I’ve been a fan of the Rainbow Six series ever since I got my hands on Rainbow Six 3 for the Xbox. That being said, even I can admit that the last installment, Rainbow Six: Lockdown, was an enormous disappointment. I mean really, a heartbeat sensor? That was a little ridiculous, as was the enemy AI, which could only be described as idiotic. Even the game’s best intention, the Persistent Elite Creation Mode, was inherently flawed. With the tactical shooter franchise in apparent disarray, the onus was placed on Ubisoft’s Montreal studio to resolve the situation with the latest installment, Rainbow Six Vegas. The result: only the best Rainbow Six title yet!
After Rainbow Six: Lockdown, who could blame “Ding” Chavez for taking a desk job. Instead of following orders, now he’s giving them, to you, Logan Keller, and your elite counter-terrorist task force as you combat a terrorist threat in the entertainment capitol of the world, Las Vegas. From the fictional hotels and casinos on The Strip to Fremont Street and the Hoover Dam, it’s up to you to save not only thousands of tourists, but Sin City itself. As far as storylines go, Rainbow Six Vegas follows your typical terrorist plot, with diversions and twists to keep you guessing, but it’s the way the story unfolds that’s new to the Rainbow Six series. Gone are the days of text briefings prior to each mission. In its place, and taking a page from Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, Rainbow Six Vegas uses television feeds and tips from Intel officer Joanna Torres to drive the story and the objectives of each mission as you progress through them. Not only is it an exciting way to present the story, it helps keep the action streamlined.
The developers have made a concerted effort to return Rainbow Six Vegas to its tactical roots by combining its franchise hallmarks with various elements from its Tom Clancy brethrens: Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. For starters, Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter introduced a cover system that Rainbow Six Vegas not only uses, it practically perfects. Whereas in GRAW, you had to press a button to enter cover and press it again to exit, in Rainbow Six Vegas all you have to do is press and hold the left trigger to take and remain in cover. This makes for a smoother transition when you want to get in and out of cover, which is vital in close quarters combat. While in cover, you can use the left analog stick to peek around the corner and over objects without exposing yourself, which allows you to observe your surroundings and plan an attack, blind fire if you’re under heavy fire or need to suppress an enemy, or simply shoot at terrorists. The cover system works brilliantly and is without question the most important tactical tool at your disposal.
Rainbow Six Vegas doesn’t stop there, it also borrows the high-tech snake cam from Sam Fisher and the Splinter Cell franchise. When you approach a door, you can use the snake cam to observe the room, search for tangos, and plan your entry. This also brings us to a new feature in the Rainbow Six franchise, the ability to tag terrorists. While using the snake cam, or at any other point during the game, and by aiming at the enemy and pressing the “Back” button, you can tag up to two terrorists as priority targets for your teammates to eliminate. This feature helps tremendously in the coordination of your assault. The tactical map has been expanded significantly to not only show the surrounding environment, but also indicate navigation points like ladders and rappel points, thereby revealing alternate points of entry into a room. Rappelling is another new feature to Rainbow Six, one that allows you to climb down the side of a building and breach through the window for surprise assaults. Each of these features contributes immensely to the Observe, Plan and Attack game mechanic that Rainbow Six Vegas emphasizes so very well.
Of course, the execution of your plan depends entirely on your squadmates, which brings us to the topic of AI. In the previous Rainbow Six installment, Lockdown, the AI was atrocious. Friendly AI failed to execute even the most basic of orders while the enemy AI was slow to react. I’m happy to report that on both fronts, the AI has been drastically improved. With the new tagging system you don’t have to worry as much about who your teammates are targeting, and their ability to open and clear a room is impeccable. They take cover when fired upon and rarely get caught in the open. The only downside is that your two squadmates are joined at the hip and never leave each other’s side, which makes it impossible to plan intricate assaults from more than two angles. Similarly, it’s a little strange that you have to order one of your squadmates to heal the other, even in dire circumstances. You’d think he’d know when it was safe to heal him on his own. Rainbow Six Vegas uses a Halo style regeneration system so if you get shot and are close to death, you can take cover for a few moments to regain your health. From an enemy standpoint, terrorists use the cover system just as well and the scripted events present all sorts of challenging scenarios. The terrorists also tend to throw more grenades than before, including flashbangs and smoke grenades. If you ramp the difficulty up to the Realistic setting, the enemies become sharpshooters and it’s here that you’ll likely want to trade your AI squadmates for a few of your friends in multiplayer.
