into the thick of battle looking to satisfy your bloodlust, you will soon be bleeding and waiting to join the next batch of reinforcements. You can only take one, maybe two hits before you are dead. There is no health lying around and the only extra ammo and weapons are those dropped by your fallen comrades.

The weapons are dreadfully authentic. Most soldiers end up using a bolt action rifle which is fairly accurate but if you miss, you have to work the bolt until you can fire again. There is not an indicator of how many bullets you have left in your gun. Either count your shots or listen for the click. All weapons have to be manually reloaded. If you are making a long range shot, be sure and aim a little bit high. The game accounts for ballistics and the longer your shot is, the farther it will drop before it arrives at the target.




Weapons are assigned according to rank and although there are weapons beyond the infantry rifle (machine gun, submachine gun, semi-automatic version of the basic rifle), the higher ranks are less common than basic infantry. Some ranks also get a sidearm and most everyone gets grenades. (Yes, the Germans get stick grenades.) How many of each rank is available varies from map to map, but because there are few top rank slots available, there will never be an army of machine guns.

Each map has unique objectives for each side. Some must be captured or defended and sometimes certain landmarks must be blown up. As in a real war, almost every success is the result of a team effort. You have to work together and communicate with your teammates. To advance you have to use the available cover or crawl across open fields. You can run but only for short distances, and running does nothing against an opponent who is a decent shot.




When you do die (and if you play, you will die), you have to wait for the next wave of reinforcements to come in. Each map has a limited number of reinforcements and if your team is reckless and loses them all before the time limit expires, then the other team is automatically victorious. Most rounds last between 10 and 25 minutes, although they never seem like they take very long.

This is all barely scratching the surface. I have not even touched on machine gun recoil or the use of bayonets. Tanks and trucks were available before and their use will be expanded in this new release. There is a trailer for the new version…and a soundtrack. I could go on and on, yet what I really would like to convey is how real it feels.




As enemy bullets hit nearby, you hear them hit and see dust from the impact. It is exciting to be running down a deserted street with 3 squadmates, heading toward the next objective. Suddenly all that bravado turns to fear as your fellow soldiers drop around you one by one, and you still have no clue where the enemy fire is coming from.

If wargames are your thing, I highly recommend Red Orchestra. It is far from ordinary. If you do decide to play there are two things you need to know:

  1. UT2K4 is required ($29.99 new, $15.99 used).
  2. If I am online playing, it will be on the [CiA/CoR] server using the same name I use here.

See you in the game.

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