The lights are on
Military shooters have a long and venerable history in
video games. Before Call of Duty and Battlefield began their war for complete
market domination, smaller series like Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and SOCOM
provided different takes on digital warfare. These series differentiated
themselves – and the military shooter genre – from other FPS franchises like
Quake and Halo by emphasizing strategy and realism. Forgoing roller-coaster
spectacle and nonstop action, they presented gamers with a pseudo-authentic military
experience where every shot counted and tactics played a larger role in the
outcome of a mission than itchy trigger fingers.
In the last few years, the first-person shooter landscape
has radically changed. Guns-blazing military shooters now take center stage,
with Modern Warfare 3 selling a record-breaking 6.4 million copies on launch
day. But along with the genre's newfound audience has come a redefining of what
a military shooter entails. Detailed mission briefings and pre-operations
planning have been replaced by convoluted storylines pasted together with all
the skill and flashiness of a Michael Bay film. NPC squads of stat-differentiated team members have been reduced to
exaggerated stereotypes with "follow" signs hovering over them. Dynamic, open
battlefields have been streamlined into linear campaigns with action scripted
down to the explosion. Online play affords gamers more opportunity for
strategic thinking, but regenerating health, kill cams, super-human perks, and
killstreak rewards ensure the action remains fast-paced, unrelenting, and far
removed from reality.
Are strategy-oriented military
shooters dead? If you're looking for a console release with the level of
planning offered in the old Rainbow Six titles, the answer is yes. But that doesn't
mean all military shooter fans have assimilated into the Call of Duty horde. A
small but dedicated group has switched platforms, moved online, and has been
enjoying a level of realism and strategy-focused gameplay that simply doesn't
exist in mainstream gaming.
games might not offer the bombastic moments that the current crop of triple-A
military shooters do, but if you're looking for an experience that makes you
feel more like a soldier than a one-man army, here are some titles worth
"You have to be skilled. Most people think that all you can do is get in and start doing great when you can't. You start at an airfield and have to pick your gear and move to a targeted town through airlifting, which could be on C-130s, helicopters, or air-to-air combat in jets. You have to land a distance out and move in with a squad and be aware. If people would like to experience realistic war, I would suggest getting this game because it's as real as it gets." – Austin Farley, Commander of Arma II's Virtual U.S. Military clan
Internet-goers what the most realistic military shooter on the market is, and
Arma II will be the overwhelmingly popular response. This large-scale tactical
shooter for PC was developed by Bohemia Interactive Studios, creators of the
original Operation Flashpoint. That game's proprietary Real Virtuality engine
was so realistic that Bohemia created a sister studio to develop VBS1, a
full-fledged military simulator licensed by the United States Marine Corps for
After a falling
out with Operation Flashpoint publisher Codemasters (which retained the rights
to the franchise), BIS began working on the Arma series. The latest release is
Arma II, which uses Real Virtuality 3 to
provide a level of realism its fans swear by. This includes the game's 81
real-world weapons and a comprehensive ballistics simulation that takes into
account bullet drop, muzzle velocity, and realistic material penetration and
ricochet depending on the angle of impact.
In addition to the
arsenal, Arma II also features more than 120 accurately recreated vehicles, as
well as real-world terrain constructed from topography scans, day-night cycles,
and changing weather and wind conditions. Perhaps the best testament to Arma
II's authenticity is the recent flub committed by the UK's Independent
Television network, which aired a documentary that mistook camcorder-captured
footage of the game as video from a 1988 IRA attack.
Despite Arma II's
attention to detail, the game was criticized at its 2009 release for AI issues
and bugs, both of which Bohemia has attempted to address with subsequent
patches. In June of last year, the company released a free-to-play version of
the multiplayer -component of Arma II, which allows gamers to partake in its
massive 50-player matches with owners of the full game.
Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad
"It's not flashy or based on Hollywood-effect warfare. The realism also is a bit humbling; you aren't blessed with perfect accuracy, and you are going to die gory, inhuman deaths frequently. It has a learning curve that rewards players who are equally concerned with keeping themselves alive as they are with killing the enemy, but perhaps most refreshingly of all it brings the player back to the core of why wars are fought: land. You're not tasked with simply annihilating the enemy, you must seize and hold key ground, ground that is for the most part very faithful to the actual battlegrounds and strategic points within the city of Stalingrad itself." – Vittorio Rinaldi, Platoon Leader in the 51st Guards realism unit
realism-oriented WWII shooter started off as a total conversion mod for Epic
Games' sci-fi multiplayer FPS Unreal Tournament 2004. The mod won Epic Games'
and nVidia's Make Something Unreal contest, leading to a standalone retail
release and the eventual sequel, built using Unreal Engine 3.
A lot of Red Orchestra 2's realism
lies in its presentation. This PC game features a minimalist HUD to simulate a
true first-person view. For example, there is no aiming reticle in Red Orchestra 2; instead players
must rely solely on iron sights while compensating for gun sway and breathing.
There's also no onscreen ammo indicator, so players must manually check their
ammo count or mentally keep track of how many bullets they've fired. As with Arma II, Red Orchestra 2
features full ballistics modeling, including bullet drop and material
extends to Red Orchestra's 2 damage system. Wounds continue bleeding until
bandaged, which doesn't actually regenerate health but at least prevents any
further loss. More often than not, however, your first gunshot wound is your
feature is the game's realistic simulation of tanks. Unlike most first-person
shooters that feature vehicles, tanks in Red Orchestra 2 have fully modeled
interiors and realistic armor (meaning where you shoot a tank matters). Tanks
also require multiple people to effectively operate, via either an AI crew in
single-player or fellow players online.
Like Arma II, Red Orchestra 2's
single-player campaign was criticized for its poor AI. Multiplayer is where the game really shines, thanks
to massive open-world maps, a 64-player limit, and a
military hierarchy featuring commanders and squad leaders for each team who can issue commands and call in artillery strikes.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.