Thoughts on Tripwire Interactive

Posted by chipdailey On Tuesday, May 31, 2011 1 comments


Tripwire Interactive is an extremely overlooked developer.
They have created an outdated World War 2 FPS, back when they were relevant, and a zombie FPS, back when they too were relevant.

But Tripwire Interactive is far more special than I have made them sound, but it is due to the cliched premise of their games that they have been overlooked so far.

They have an intimate understanding of the core mechanics in online FPS, and have created what can easily be called the best online, objective/team-based FPS and one of the co-op best swarm shooters, and this is with only two games under their belt.

The games I am referring to are Red Orchestra and Killing Floor.



Killing Floor is a cooperative swarm shooter.
It takes place in a deserted Britain, where 'Horzine Biotech' has created a genetically engineered army called 'specimens', Tripwire's name for zombies, that have escaped and are wreaking havoc.

The combat is what the game is all about, and it's incredibly tight.

It ties the together a beautifully animated arsenal of weaponry, an intimidating cast of enemies and smooth teamwork. I want to make it clear that my perception of the game has been created through experiences with friends playing on the hardest difficulties of the game, and may very well differ from your perception.

The game has seven classes which are split up into Medic, Support Specialist, Sharpshooter, Commando, Berserker, Firebug and Demolitions. Each of these classes play vital roles in a team, but the consistency of a team can be made up of any combination of these classes and succeed. Each of these classes also levels up to a maximum level of six. These levels stop unlocking abilities at about level two, after that, leveling up just buffs existing abilities and gives another incentive to play, and they play a nice role to incentivize gameplay even further, so no complaints. All classes can be maxed out, but this takes over 250 hours of play. Classes must be picked and chosen carefully; as the player can only change class once per wave (limiting the player is a necessary facet for effective teamwork, so no complaints).

To give a basic example of how teams function, this is how each class usually functions.
Note: generic servers only allow six people to join; therefore I will be leaving the berserk class out.

The medic, demo and sharpshooter sit in the rear; healing teammates and taking down larger specimens before they get too close.

The commando sits in the middle; quickly taking down specimens at medium to close range.

The firebug and support specialist get up close taking out the smaller specimens in large numbers.

Now this may make each class sound like a separate entity, but the enemies and map designs are the other ingredients to what makes teamwork so natural.

Each class has enemies that it is designed to kill, but each class is also more vulnerable to certain enemies. The demo and sharpshooter are designed to quickly remove larger enemies from long distances, but up close and personal, they are vulnerable to being swarmed by smaller enemies. The berserk, much like the commando, is great at picking off targets, one by one, but is open to attack from the 'crawler' and the three enemies with ranged attacks, all of which are problems due to the limited range of the berserk's weaponry. Finally, The firebug and support specialist both specialize in the fast removal of smaller enemies, so the larger enemies are harder to take out, once again; due to the weaponry.

The commando is kind of a jack of all trades and doesn't have any real vulnerability, but is very helpful to a team nonetheless due to their ability to chain the games slow motion feature, whereas the medic has no weakness due to the fact that they're a non-combat class.

All of these vulnerabilities encourage teamwork, and it really works.
Due to the fact that each class's vulnerability is another class's specialty; people are brought together by one another. It is an absolutely beautiful contrivance.

This rather magnificent contrivance is aided wonderfully by the maps.
At the time of writing this review (May 30th) there are 19 official maps on Killing Floor, and they're all made to suit teamwork. Each map is a labyrinth with meager defensive positions, and it's these defensive positions that make zombie defense in Killing Floor that little bit more intense, and also introduce another mechanic used in class specialization. Each map has a number of defensive positions designed for different capacities, so no matter the size of the squad playing, there are always defensive positions that are viable. Defensive positions have a number of doors and vantage points. These doors can be welded to slow the movement of enemies or herd enemies strategically through chokepoints. One of the default items for every class is a welding tool that recharges, and the support specialist is a dramatic given a speed boost in the recharge rate and effectiveness of the welding tool, and welding is also a necessity in leveling up the class; giving a special purpose to the support specialist.

An example of how a team can work in a map is along the lines of this:
-support specialist welds one door and leaves the other open to funnel enemies into
-commando mows down the smaller enemies
-sharp shooter kills the larger enemies
-medic heals all of them when necessary

That is true teamwork, and that's a natural occurrence in Killing Floor, not something one needs friends to do because the game is made for such coordination whether a team is communicating or not, but that’s not to say communication doesn’t help.

