Reviewed: May 5, 2008
Released: March 18, 2008
There is no other franchise that means more to my personal group of gamer friends than Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six. Going back to the early days of PC gaming, and even for a sketchy Playstation title or two, Rainbow’s highly-detailed strategy-based gameplay has always led the tactical shooter genre.
But it was with the release of Rainbow Six 3 for the original Xbox that the series really made its mark on gamers. Not only did the title feature some of the most amazing gameplay and visuals yet seen on any console, but also threw in incredible enemy AI, voice recognition team commands, and was one of the first Xbox Live titles to feature mission-based co-op play for up to four players.
Up to that point, a fair share of games had featured online play – but most were relegated to the standard multiplayer fare of deathmatch and capture the flag variants. If a game did feature co-op play (Halo, Brute Force, Serious Sam), it was seldom available through Xbox Live, and generally maxed out to two players.
But it was through Rainbow Six 3’s Xbox Live co-op mode that four guys– a New Yorker, a Brazilian, and two fellas from Michigan (one of which being myself) – met via a co-op matchmaking session nearly five years ago, and together have been saving the world from virtual terror ever since. And even though we have wandered the co-op world over the last five years, enjoying and mastering similar franchises like the Ghost Recon titles and Close Combat: First to Fight, nothing brings us home like Rainbow Six, and the subsequent add-on Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow.
But that doesn’t mean that Rainbow Six hasn’t had its darker hours. First off, for readers who have not had the pleasure of playing a Rainbow Six game on the Xbox – you missed out. Even if you played the titles on the PS2, you were not getting the real deal. Much like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell series, certain concessions had to be made when porting Rainbow Six from their native Xbox to the underpowered PS2. And this went beyond simply downgrading visual quality and draw distance – the PS2 titles generally featured fewer map branches, fewer enemies, weaker AI, and the aiming difficulties associated with inconsistent frame rates.
Then there is the game that many don’t like to talk about; Black Arrow’s follow-up, Rainbow Six: Lockdown. An obvious attempt to drive the series into a more traditional online multiplayer realm, Ubisoft and Developer Red Storm focused more on online character development than on the mission mode resulting in a profoundly disappointing single player (or co-op) experience.
Lockdown may have played great in standard player v. player multiplayer modes, but it shipped with so many campaign bugs and glitches that it was quite possible to confuse the enemy AI into coding loops where they would freeze in place, or unload magazine after magazine without hitting an unprotected target just a few feet away. When the budget follow-up Critical Hour (also Red Storm) exhibited the same kinds of issues, many story-driven fans wrote the series off as ruined.
Obviously, gamers were skeptical when Ubisoft announced that it would be bringing Rainbow Six back for the current line of consoles with Rainbow Six: Vegas – the caveat being that Ubisoft decided to give the reins back to Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow developer Ubisoft Montreal, rather than Red Storm.
The results could not have been better. Rainbow Six: Vegas brought back the slower, strategic, team-based pacing of the Rainbow Six 3 titles, while melding the multiplayer character-building concepts of Lockdown and Critical Hour. The game also introduced an intuitive “soft” analog trigger based cover system that quickly trumped the “hard” button lock cover system Gears of War or Metal Gear Solid.
Within days of Vegas’ release, my crew and I were back in full swing – once again saving the world from scores of virtual terrorists in and around Las Vegas and Mexico – and loving every minute of it.
One thing we have always said in our hours of co-op play is that when Ubisoft gets it right (Rainbow Six 3, Black Arrow, and Vegas), all they have to do is drop a dozen missions on a disc, keep everything else the same, and we will buy it. Don’t try to reimagine the series (Lockdown, Critical hour). But when Ubisoft announced that it would be buffering up the co-op experience with the release Rainbow Six Vegas 2, we couldn’t have been happier. For four guys who are constantly worried that co-op is on its way out of favor, to hear that it was getting extra attention was music to our ears – that is, until we heard the bad news.
Let me start off by saying that everything good about Rainbow Six Vegas is here and better in Vegas 2. Ubisoft Montreal once again delivers the most realistic shooter on the market, and one that is even better than the already incredible Rainbow Six Vegas . Vegas 2 stands as a true testament to the developers’ understanding of what makes a great gaming experience.
And while some may write off Vegas 2 as “more of the same”, they are failing to notice improvements like increased enemy aggressiveness, enhanced teammate intelligence, larger campaign environments, destructible set pieces, etc.. But even if it is just more of the same, who cares – I would rather shell out sixty bucks for more of a good thing, than forty on something I am not so sure about (i.e. Lost Planet). All I needed was more missions and Ubisoft Montreal delivered that and more with Vegas 2.
Vegas 2 takes place in the same time frame as Vegas 1, only in different environments. The game starts as a flashback 5 years to a snowing training mission that teaches the ins and outs of walking, crouching, climbing, rappelling, targeting, and grenading as well as the new features like “sprint” and “thermal scan”.
The sprint feature is quite obvious – allowing the gamer to sprint from one cover position to another under fire. Couple this with the soft cover system, and gamers can swiftly zigzag their way through areas avoiding enemy detection. The sprint feature is especially nice in that it can be utilized from both the standing and crouching positions with the quick press of a button.
