The first thing that struck me when jumping into Rising Storm was the sheer immersiveness of it all. It didn’t really matter which map I selected – from the barren, sandy-looking Kwajalein map decked out with wreckage and lined with trenches, to the bombed out buildings filling the Saipan area, these are not only well-crafted environments for multiplayer action, they also do a good job of drawing the player in and making them feel as if they’re fighting a pitched battle in a major war. Now, I say this as someone whose closest thing to war experience is fighting over bargains on Black Friday, so I’ll be the first to admit that my standards for ‘combat immersion’ are likely unrealistic. But still, the sheer look of these environments, along with the sights and sounds of the soldiers filling them (complete with a whole lot of excited yelling in Japanese, and gruff barking of orders in American English) did an amazing job of drawing me into Rising Storm from the first few moments I logged into a server.
And then my head was blown clean off by a sniper.
Rising Storm is quite possibly the ultimate game for anyone eager for a competitive multiplayer first-person shooter set in the Pacific theatre of World War II. Representing the culmination of efforts between an active modding community and Tripwire Interactive (the team behind Red Orchestra and Killing Floor), this is a game which boasts asymmetrical style gameplay along with a broad selection of weapons, classes, maps, gameplay modes, unlocks, achievements, and more. While not cutting edge, it’s graphically solid and – so long as you’re willing to put in the effort to learn its particular gameplay style – fun to play. But in spite of all this well-earned praise, it’s a fairly niche game that is largely going to appeal to gamers who are specifically hunting after not only a particular kind of tactics-heavy competitive multiplayer, but who also are dead set on a Japan versus American World War II environment – and a fairly high tolerance for ample helpings of sudden virtual death.
Before I start describing the actual features that sets Rising Storm apart from the rest of the (let’s face it – multitudinous) multiplayer competitive FPS out there, let me stress this much. This is a game that both attracts and is largely played by a particular crowd of gamers, the population of which is a bit on the thin side. I do a lot of my gaming in the wee hours, and as of my writing this (4am on a Thursday) I can’t find a single full server to play on. You may think that I bring this up only to warn prospective purchasers that they may have trouble finding people to play with at times, but – unless you’re on Nosferatu’s schedule like I regularly am – that’s probably not going to be too much of a concern. Instead, the issue with the low population is this: when the community for a game like this is small, they tend to be dedicated. And by dedicated, I mean that they are extremely good – they know the maps, they know the best places to hide and shoot from, they know how to coordinate with each other, and they are going to be relentlessly efficient at shooting your head off again, and again, and again.
In a way, Tripwire Interactive has softened the effect of this ‘jumping into a woodchipper’ learning curve Rising Storm offers new players – on the scoreboard, deaths are not displayed, allowing you to pretend for a little while that your 11 kills aren’t balanced out by 30 or so deaths. This is no doubt partly in play because of the sort of tactics required by the game itself – when you’re playing on the Allied side and you have to rush a Japanese machine gun emplacement, there’s only so much that skill is going to be able to do for you in terms of keeping you (to say nothing of your team) alive. A few of you are probably going to die, and the best case scenario is that the tactic and gain of ground is going to offset those losses. “Acceptable losses” seems to be one of the fundamental concepts of gameplay in Rising Storm, along with a focus on communication and teamwork. Nevertheless, whenever I played on maps that were loaded with players rather than bots, I found myself being blown away time and again, usually from positions I had trouble locating even after the fact.
In fairness, part of the problem comes from my experience in other FPS games, where running around with guns a-blazing is often a wise idea. In Rising Storm, it’s just suicide by another means. This is a game with a focus on cover, positioning, recon and taking opportunistic shots at enemies from afar – with the frantic charges from one location to another taking place far fewer and further between than staying under cover. Enemy players aren’t made terribly obvious either, so it requires sharp eyes and ears to know what direction you should even be shooting in, to say nothing of finding a specific target. As I started to crouch behind cover, peeking out only now and then and paying attention to what direction the bullets were coming from, I started to become less of a burden to my team and more of an asset. But I was still regularly outshone by the more experienced players, and I can tell that getting to a position of seeing my name on the top of the score screen would take patience and dedication – and unless you’re a veteran of this kind of game (in which case you’ve probably already gone and bought Rising Storm on word of mouth alone), chances are you’re going to go through a similar experience.