The labyrinthine maps make movement outside of these defensive positions very suspenseful, as players stock up on munitions and weaponry at a trader. As enemies are killed and teammates are healed, the player gets more money to spend at the trader. There are several trader positions in each map, and after each wave of enemies, the trader temporarily opens to sell every weapon in the game, along with armor and grenades. This trader makes getting supplies a race against time or a scrounge of ammunition boxes, weapons and armor vests, all of which are dotted around the map randomly and are rather rare. So even outside of the combat, Killing Floor still holds its suspense.

Staying with teammates is necessary if the player wants to survive in these maps, as enemy spawn points are absolutely everywhere, and will trigger at the presence of a player, meaning the player can be randomly swarmed at any point in time.

The maps aren't just generic arenas, but entire gameplay mechanics.

And at that, maps do not act as just gameplay mechanics either!
Maps also act as a storytelling device in Killing Floor.
Maps use visual storytelling, giving little hints to what has occurred; telling smaller stories through random scenes and scrawls , although gameplay is so fast that it's hard to take note of this, but it's most certainly there and tells a number of interesting stories.

Much like the maps, each enemy tells a story of its own too.
The enemies have a camp style, and it really shows. As pictured, the Fleshpound is a giant with its fists encased in maces that twirl, and is filled with adrenaline caused to anger, which is gauged by a light on its chest that changes color in time with its mood. I don't think it's necessary to go into detail with the enemies (but it should suffice to say each enemy plays a role in their own 'team' and there is occasional but awesome infighting), as I've already stated their individual place in teamplay and given an example of their camp value, so I will talk about how they allow for some of the most visceral, most beautiful, jaw-dropping combat to ever be reveled in.

Enemies are designed to react to weapons in the most satisfying manner possible.
Shotguns coathanger enemies and cause their bodies to be propelled backwards, and their reaction depends on which angle they're shot; they might flip head over heels if they're shot in the legs, with the sounds of ripping flesh as they are impacted with the visible pellets.
The shotguns span from a generic pump-action Benelli to a hunting shotgun, that coathangers heavier enemies with a double shot, and lastly the spectacular AA12- Automatic Assault shotgun. These weapons are animated with incredible detail to allow the player to, once again, revel, but this time in weaponry that has been translated never before with so much detail and beauty into a video game.

The assault rifle, bullpup and battle rifle (commando's line of weapons) all have the same effect on enemies as the hand cannon, M14 and crossbow (sharpshooter's line of weapons), that is a satisfying headshot that makes a squelching noise and leaves enemies walking around aimlessly, but these weapons are animated with so much detail and have such beautiful sound design that using them is satisfying nonetheless.

The demolitions line of weaponry turns enemies into a cloud of blood after they make their last noises, and the giblets and smoke left in the cloud of blood is very satisfying to see. As said, so much attention to detail in sound, animation and modeling of the weapons that it's just nice to hold them.
Finally are the melee weapons and incendiary weaponry.
The melee weapons don't quite effect the enemies as I had hoped, but make for an awesome experience anyway. The Katana is the star of the show, perfectly slicing enemies; it can slice limbs off at great speed and leaves a trail of blood and a screaming specimen. The fire axe and its echo the chainsaw can both be wielded to slice down on enemies from above the player's character's head, but sadly, only looks cool on arms as heads only slice off horizontally.

The incendiary weapons include incendiary grenades, a flamethrower and a Mac 10 with incendiary rounds. Each of these weapons gives enemies a whole new skin and makes them react crazily and in such a satisfying manner. Enemies become charred after combustion and run around waving their arms, and doing this to entire mobs of enemies just puts a grin on my face, much like the entire game does with dialogue inspired by Harry Enfield.

Killing Floor is easily the most refined swarm shooter ever made. It shows that Tripwire understands the fundamentals of the subgenre; that killing waves of enemies if much more fun with other people than by one's self, and that the reason shooting is fun is because guns are cool, so they created the best teamwork, the best guns, the most ridiculous (and ridiculously fun to kill) enemies and the best maps and made Killing Floor.

Buy the bloody game....you plonker!


Now that I have explained why Tripwire intimately understands the FPS subgenre that is the swarm shooter, I will explain why they understand the tactical multiplayer team/objective-based FPS.

