If Korea is America’s “Forgotten War,” then Vietnam is the war that America wants to forget but can’t. It is a haunting memory of failure and shame that serves as a sharp counterpoint to the stereotypical American bravado of military dominance. The specter of Vietnam permeates our culture, cloaked in both the stark reality and endless representations of it. The Vietnam War has become its own aesthetic within American mythology.
Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, the latest game in Tripwire Interactive’s Red Orchestra series, developed with help from Antimatter Games, lives within that aesthetic. It’s set in the Vietnam War not necessarily as it happened but rather as how the modern American consciousness thinks that it happened. Creedence Clearwater Revival blasting, a peace sign scribbled onto a dirty helmet, conical hats atop black pajamas – the game embraces the largest cliches of remembrance.
The Vietnam War was a conflict of hypocrisy and surrealism. Foreign intervention in the name of democracy. Freedom fighters championing state control. Civilians and combatants indistinguishable. Rock ’n roll, drugs, and Dow Chemical’s latest frankenweapon. There was a rumor for decades that the M16, America’s primary service weapon made famous in Vietnam, was manufactured by popular toy company Mattel. That kind of sheer absurdity became believable when faced with Cronkite’s battlefield reports and Stone’s iconic Platoon.
But when the action in Rising Storm 2 starts, all of that cultural facsimile fades to the background. This game is olive drab camo in bright green rice paddies. It is the toy-like ping of M16 fire and the tinny crackle of backpack radios. Dead bodies in the street, yours and theirs. Blood on the walls. Gun in your hand. Rising Storm 2 is a heavy dose of realism hidden in the facade of society’s general levity towards war.
Antimatter has brought Red Orchestra forward 20+ years, into the era of airborne cavalry and AK-47s. It’s a big change, in a way, but it’s also not. This is the same dirty slog of warfare that was the star of previous entries in the series with largely the same gameplay. Bullets still kill with frightening accuracy and movement feels as laboriously deliberate as ever. While the battlefields and the combatants and the weapons have changed, the core game hasn’t.
Rising Storm 2 is the continuation of Tripwire’s statement that war is serious, bloody work and that the soldier is its purest victim. There is little celebration in the game and every kill brings a tinge of guilt. Once, in a moment of rare bravado, I surprised a trench full of GIs and gunned them down with panicked hipfire, their bodies collapsing to the ground with yelps, blood spilling onto nearby crates and into the dirt. Surrounded by that horror, I didn’t feel like a hero. I felt like a murderer.
But war is more complicated than that. War is kill-or-be-killed. There are moments in the game where you hear the voices of your enemy, the faux-machismo of a GI grunt pointing out a target or asking for cover or muttering a curse. It floats faintly from behind a wall or around a corner and envelopes you with absolute dread. They have come 8,000 miles to kill you and are here, right now, with 20 shots of 5.56 hate.
And there are moments where your whole squad is packed into a Huey buzzing fast and low over the densest jungle you have ever seen. The bird lands hard, you pour out of the open door, and rush into a tiny village with a shotgun in one hand and democracy in the other looking for any goddamn thing to shoot. Kicking down doors and shooting through walls. Throwing ‘nades willy nilly. Until you step into a punji trap and die without having ever seen the coward that killed you.
Tripwire has built this series on the statement that modern warfare is a bloody, unforgiving hell. Every moment you spend on these battlefields is one of revelatory trauma. The frustration of trying to move quickly and quietly while wearing dozens of pounds of gear. The difficulty of accurately firing an obnoxiously loud and wildly recoiling rifle. The fear that behind every sandbag, door frame, and leaf is an enemy waiting to kill you. And the realization that you will die a horribly violent death, again and again, to an unseen enemy.
Rising Storm 2 is able to deliver this gritty, harrowing experience by expertly tweaking the same basic variables that all shooters share. Lowering the time-to-kill makes every shot count. Increasing weapon sway when standing or moving encourages slow, deliberate shooting. And placing the spawn point far away from the front-line makes death a costly inconvenience. It gives the game a different feel from Call of Duty or Battlefield, bringing much more emotion and tactical expertise into the experience.
A shooter focused on realism plays differently from one built around perks, ranks, and kill-streaks. War isn’t fair, and neither is Rising Storm 2. Weapons are divided per side with historically accurate choices for each. Maps largely place the Vietnamese in defensive roles with only the Americans having access to transport and attack helicopters. And squad and commander abilities, such as squad spawning and artillery call-ins, work differently depending on your team. While balance is a concern, it is not as dictatorial in Rising Storm 2 as it is in other games. There are many times where the player is outnumbered, outgunned, and outmaneuvered. That’s the reality of war.
The polished gameplay makes sense given that Rising Storm 2 has a lineage 14 years deep, running through the entire Red Orchestra series and back to the original mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. Every release has improved upon the core gameplay mechanics with nuanced tweaks, updates, and changes. Larger overhauls have brought the series to successively newer engines, making Rising Storm 2 an incredibly successful pairing of time-tested mechanics and the latest graphics. It’s no small feat that the game feels great and looks amazing.
Yes, there are flaws. The game has only eight maps and three are mostly unplayable on the larger 64 player servers. Glitches range from strange to annoying, including one that sporadically paints the terrain blood-red after an artillery strike. The UI is built on an outdated genre cliche. And the netcode feels a bit questionable. But none of them break the most important aspect of the game – the experience.
I have entered a bunker and found a limbless torso leaning casually in the corner. A pair of boots and bloody shins standing alone in a bombed out street. A freshly shot enemy muttering his last words. Dead civilians covered with sheets. These are small things but their impact is enormous. They are details that stick with the player long after the round has ended.
Rising Storm 2 is an incredible game; it is both the most flamboyant aspects of the Vietnam War aesthetic and the bloodiest realities of war. Every facet of the game has been tweaked for maximum effect in order to place the player deep within a multi-layered simulacrum. Kill and die, again and again, surrounded by familiar cliches and faced with impossible threats. Rising Storm 2 is a 1960’s kaleidoscope of guns and gore worth experiencing.
PUBLISHER – Tripwire Interactive | DEVELOPER – Antimatter Games & Tripwire Interactive | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC
Recommend – Rising Storm 2: Vietnam is one of the most immersive and well-implemented multiplayer shooters currently available. Play it for a realistic experience that is as rewarding as it is punishing.