Running With Rifles is a curious game is a little hard to describe accurately. You play the game from a top-down view, moving a little soldier around with the keyboard, and aiming using a mouse-controlled reticule. From that description and the name, you might think this is a twin stick shooter, but it's not.
The main thing to understand about this game is it a single bullet can kill you. Soldiers have no hit points--each time a bullet strikes them they have a chance to die. If your soldier dies, you will respond a few seconds later with a loss of experience points and resource points.
Experience points give you additional soldiers who follow your avatar around and provide support fire, and perhaps more importantly, additional targets for enemy soldiers to shoot at. For the most part, your squad members act on their own; you can give them some rudimentary commands, but it's not like you are playing an RTS.
The resource points give you access to better equipment, and large numbers of resource points can be used to radio in support, which could be extra soldiers parachuting in, or artillery strikes.
The goal of a match is to take over enemy territory, which you do by having more soldiers in an area than the opponent, in the time-honored "capture the flag" mechanic. On a basic level, the game is about pushing the line of engagement back, whittling away at the count of enemies in an area without dying yourself.
RWR can be played solo against AI bots, co-op against one or two enemy AI armies, or multiplayer. Servers support up to 32 players at once on a team.
The first thing I judge a co-op game on is how easy it is to get me and my friends into the same game. So let me tell you, if you're thinking about setting up a co-op game of RWR, get ready to game like it's 1999, because this setup is old-school.
First, start a game. With the game started, activate a server, taking note of the UDP port that you use. Also, unless you want random people wandering in, you should not list your game as a public server. If you've got a router on your home network, you need access your router controls and forward the chosen UDP port. This is a potential security risk, so make sure you make a note to yourself to disable that port forwarding when you're done playing. If you're not sure what the local IP address is for your computer, bring up a command window and run ipconfig. You'll need to know your computer's external IP address, which you can do by typing "what is my IP" in a Google search. Now give that IP address to your friends in some way, perhaps over your voice comm, or using an e-mail or messaging, so they can type it into the appropriate box on the manual IP connection screen inside the game.
Well, that does work, but it's a lot more effort than it should be.
While RWR feels like a simple game at first, there's a lot of complexity hiding underneath, with tons of different choices to be made from moment to moment. For example, the type of primary weapon you choose greatly affects the way you will approach the game. You can equip shotguns for short range, squad guns that have to be set up before you can fire, single-shot sniper rifles if you want to try to keep away from danger, and so on. Also, there are vehicles you can drive, some that are really just transportation, but also armored vehicles with gun turrets. Should you aim to drive around in a powerful tank-like vehicle, or should you and your squad hoof it? When you kill an enemy, his gear lays on the ground. You could pick it up and run it back to one of your supply trucks and sell it for more resource points, but that will take you away from the front. Is that a good idea?
Just remember that while you're pondering these possibilities, you're always just one bullet away from your demise. Actually, I should say that if you are wearing a protective vest, it's possible to go into a "downed" state, where you crawl around, presumably screaming out in pain, until somebody comes by with a medic kit to put you back on your feet again, or until an enemy soldier put you out of your misery. But make no mistake, in this game, you will die early and often. In that sense, it almost feels like a roguelike game, not because you have to start over, but because of that feeling of tight roping as far as you can before you fall. When you have stayed alive for a long time in RWR, you can start believing you've reached some new, higher plane of gaming--but then you are felled, often from a unexpected direction, and before you even know an enemy is nearby or that someone shooting at you.
All in all, this is a good game, and an interesting game, one that doesn't play like many others. But on the whole, I admire the game more than I enjoy playing it. I think the competition to setting a co-op games highlights much of I don't like about RWR. The game is complicated, which is fine, but the game hasn't been designed to guide the player through the complications. Many of the default controls don't make a lot of sense or feel arbitrary. And, although you can have a primary and secondary weapon, the only way to check which weapon you are currently using is to examine your tiny little soldier on the screen. And there's large aspects of how the game actually works and I certainly would never have understood unless I read through the wiki (which I highly encourage you to do also, if you try this.
I know that some gamers say they enjoy games that don't hold your hand, but the older I get, the more I realize that there's nothing wrong with making a game easier to play -- not easier to win, mind you, but easier to play. RWR is a game that requires constant focus to stay alive, but often requires you to hold down a key to bring up an overlay that obscures the action on the ground. That's just poor design.
That covers the game as a whole, but the big question for this review, though, is, is this a good co-op game? Unfortunately, I have to say, this is not a good co-op game. A good co-op experience takes the game to the next level. It can make a game that's mediocre when played solo into a good game, and can make a good solo game into a fantastic game. In RWR, though, playing with my friends didn't feel much different than playing solo. The maps are so large that often you and your friends will be fighting well apart from each other, which isn't always a bad thing strategically, because friendly fire is definitely on. And even if you are playing with several friends, most of the soldiers on your own army will be played by the AI, and sometimes you feel like you're just along for the ride, as opposed to pushing the action. The regular respawning, too, can make this feel more like a shared activity rather than a team game. You don't those great co-op moments of an RPG or a Payday where you've worked as a close-knit team and end a match bruised and bloodied, but narrowly victorious.
One good thing about co-op is that the difficulty is finely adjustable. A big problem in many games is getting the difficulty right--too easy and too hard can both kill the fun in a hurry.
But my gaming group won't be playing RWR very often. I can tell the game has a lot more depth that we've yet to fully understand, but the gameplay just isn't enjoyable enough for us to want to keep playing.
The good news is that, if you are curious, you can download and play a demo of RWR on Steam. The demo only lets you play quick solo matches, but will expose you to most of the gameplay, and as I've said, if you don't enjoy playing solo, it's not going to get better with co-op. If you decide to pick up the full game, play the campaign instead of quick matches.