Much like Killing Floor appears as a generic zombie shooter, Red Orchestra looks just like one of those games; another WW2 FPS. But, much like Killing Floor, it is far more than what it appears.

Red Orchestra blends tactical teamwork with large open environments and amazing firefights to create what is easily the most immersing and enjoyable WW2 FPS. It's combined arms and its executed as combined arms should be.

Red Orchestra set the benchmark for teamwork in multiplayer FPS and it has yet to be topped.

The game has a number of maps of locations spanning across the Eastern Front, and each of these maps have objectives in the form of points. Points are taken by simply having soldiers on them, and it’s the task of getting soldiers to these points that ensues teamwork and hectic firefights; two mechanics that are intertwined.

There are two teams split up into Axis and Allies, which are essentially, obviously Germans and Russians.

Teams consist of a number of classes each with a cap. These class caps limit teams so you don’t have the bullshit of, say, Battlefield Bad Company 2 with an entire team of snipers, while also increasing specialization among teams. Although class limits aren’t universal, some maps allow for a second machine gunner, sniper, more assault troops etc.

I am not going to go into detail about classes because the classes are archetypes, and you can already guess based on the fact it’s a WW2 FPS what to expect.
Each of these classes needs to be limited so teamwork can occur as intended, and this teamwork is a pretty incredible correlation of all classes. My favorite example of teamwork is in the map Danzig:

-Russian squad leader throws smoke grenades on the bridge and bridgehead to allow assault and riflemen across

-Russian machine gunner goes to the top floor of the hotel to suppress the Germans so they don’t get in range to throw grenades at the bridge

-Russian sniper also goes to the top floor of the hotel to counter-snipe and pick off Germans, basically aiding the MG

-Russian assault and riflemen move across bridge and capture the bridgehead/s

This isn’t a ‘what if’ sort of scenario or a scenario exclusive to Danzig, this is a common occurrence caused by map design and the limiting of classes to a maximum of two fighting styles teamed with limiting players to a non-rechargeable health system. Why? By limiting players, teamwork as a single entity is necessary for full effectiveness and made possible through designing a suitable map. It’s a beautiful sight that’s incredible once properly executed. Also, similarly, the Axis forces will defend using the same tactics of smoke, suppression, sniping etc. Success is dependent on team coordination.

Team coordination depends on player experience and communication. Players will require a basic understanding of maps and game mechanics, while also knowing the core necessities of gameplay, such as extreme caution. There’s no question that Red Orchestra veterans will have an edge over new players. But it’s quite basic to at least survive, just don’t treat Red Orchestra as any multiplayer FPS. Use the tools like lean, prone, cover, stealth efficiently and it will lead to success. Sprint into the enemy head on and there will be failure. The game isn’t about kills or solely about combat, it’s about achieving a goal as a team and therefore about aiding the team and not one's self, and it has executed this like no other game, and it has a great learning curve that will see the player slowly get better and better, and certainly, it's a noticeable difference.

Obviously the success of this teamwork is attributed to the classes, but without cover, vantage points, and strategic positions, teams can’t function. The maps in Red Orchestra are emulating locations all around the Eastern Front in a manner that is both immersing and supportive of gameplay. Snipers and machine gunners function realistically from vantage points by using windows as cover and to keep a rifle steady (as there is gun sway) or to set up a bipod on. Assault troops and rifleman must use stealth and walk slowly lest their footfalls are heard on wooden floors (stealth plays a prominent part in close quarters) and prone to stay out of sight. Although not all is positive, as prone can be used in quick ‘dolphin’ tactics to get down and out of sight of an opponent instantaneously, which shouldn’t be allowed, and the cover system is outdated by today’s standards, but still very well executed as every piece of waist-high cover can be used to rest a gun on or crouch behind. Although this tactic could be attributed to players and perhaps shouldn't be called the games fault, the fact that players can quickly jump to the ground and then fire with full accuracy is ludicrous.

But all that is not necessarily maps, just environmental interaction. The actual map design is intricate and completely open. If maps aren’t sandboxes, there are always 3-4 paths to choose from, and maps always have several paths or areas that allow for viable flanking, and it’s just awesome to play with friends and coordinate a flanking attack against the enemy team successfully. This is very doable as maps can have up to as many as 50 people playing, so while the other 22 team members are in direct combat, you and a couple buddies can attack the enemies as you please. Although flanking isn’t necessary, whittling down on the enemy team’s reinforcements can be done by simply being coordinating a good offensive. Basically, there are a number of ways to succeed in Red Orchestra.