The crowning jewel of Rainbow Six Vegas, as with other Rainbow Six titles, is multiplayer. It all starts with the Persistent Elite Creation, which makes a return appearance from Rainbow Six: Lockdown, but in an improved state. Persistent Elite Creation allows you to build an online identity and gain experience, win or lose, to improve your character and unlock more options to further customize your character, be it new clothing, armor or weaponry. For example, you can unlock the 552 Commando assault rifle when you achieve a higher level but just having access to that rifle doesn’t make you a better soldier, even if it’s your weapon of choice. In other words, it doesn’t create imbalance the way Rainbow Six: Lockdown did, it simply rewards you for rising through the ranks. If you have the Xbox Live Vision camera, you can take customization one-step further by capturing your image and having the game map your face onto your character.
Cooperative multiplayer includes both Story Mode and Terrorist Hunt. The Story Mode allows you to play through the entire singleplayer campaign with up to three of your friends. The Story Mode is where you’ll spend the bulk of your cooperative time online because it opens up so many more tactical options that simply aren’t possible with AI teammates. The only downside to playing the singleplayer campaign online is that you lose the cutscenes, the terrorist banter and the Intel that Joanna provides to help shape the objectives of each mission. Terrorist Hunt offers a host of unique co-op maps but to me, this mode hasn’t been the same since Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow. It often plays out more like Defend than Terrorist Hunt because as soon as you kill one terrorist without a silencer, the remaining terrorists all come rushing to your location. The randomness and hunting characteristics that defined Terrorist Hunt in the past are absent.
Competitive multiplayer includes the usual suspects, solo and team games like Attack and Defend, Sharpshooter and Team Sharpshooter, Survival and Team Survival, and Retrieval. You can play in either Player or Ranked Matches, the later using your TrueSkill rating to match you with players of similar skill levels. It should be noted that in the cooperative mode Terrorist Hunt and all of the competitive modes, the graphics aren’t quite as sharp as in Story Mode or singleplayer mode. Obviously there’s a give and take when you want to populate a map with 16 players for adversarial play and that’s the sacrifice the game makes. It’s by no means a huge step backwards but it’s definitely noticeable. Also noticeable are a number of multiplayer glitches, including communication issues in competitive play and disappearing weapons in cooperative play, most of which should be addressed in future patches.
Rainbow Six Vegas is the second game to use Unreal Engine 3, the first of course being Gears of War. While Vegas doesn’t quite look as good as Gears from a technical standpoint, it’s still a sweet looking game. The character and weapon models are really impressive, the environments are immense and richly detailed, and the lighting effects are fantastic. The environments are also incredibly destructive, not only for aesthetic purposes but you could eventually lose your cover if the car you’re hiding behind loses a couple of tires, or the slot machine gets blown to smithereens. It really is quite amazing. The audio is equally strong, from the sound each weapon makes when fired, to the environmental effects and dynamic soundtrack. The voice acting is a little flat at times but overall, the presentation is superb.
With the release of Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas this past month, it’s a great time to own an Xbox 360. Rainbow Six Vegas represents a return to glory for the franchise, with a renewed emphasis on tactics, a brilliant cover system, new high-tech gadgets, challenging missions and a multiplayer component that’ll keep you coming back for more. If you’re a fan of the Rainbow Six series or of tactical shooters in general, get out and buy Rainbow Six Vegas, and experience one of the best shooters of the year.