With the warnings to the inexperienced and impatient thusly delivered, let’s talk about what else Rising Storm offers. One of the big talking points of the game is “asymmetrical gameplay.” See, in a lot of competitive games, it’s pretty common to put both sides on roughly equivalent footing: everyone gets access to the same classes, the same weapons, and often even the same starting area on the map – maps are mirrored, so both sides get the ‘same’ environmental advantage. Not so in Rising Storm. The Japanese get more ‘technologically inferior’ weapons in favor of a few other advantages – being less prone to suppression by the enemy team (highlighted by some disorienting, sense-blocking effects on your screen), the ability to set booby traps, a suppression-spreading banzai charge, a knee mortar, and the lack of a loss ticket for your side if you kill yourself and an enemy with a grenade. In exchange, the Americans get some more powerful weapons – with the absolute hallmark being a flamethrower, capable of completely clearing out a nest of holed up enemies, assuming you’re able to get close enough to unleash the flames. My initial impression of this is ‘it seems balanced enough’, but I’d advise readers to take that with a grain of salt, considering the sheer amount of time I spent face down in the dirt.
Let me say a few things about the weapons of Rising Storm. Tripwire Interactive prides themselves on the attention to detail they’ve given the weapons in this game, boasting “true to life ballistics, bullet penetration, breathing, adjustable sights, free aim, weapon bracing, and more, create WWII weaponry that has no equal.” Once again, we’re getting into an area of expertise that I simply lack – all I know is that there is certainly some amount of bullet drop in the game, you definitely have to aim down iron sights in order to get anything close to an accurate shot, and tooling around with a sniper rifle seemed like enough of a touchy affair that I’m practically certain a firearms enthusiast is going to find much to praise here or, almost as valuable, much to complain about among other enthusiasts. All I can really say on this front is that flamethrowers remain one of the most fun things ever and I sure hope to be able to play with one someday in real life under appropriately novice safe conditions.
One thing I do know about, however, is the fact that full SDK support and integration with the Steam Workshop is a glorious feature that will always get me to praise any developer who implements it – and Tripwire Interactive has given Rising Storm exactly that. As of right now it features 69 items, 12 map contest entries, and 20 collections – which doesn’t sound like much, but in this situation it’s the effort that means everything. Any developer who throws down full SDK support in their game is communicating ‘we respect our players’ as sincerely as any gesture could communicate such – and it also adds some longevity to a game, both for people who enjoying tinkering with SDKs as well as people who like to play community-made creations.
Rising Storm also has a considerable variety of unlocks available, further increasing long-term gameplay value for those who are into this title. The ten different classes (ranging from straight-up assault to the teamplay-necessary commander) all have their own progression, complete with additional stamina, movement speed, weapon focus on other stat improvements that can show up in action mode, along with weapon unlocks. Weapons themselves can also be leveled up over time, allowing players to reduce reload time, recoil, and even pick up some additional attachments for their gear of choice. For you ultra completionists out there, there’s also a wide selection of achievements to aim for – 111 of them to be exact, and some of these are out and out grueling. To top all of this off, purchasing Rising Storm also nets you Red Orchestra 2′s Eastern Front campaign – so if you tire of shooting at or alongside the Japanese and want to get the Germans and Russians involved, good news: you get to do that too.
At the end of the day, Rising Storm occupies an interesting niche. It’s a solid game, loaded with a lot of detail, replay value, and was clearly created by a skillful team and community that really loves the Red Orchestra style of team-oriented competitive multiplayer. But it’s ultimately a title that’s going to appeal most to players who are after not only a World War II setting, but one with a particular attention to detail and a pretty demanding learning curve. For anyone who’s just after “a fun shooter” or who doesn’t want a game that’s going to have much of a learning curve, picking up Rising Storm would probably be biting off more than they can chew. But if you’re someone who really wants one of the best games around for multiplayer FPS combat in a World War II setting, Rising Storm is probably the best choice you can make – and is a damn fun game for what it is.