Thermal scan is Rainbow’s answer to Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter’s (GRAW) overhead drone, allowing gamers a large-scale birds-eye thermal view of the area, detecting hidden enemies objectives even under ceilings and structures.
The environments tend to be a bit more open than in previous Rainbow Six titles, even including a few GRAW-sized cityscapes with distant snipers and grenadiers to eliminate. The casinos are much more fleshed-out than in the previous title, and all buildings seem to feature more accessible doorways and stairwells than Vegas did.
The teammate AI is much more intuitive than in previous games, generally responding on orders of “move” and “stack up” with due diligence. There are a times where the AI will become confused when following orders to move up or down stairwells and catwalks that extend over playable areas – almost as if the locational cursor is locking on the wrong level – but this is easily remedied by reissuing the order a couple of times (either pressing the “A” button or issuing the command verbally with the headset).
Rather than the completion-based character development of the original Vegas – where gamers were awarded a set number of points for completing a mission – Vegas 2 employs a points system that doles out points for achieving various feats; it seems like every action as an associated point value, which gets added to the total. For instance, making a kill at long distance will get you 3 points, a headshot will get you 3 points, and if you shoot an enemy through penetrable cover you get 3 points – using simple math, that means that equates to 9 points if you land a long-distance headshot through penetrable cover. This form of instant gratification definitely lends to a more rewarding experience that the simple 300 points for finishing awarded in the original Vegas.
So everything is great with, Rainbow Six Vegas 2, right? No.
If you’ll remember, earlier in the review I mentioned that Ubisoft was addressing the co-op mode, right? Let’s read directly from the box art:
Plan your assault on breathtaking new Vegas hotspots alone or with up to three friends in a massively upgraded co-op mode.
All I can say is that single statement is not entirely true. You see, it appears that in an effort to mimics the drop in/drop out co-op of the Xbox 360’s popular Gears of War – Rainbow Six Vegas 2 features drop in/drop out anytime co-op…for two players only. Ok, so why do they imply that up to four people can play cooperatively? Because you can play the shooting gallery Terrorist Hunt with up to four players – but the campaign mode is limited to two.
So, here is where I am confused. If my three pals and I have been playing Rainbow Six’s Campaign Modes cooperatively for the past five years, I fail to see where Vegas’ two-player limit could be considered a massive upgrade. In fact, it seems like the exact opposite – a heartbreaking downgrade. Now, to be entirely fair, in the many hours of cooperative gameplay we have under our belts, probably 70% of that time was spent playing Terrorist Hunt – but that was only after exhausting the Campaign Mode.
To make matters worse, the developers could not simply have the two gamers traversing the campaign missions alone, but force two AI teammates to tag along. While I can see how a developer might consider the AI characters as an upgrade (simply because he had to program their motions), the two tagalongs end up being more of a nuisance than a benefit in co-op, simply because they always seem to be getting into one of the human players’ path.
Thankfully, Terrorist Hunt still rocks – it can be played with up to four human players (and no AI teammates) through all of the campaign and multiplayer maps. The enemies are tougher than ever, and the new open environments definitely add a sense of vulnerability to the proceedings.
Vegas 2 looks better than ever, pushing the Unreal Engine to produce visuals that are far beyond even Epic’s own in-house Gears Of War, with some of the best lighting and shading effects seen in any game.
Whereas the first Vegas kept the fight inside, venturing outside during the night – Vegas 2 takes the battle outside into the sunshine. The result is some of the best looking natural lighting seen on the PS3 – more natural even than that of the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and even (dare I say) the Gran Turismo demo lets on.
Nice touches abound – the fire and smoke are realistic as hell, and seeing shell-casings fly from the chamber and chunks of concrete tumble from the walls is incredible cool. The characters move very realistically, and facial details like mouths that move to match player speech (via headset, of course) really add a sense of authenticity.
The Rainbow Six franchise has never been a slouch in the audio department, but Vegas 2 really shines with top-notch voiceovers, an incredible musical score, and some of the most realistic sound effects in the industry. Whether it’s the clinky sounds of casings hitting the pavement, the metallic chimes of an L85A2 being loaded, or the deep roar of a frag grenade clearing a room – it just sounds real.
Once again, the enemy characters a rife with quippy four-letter remarks that will incite a chuckle or two – but it seems as though the developers have toned down the gratifying screams of an enemy catching an incendiary grenade.
With regard to value, I’m a little torn. Not like completely torn where I could either call the game great or call it terrible – but more like being great vs. being really good. In one aspect, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is the very best title in the series; featuring the biggest environments, the best AI, and by far the coolest missions. But then they screwed with the co-op, which makes a big difference for a large portion of fans (check Google for related fallout).
Still, there’s no denying that Vegas 2 has a ton to offer gamers – from a great single player campaign (playable with up to one friend online), cooperative Terrorist Hunt, and a full array of online multiplayer options. When compared to the recently released Turok, Vegas 2 is a work of art.
If it weren’t for the one or two disappointments, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 would have achieved a perfect score. Even considering, Vegas 2 is still is one hell of a game. It is definitely the best shooter on the PS3 this year, if not the best shooter on the console overall.