“You’re gonna want to try not to get shot.”
That’s the advice Sturt Jeffery, lead programmer on Rising Storm 2: Vietnam, gave me as our match began. Jeffery makes no excuses for the game’s more realistic take on the multiplayer first-person shooter genre and that means a single shot is often enough to kill you. Fans of the previous game, a splinter from the Red Orchestra franchise, will be familiar with the stress and tactical demand that comes from such a low level of player health, but newcomers used to the regenerating health systems of more casual games like Call of Duty or Uncharted will have a rude awakening when they sit down to play Rising Storm 2. Jeffery isn’t too worried about that. “Once you realize that you’re vulnerable,” he said, “people play in a different way.”
Jeffery explained that it only takes a few rounds for most players to come to grips with their limitations in the game and adapt their playstyle accordingly. They stay low, crouch more, stick to the safety of trenches and other cover, and generally become more careful in their play. Jeffery is cognizant of the fact that Rising Storm 2 — a hardcore shooter bent on historical accuracy — is operating in a niche market. Rather than cater to the masses in a futile effort to tear them away from Call of Duty and Battlefield, Jeffery prefers to take that niche and build from within. He says the team is shooting for what he calls “accessible realism.”
“It’s realistic to a point, but it’s not so inaccessible that you can’t pick up and play it.”
To that end, the game has some mechanics many players unfamiliar with the series might find a little jarring. For one, there’s no option for a reticle or crosshair; one step further even, the game forces your aim to drift a little bit to prevent players from being able to stick anything on the center of the screen to circumvent the limitation. The reason for this, Jeffery says, is to force players to slow down and aim using the iron sights the way they would have to in real life. It encourages short bursts of fire and more careful play.
Still, Jeffery says the team isn’t opposed to making changes that sacrifice reality to make a more enjoyable experience. He cited the bleeding system in the previous game, which forced players to scramble to heal wounds, as a “very frustrating” pain point for many players. “You could always forever be bandaging in the middle of the open. [If] you got shot, you got three seconds to bandage or you die.” As a result, Rising Storm 2 is making some much-needed changes. “You’ll only bleed out if the shot was going to kill you, and it’ll take a lot longer to do it. It maintains a level of realism without being ‘un-fun.'”
That marks the dividing line for Jeffery: “If something is not fun, it doesn’t matter how realistic it is; we’re not going to include it.”
I played both the Vietnamese and American sides in the game’s new Skirmish mode, which has teams vying for capture points and supports up to 16 players in a match, a far cry from the massive 64-player battles the franchise is known for. Jeffery assures fans that the bigger modes are still “the bread and butter of the series.” In our new age of near to far-flung futuristic shooters, though, it’s admittedly a little odd to go back to a past conflict and see the historical weapon names like “Mosin–Nagant” and “M1 Garand” that I tend to associate with older games like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. The familiar metallic clang of the Garand and the softer clunk of the Nagant brought me back immediately to a classic era of shooters we haven’t seen in a long time, and that nostalgia will likely have a powerful effect on other players as well.
But it’s even odder to see a modern game cover a harrowed conflict like the Vietnam War that most developers opt to skip over. As Sturt tells it, the teams at developers Tripwire Interactive and Antimatter Games had originally considered moving to the Western front of WWII, but felt those conflicts had already been told in games many times before. The team wanted to avoid the fatigue, both for fan and for themselves, and landed instead on the Vietnam War. “It really reinvigorated the team. Different era, different weapons, different mechanics. It was exciting to work on the game again.”
One benefit to the development of the game was the vast differences in fighting style between the Vietnamese and American soldiers. Jeffery said fans praised the asymmetrical aspects to previous game, so the team wanted to go even further in that direction for Rising Storm 2. So while players fighting for America will have a slew of powerful tools like napalm strikes to play with, players on the other side of the conflict will need to take a different tact.
“The Vietnamese side has a very different way of playing,” he said. “Their weapons favor close-up tactics [and] stealth. They’ve got things like a passive camouflage; they can hide from people’s recon on the other side. They don’t have heavy-hitting abilities other than a mishmash of artillery. They’ve got boobytraps and things like that. So the way that you play as Vietnamese is very different than the way you play as American. It’s a little harder to get the hang of, but we find it can be a lot more powerful in some of these maps.”
Sure enough, while I found myself struggling a bit in my first round as a Vietnamese soldier, unsure of the best places to lay traps or how to stay hidden, playing with the American weapons and toolset felt like slipping on a familiar coat. I was able to track three players on the Vietnamese side to a capture point and take them out in quick succession with a pistol thanks to the game’s low health. Without an aiming reticle to fall back on, I had to rely on iron sights and hair-trigger reflexes to dispatch the other players; it was the kind of rush you won’t get in games where you can take a few hits and keep on rolling.
The Vietnam War was one often known by its sheer brutalities, an aspect Jeffery and his team aren’t necessarily skirting around, but aren’t taking head-on, either.
“We don’t want to take a political stance or do anything that people might perceive to be a political stance. More often than not, somebody will accuse us of being biased toward one side [while] someone else will accuse us of being biased toward the other. The truth is, we try to be as even as possible. Nobody is the ‘good guys’ or the ‘bad guys’ here. We’re not going so far as to have atrocities or anything like that, but at the same time, we’re not going to hold back on the violence.
“Things were nasty. War is not a pleasant thing. We’re not gonna shy away from that. But at the same time, we’re not gonna go over the top. This is a realistic game; we’re not going to have fountains of blood, you know, fifty gallons of blood out of a single human. That’s not what we’re going for. It’s a realistic level of violence and brutality.”
Rising Storm 2: Vietnam will release on PC this year.