Welcome to Tajikistan, and welcome to Marine squad Outlaw 2. As you start the single player campaign, you are informed that the year is 2013 and the U.S. is still smack-dab in the middle of the War on Terror. Comically, you’re also given a brief history lesson about the events that broke up the U.S.S.R., the rise of Al-Qaeda, and the fictional launch of Operation Enduring Shield. A terrorist group known as the ETIM executed mortar attacks against a Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. This prompted Uncle Sam to launch a counter attack on insurgent forces in Tajikistan, a landlocked country in central Asia that borders Afghanistan. This is where you and your company start the hell raising.
You play as Sergeant Kirby, the shot-caller of Outlaw 2’s Fireteam Bravo along with three other squad mates Taylor, Soto, and Balletto. The first mission starts off with a short tutorial of the basic gameplay mechanics and controls (switch stance, aim/fire, use equipment, ect.). After the crash course, you meet Staff Sergeant Knox, the foul mouthed leader of Outlaw 2. He lets the company know that Tajikistan is a no nonsense frag fest, and the Fireteam’s role is to kill first and ask questions later. This latest extension of the war is the standard apply foot to ass of insurgents, to which the campaign missions call for you and your team to provide support for intel units, clear areas, escort convoys, and other standard objectives that are to be expected in this type of title. Good performances in successful missions improve your rank and give you points that are used in the Class Setup system. Red River takes a page from MW2 and unlocks different weaponry, attachments, equipment, B-Mods (gives physical attribute increases), and Special (improved abilities unique to each class) as you “rank up”. You may also fully adjust the rest of the team’s gear to you liking and strats. This is a rather solid blueprint that supports the best feature of single player.
The major component that attempts to separate Red River from the rest in the action FPS landscape is it’s extensive Tactical Control System. By holding R2, the screen presents a plethora of different options to conduct the symphony of war and give direct orders to the other Bravo members. These include: Tactics (hold fire/ go hot, line or wedge foot formations), Suppression (on/off, flank), Maneuver (move, rush, hold position), and Follow (“on me,” follow target). These commands can be assumed to the whole team or assigned individually. Because of the intricate design and expansive menu, often you will simply bark orders instead of going Rambo and blasting everyone in sight. In some instances, the options can change. For example, if you place the direction circle on a building, the options to secure or defend the structure are offered. Other times you’ll be able to call in support like air strikes and mortar attacks. This system works very well in spots and includes about every basic military command you could possibly want. Another “unique” feature is the way damage is handled. When you are hit, a HUD bar that slowly drains appears, and you must find a secure area to “patch” yourself up. Failing to do so will result in “bleeding out” and ultimately dying. This is a different twist on the popular “red screen, run away” style and really makes you think about how to attack the enemy. And you will probably be doing this a lot as you quickly identify the things that really hold this game back.
The AI of your Bravo teammates is horrible. I imagine keeping these three corralled and on the right track is like herding cats, impractically difficult and often just a waste of time. Telling them to hold behind a wall does very little to provide protection from them, as the game liberally lets them roam around in a general area for about three minutes until they decide to disregard orders and do their own thing. This presents you with a choice: do I place myself in a precarious situation to be shot and and potentially get wounded, or do I simply let my teammates die and try to take out the mounting insurgents alone? Needless to say, neither are good. I can distinctly remember one time being at the bottom of a valley in a shack with forces charging over the hill. So I directed them to move in the front of the building for open looks at targets while I did my share of the shooting on the roof. One member followed the call, but the other two were completely impervious to my direction. And one of those was in the building, with his back tuned to the action, and half of his sniper barrel sticking into the wall. It’s moments like this that make the game unnecessarily frustrating to the brink of aborting the mission and contemplating never playing it again.
