This game has been with us for over seven years now, which is a long time considering the limited nature of the realistic MilSim market. There's not much room for mediocrity when you can't command massive Call of Duty-sized audiences. But Tripwire, thanks to impeccable modder chops, has carved out its niche and capitalized fully on it.
Red Orchestra 2 has everything their audience expects: realistic (difficult) aiming via iron sights or scopes, serious recoil, bullet drop and penetration, a full suite of accurately modeled vehicles and weapons, etc. No surprises here. In addition Red Orchestra 2 also presents a new layer of realism on top of what we'd expect. In a game like Armed Assault, things can seem somewhat realistic and un-gamey in the wide-open expanses of the outdoors, but the moment you step into a building or some ruins, it's obvious, from your character's stilted movement and limited leaning/peeking repertoire, that you're playing a videogame. RO2 keeps the immersion, however, because of the expansion in tools the player has available to deal with corners, windowsills, walls, stairs, and other thorny urban obstacles. In RO2 players can now attach themselves to corners or windowsills and poke their heads out and withdraw back behind cover easily as in a cover shooter like Gears of War but from first person. Additionally, everyone (not just machine gunners) can now prop their weapons on any level surface and receive a significant boost to accuracy. You can also stick your gun out around a corner and fire blindly without exposing yourself (someone can still shoot your hand though). Suppression is also modeled, and even if you're not directly hit with a bullet, if someone sprays your general direction and manages to hit close enough, you'll get a few seconds of realistic disorientation that prevent you from firing back effectively. Even if someone takes a shot at you while you're behind cover, you can still get hit thanks to the penetration system, which renders everything short of reinforced concrete and thick metal plate somewhat risky from a cover perspective. It's OK to hide behind a wooden fence, but after you squeeze off a couple shots you should quickly move, because anyone firing back is probably going to send a bullet right through the flimsy boards into your rifleman's innards. Combine all of this with the requisite three stances (prone, crouched and upright), a great floating-aim system, and a complete lack of “accuracy cones” (bullets go where you aim), and the shooting in Red Orchestra 2 is basically the best I've ever seen in a videogame.
The small details of shooting have been improved, but the larger game has received attention as well. The subtitle “Heroes of Stalingrad” points to several changes to the standard class system. There are still several standard classes – rifleman, squad leader, machine-gunner, and so forth, but there are also “hero” classes, special time-limited class options that are granted to players who perform especially well in a given match. I was a hero for a few rounds, thanks to a lucky flanking maneuver I executed, which brought me behind a half-dozen oblivious Nazis poking their heads over a low wall. I popped everyone and the next round I had much better weapons, which, of course, I hardly got to use at all. A lesser form of the hero system is the promotion system: there are limited slots for elite riflemen (who get semi-autos, typically) and marksmen (who are the only ones allowed to use sniper rifles), but if you spawn as a rifleman and perform well enough you can bump someone out who is taking up one of those class slots and underperforming.
"Straight-ahead charges or highly mobile rear-area subterfuge are way more effective – and more satisfying."
The maps are centered on the battle of Stalingrad, and there are fewer wide-open areas where vehicles can rule unchallenged. There are a lot more collapsed buildings, narrow hallways, factories, trenches and apartment blocks. Most of the maps are still huge, though, and there are a million places to sit and snipe at people, as well as a million ways to rush and get the drop on people camping. Sniping in place in this game, despite the severe penalties for moving while shooting and suppression, is highly dangerous and (on a server where people know what they're doing) not even that effective. Straight-ahead charges or highly mobile rear-area subterfuge are way more effective – and more satisfying.
Your stats are saved (sort of), and killing more people with the same weapon will upgrade the weapon's condition and also grant access to nice goodies like bayonets or drum magazines. You also progress upwards in the different classes, and earning more points as a rifleman unlocks new weapons and improves your performance (your resistance to suppression, the steadiness of your aim). There are achievements, for winning matches and killing people but also for resupplying machine-gunners (every class carries MG ammo, it seems) and for bashing in enough heads with the stock of your weapon.
Even though Tripwire hasn't been making mods for years now, they still behave like modders. This is why they're so exacting about their realism and so comfortable with experimentation. It's also the reason why their QA isn't quite up to snuff, and why they care more about getting the sights on the Mosin right than they do about balancing the two sides. The early release of RO2 was rocky, and just recently Tripwire had to reset everyone's stats because they'd messed up the experience system (for example, on one map I suddenly got all the achievements related to the machinegun, despite the fact that I'd never fired one before). They're continuing to improve lag, which is a big problem at certain times on larger maps (up to 64 players, remember?). Player numbers have allegedly dropped off since release, but not to the point where I had trouble finding servers ready to play on at any given hour of the day or night.
These are minor quirks that can be worked on and fixed easily. The basic fact is that Red Orchestra 2 spoils you. Playing any other shooter, especially one that claims to be realistic, after going through a few rounds in RO2 is bound to be a disappointment.