Red Orchestra: Combined Arms

Red Orchestra is a total conversion, meaning you'll activate the game through a separate (included) batch file, or through Unreal Tournament 2004's Community/Mod menu. It also means that you get a completely new intro and interface and Red Orchestra's menu sets the mood with a military map background. From this menu, you will set your options and player preferences in a similar fashion to Unreal Tournament 2004.

Some minor issues that I had to this point include an odd choice of font on the main menu screen and the stock-looking Manual/Exit/Credits buttons. They just look a little unfinished against the rest of the sharp-looking background. Hooray for the inclusion of such an easily noticeable link to the online manual. You'll probably want to have a look at it before getting started. The character selection screen is loaded with player models for the Axis and the Allies, though some of the face textures seem a little stretched and the bodies, inexplicably, are in a frozen zombie pose. Combine that with the fact that they all look a little dirty and battle-worn I can't help but think of looking at road-kill when I see some of them. They look fine in-game, so perhaps it's a glitch.

looks... nice Look! Maps!

Anyhow, you'll start the game in either practice session mode or online multiplayer. Once you're familiar with the map layouts and button configuration, you'll want to choose multiplayer because there's no bot support. You heard right. Well, they are in there, but they really have no idea what they are supposed to be doing and end up doing a little light comic relief. It's not uncommon to have one of your "team" jumping in place or crouched in a corner guarding a lamp for the entire match.

I'm no expert, but I can't imagine how including some sort of basic bot instruction wouldn't be helpful. Bot support is something that the Red Orchestra team has unapologetically dismissed as being unimportant at this point. I have to disagree. A monstrous portion of the UT2004 user-base plays exclusively or mostly offline and it stands to reason that there is an equal portion of offline mod fans. Bot matches also allow beginners to familiarize themselves with the basic game play, making the transition to online multiplayer a little less painful. Steve Polge has given us some of the finest bots around... why not use them?

Alright, enough of that, let's move on.

Once you begin the process of play, you will choose your affiliation or choose to auto-join whichever team needs you most. Next, you'll pick your role for the match. Keep in mind that each team requires a finite number of each particular role, so let's say you want to snipe - if someone else is already doing it and the map allows only one... you're out of luck. Your role is very important because it determines your weapon load out. In most cases you'll have a primary weapon, a secondary weapon (typically a pistol), and possibly a pair of grenades. The commander has is also equiped with a pair of binoculars, useful for setting rally points (look and click - simple as that) and for calling in artillery strikes.

Decisions, decisions Loadout These aren't for spotting birds

This brings me to my next gripe. I could find no way to predetermine what role I was going to take when I started a practice match - I was left choosing from bot leftovers.

Once you're in-game, you'll find that you have a series of objectives to complete in order to win. Now this isn't like Unreal Tournament 2004's Assault game type; these objectives consist mainly of taking and holding locations on a level. The development team has thoughtfully provided a map that shows your current position and the direction in which you face. Another nice touch is the bar that pops up on the lower half of your screen and begins to fill when you arrive at the correct spot. Once the bar is completely full you own the spot. The more team members you have in the location the faster it fills - but beware - not only can a flood of enemy players slow down your takeover, you can lose possession of it completely. You'll have to work together as a team if you want to seize victory for your side. Not only is there a time limit involved, but each map is rife with attack and cover spots.

The eminent maps are one of the keys to Red Orchestra's success as a modification. You'll find no less than nineteen of them included and these range in size... but mostly trend towards huge. The themes vary from open fields to a hillside village dominated by a grand basilica. Many of the buildings allow entry and have multiple stories; something snipers will appreciate.

The locations have a real "lived in" feel: most rooms have furniture and decor of some sort, buildings may be in flames all around you, and towns have great landmark buildings and monuments. You will feel like you are there. I did notice a few inconsistencies, however, where "art" may have won out over realism. Many of the towns where the action takes place are totally or nearly devastated and it's a little odd to see electric and candle lamps still burning in buildings that have massive holes blown out of them. In one instance, I saw a lamp lying lit in the middle of the floor with no apparent source of power. Yes, you'll see the occasional misaligned texture or other minor - but fixable - errors. But for the most part, the locations just suck you right in to the whole experience. The lovely skyboxes, the amazing number of custom statcic meshes and models, and small touches such as an airplane flying overhead all serve to bring you to the Eastern front.

Beautiful map location Close that door! You live in a barn? Wanna trade spaces?