Another huge gameplay issue is the restrictive boundary of the “playing surface.” Never mind the sprawling, open terrain of Tajikistan. Your path to objectives is predetermined and often surprisingly narrow. On the second mission, I attempted to move the team around enemy fire and flank. But because of the strict level “walls”, my screen became pixelated with SSgt. Knox ordering us to return to the battlefield. However, while I was technically “out of bounds,” I took fatal gun fire from insurgents that were OUTSIDE of the boundary line! There should never be a time that NPCs can occupy and affect the game world in a space that should seemingly be accessible, but is off limits to the player. It would be a different story if they were behind some makeshift cover that was meant to be taken out with an air assault or something, but they were regular foot troops standing in a section of the level that was, graphically, the exact same as the allowed playing surface. On the positive side, the checkpoints in each mission are well thought out. There was never a time after dying that I felt like the game made me “start back” too far. A checkpoint is achieved after accomplishing each objective. On the subject of respawning, Red River has an odd way of dealing with dead teammates. If Taylor, Soto, or Balletto wind up being casualties during a mission, they reappear after reaching a checkpoint. A “thinking man’s” tactical shooter usually does not execute the magical re-enlistment until after the mission is completed or restarted. Could this be an effort to try and make up for the lack luster AI?
The presentation side is another iffy component of this title. The character and equipment models are pretty good. The character’s movements seem pretty close to realistic military techniques (for the most part) and the weapon design and details are strong. The rendering of the buildings are passable and aren’t particularly an eyesore when you’re in the heat of battle. The same can’t be said, though, for the look of the countryside. The far off mountains aren’t that bad, but the rendering job on the grass “stuff” is downright awful and you will see the same two trees over, and over, and over again. Also, the foliage is stiff as a board and does not move for anything. I could maybe make myself believe that Tajikistan just doesn’t get any wind, but when my combat boots make the grass look like holograms, there is a problem. Codemasters also skimped in the animation department in some instances as well. The game doesn’t show people climbing into vehicles. Instead, they run up to the evac, and just sort of appear in their seat. And when healing yourself or a teammate, the medpack is just held up and a circle in the middle of the screen illustrates you progress. In today’s action FPS market, how can you not feel that it is essential to program relatively simple visuals? Examples like these do much to break the verisimilitude and force you to remember you’re just playing a game. The sound department also has ups and downs. While the voice acting is okay and the line delivery works, the unnecessarily foul mouthed script is littered with bad puns, worse jokes, and a few choice epithets towards the middle eastern forces. The cluttered “R” rated script can actually make it hard to follow the story line and mission objectives given to you. And as important as Knox and HQ’s radio direction is, it becomes yet another difficulty that should not be. The soundtrack has a hard rock/metal theme and is pretty good considering. However, Red River’s in-game sound design isn’t “balanced” very well at all. Your weapon sounds nice and crisp according to your rate of fire. But the voices from other teams are too loud one minute, then really quiet the next. And explosions/heavy artillery just doesn’t have the “oomph” it should. Just before I was ready to write this game completely off, real interaction made up for some of this negative.
Online play is where it’s at in Red River and actually facilitates quite a bit of enjoyment. Up to four can play together over PSN (it’s back up, by the way) and trudge through the campaign. But the real “joy” of this game are the Fireteam Engagements. There are four different FTEs with two maps each, and have your team accomplishing straight forward objectives. The first of these is Last Stand. This is a Horde Mode, Firefight, what have you, style mode where you spawn a base, of sorts, to defend against wave after wave of increasing OpFor. After a certain point, you and your team are given the choice of cashing in the proverbial chips and heading for evac, or staying with it to try and generate more kills and more points. It is very important to listen to air support for where each wave is coming from and taking positions according to their encroachment. Rolling Thunder gets vehicles into the fray, as you must make it from point A to point B with the convoy intact. Drive some, find opposition, get out, shoot/kill, rinse, repeat til the mission is complete. This sounds simple, but the difficulty is the journey itself. A smart driver is crucial; they must put the team in a good position and not park the Humvee in the “middle of the frying pan” and right into death. CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue) is a Blackhawk Down style objective in which allies are trapped behind enemy lines and must be safely extracted. If your teammates are good, this isn’t as difficult as the others because of the relatively short distance that is required to reach the destination. The last one is Combat Sweep, Codemaster’s take on Terrorist Hunt that force the team to take out all the baddies in a certain area while trying to find and destroy a certain number of weapon caches throughout the level. I found this one to be the most difficult, as it requires the highest level of planning and patience.