That begs the question, just how satisfying is successful coordination in Red Orchestra? Due to the incredible animations, every little movement is satisfying. Movement is natural, and unless teammates are spinning around or standing on each others heads, the player will rarely feel like they're playing with another person, but rather, a fellow soldier. There is a dismemberment system that tears apart arms and legs and can turn people into clouds of blood in an instant, and this makes mortar fire something to be feared greatly, as you will often be sprinting and have a teammate explode beside you and it is really shocking to see and it brings you right into the game, along with immersing suppression from mortar fire that shakes and blurs the screen. Weapon animations are also incredible, as most weapons are just nicely animated, but machine guns have deployable bipods and changeable barrels that are rich with authenticity, yet still satisfying. The general gameplay is satisfying, and success in coordination is so natural that it's satisfying because the game isn't holding your hand. It's overcoming a challenge, that's the satisfaction.

My only gripe with the weaponry is that I believe the MG42 should have a much larger advantage over the DP28, and I believe the G43 is tripe compared to the SVD, which I think shouldn't be so either, they should be about equal to each other.

But small arms aren't the only weapons in the game. I haven't talked about the star of the show yet; the tank. The tanks in Red Orchestra are just like the rest of the game; immersing and enjoyable. Tanks play supportive roles in some maps while there are other maps dedicated to tank battles. Tanks play the exact same supportive role in the Red Orchestra as they do on the real battlefield, and taking out a tank is quite the task. Tanks have a penetration system, destructible tracks and engines, and the expected vulnerable points such as the side and rear of a tank, and the turret rim.

Tanks come in three tiers: light, medium and heavy. Most tanks can be destroyed instantly through satchel charges or by a single panzerschreck shot, by a couple shots from a panzerfaust or AT rifle, or by another tank. Taking out a tank as an AT unit is pretty well balanced, as the field of vision in a tank is extremely limited, and both tanks and AT units have to be equally cautious of each other, but I have left out the most important part about tanks and how they can be more effective than a single AT unit. Tanks are controlled by several people. One man cannot control the turret, MG and driving of a tank, those three facets are controlled by tank crews. The MG acts as both offense and defense in it must defend the front of a tank from AT units and also support fellow soldiers through elimination of other enemy soldiers. The driver of a tank needs to communicate most with the commander, as the MG is basically independent. The commander needs to communicate when to stop and where to go to the driver, or else be ineffective and force the driver to guess where is best. The fact that even tanks necessitate teamwork in the larger scheme of a strategy is a mechanic that really needs to be used more often, and I haven't seen since the Tribes. It gives me happiness that Tripwire went this far. Tank combat is just another beautifully executed layer of Red Orchestra's combined arms.

Red Orchestra allows players to revel in the combat of WW2 like no other game does. No scripted events here, only mechanics that have been set up in such a manner that there are limitless immersing moments to be had. It's fun, it's visceral, it's Red Orchestra.

Since 2006, Tripwire Interactive has created two of the most enjoyable, intricate team-based FPS ever, yet have been awarded with a slap on the face of just above average reviews. The teamwork hasn't been recognized for what it is, and that saddens me. The games are underrated and are usually overlooked as either 'another generic WW2 FPS' or a 'L4D clone'.

Tripwire has an intimate understanding of teamwork, they have clearly illustrated this through Red Orchestra and Killing Floor. They understand how to execute immersing realism, but also understand how to make games ridiculously fun.

With only two games, I have spent around 400 hours in their games.
I am not someone who enjoys online FPS. So what I'm doing is recommending their games, even if you don't like online games, even if you don't have friends to play with, these games are for everyone and can be enjoyed by everyone.

I recommend each and every person reading this to buy Tripwire's games.
Whether you play online FPS for a vivacious, ridiculous sort of fun or an immersing, tactical experience, Tripwire has you covered. Not to mention, their games are incredibly cheap. Red Orchestra is $10 AUS and Killing Floor is double that. That is a lot of value for money.

Support 'em, you nonce!

1 comments:

The Devil Burning said...

incredible detail my friend! I need to play moAr of these on Steam with you!

and Welcome aboard!

Post a Comment