Reviewed: January 7, 2004
Released: October 28, 2003
Ubisoft is quickly becoming one of the top game publishers in the industry and with games like Rainbow Six 3 it’s easy to see why. Since their acquisition of Red Storm, Ubi has been cranking out quality Tom Clancy products faster than most gamers can play them, first on the PC and then the consoles.
The Xbox has already seen a pair of quality Ghost Recon titles with another on the way, and who can forget the legendary Splinter Cell released about this same time in 2002. Each new title marks a new and progressive achievement in tactical action gaming and Rainbow Six 3 is the culmination of everything we’ve played up to this point. Not only is it the best tactical shooter currently available for the Xbox, in a rare twist of fate, it surpasses it’s PC counterpart, Raven Shield.
I first saw Rainbow Six 3 running on the Xbox at E3 and even then I knew they had a hit on their hands. When my Ubi tour guide had me put on the headphones to block the din of the show, I was immediately immersed in a world of tactical action that I had only experienced in films. Rainbow Six 3 packs in the most comprehensive set of features and gameplay elements ever seen in the genre.
Rainbow Six 3 features:
The Rainbow Six series has always been about multiplayer and squad-based gaming and Rainbow Six 3 doesn’t try to deviate from this successful formula. To its credit, the game manages to recreate that multiplayer “feeling” even when you are playing solo thanks to an ingenious command interface that gives you ultimate control over your AI teammates with controller input or better yet, voice commands.
The single-player game teams you up with three other operatives, each with their own weapons and proficiencies. Commanding your team is a substantial part of the gameplay and really where the interface starts to shine. Available commands are contextually based on whatever you happen to be pointing at, so if you point at a door you get commands specific to the door whereas pointing at the ground with give you various movement commands.
You also have the ability to individually order your team around and assign “zulu” commands. These will have your men get into position and wait for your “GO” order before executing their assigned duties. It’s totally intuitive and has about a 15-minute learning curve.
The best part about interacting with your team and issuing orders has got to be the voice command system. Not only does Rainbow Six 3 have the best voice recognition system I have ever used, it totally immerses you in the game by allowing you fast and seamless access to multiple commands and instant audio feedback in your earpiece. You won’t find a more immersive experience without enlisting. If you don’t already subscribe to Xbox Live and even if you don’t plan to, you will still want to run out and get a headset to play this game.
While it’s all too easy to simply sit back and order you team into danger, you will eventually have to mix it up yourself and balancing your duties as commander and active shooter is another part of the exciting gameplay. The mission structure and difficulty will encourage you to keep your team alive. While one or two fallen comrades isn’t enough to fail a mission, each level is structured around a full assault team and you will have to pick up the slack for any of your team that don’t make it to the end.
The Xbox version has streamlined a lot of the pre-mission start-up features making it easier to get into the game and play it. The weapons list is trimmed down but not that it detracts from the gameplay. You still have more than enough variety to keep your tactical options open throughout the missions. With only four weapons slots you will have to make some important decisions, but the Xbox adds the grenade launcher to the mix giving you an added edge in combat.
The mission structure allows you to explore all the facets of a special ops team. You’ll be constantly thrust into new and evolving situations that will test your command abilities as well as your combat proficiency and skills with gadgets like various vision modes and gas masks.
Of course Rainbow Six really shines when you introduce the “human factor” and multiplayer is what this game is all about with support for up to 16 players online or using a system link. Everything is based on the four-man team so multiplayer includes a lot of team-based games as well as traditional versus games like Survival and Sharpshooter.
There is also a very fun and challenging cooperative campaign mode that allows you to play the solo missions with real people. This eliminates the strict voice and D-pad command system and opens up the game to free chat and unpredictable strategies. Who you can talk to is based on the type of game you are playing and in some modes restricted by the proximity (15 meters) of the characters in the game.
One of the best features of cooperative play is that the enemies use a randomized AI so you can never predict where they will be or what they will do. And if you are looking for all-out action, just play the Terrorist Hunt, which eliminates the hostages and lets you take down everything in the map.
To further enhance the online component you are allowed to customize your online profile and indicate all of your gaming preferences. This way others looking for a match will instantly know your preferences and you will be matched with players of similar interests. Add in plenty of downloadable content, a Friends list, and Scoreboards and you have the most comprehensive online games currently available; one that truly defines what Xbox Live is all about.
Rainbow Six 3 probably won’t “wow” you like Splinter Cell did back in 2002, but the graphics are just as good and that is saying something. The only thing that does take a minor step back is the fluid and lifelike animation. Nothing has touched the fluidity of Sam Fisher’s catlike movements with the exception of the recent Prince of Persia game.
The character design is topnotch with plenty of polygonal detail and excellent textures. While the animation isn’t the smoothest it also isn’t the focus of the game and it still looks really good. Each member of the team and all of the enemies exhibit convincing and appropriate movements and reactions to the events going on around them. Just toss a flashbang into a room and watch the guys try to shield their eyes if you don’t believe me. Impressive.
Even better than the detailed character models are the wonderfully authentic real-world environments recreated in stunning detail. The colorful lighting and real-time shadow effects are flawless and really help bring these levels to life, especially when the light is coming from a focused and directional source like a flashlight mounted on a rifle. Shadows are so important they actually become part of the game in that you can use their darkness to conceal yourself, but if you are careless and cast a stray shadow that is detected by the enemy they will be alerted to your presence. Even the muzzle flash of your weapon will illuminate the surround area.
The environments are detailed with plenty of interactive objects. The fabric textures from Splinter Cell are back and sway in the breeze or wrap and flow around characters as they pass through them. There are also lots of special effects like smoke, fire, explosions, and weather effects and the enhanced vision modes look and perform flawlessly.
The CG cutscenes are breathtaking and the opening movie is one that I watch every time I load the game and even pop in just to show it off to friends or any stranger I can drag in off the street. This is by far the best opening movie of any game released in 2003 and holds a special place right next to my favorite 2002 opening movie from Namco’s, Dead to Rights.
Rainbow Six 3 offers an outstanding sound package that starts with the excellent support for the Headset Communicator. While the game can be played without this device, it takes on a whole new level of realism to speak your commands and get vocal feedback in your earpiece from your team.
Speech is actually rather limited and includes mainly the spoken commands and confirmations of your team and the occasional yelling of random hostages or suspects. If you are using the D-pad to issue orders you will hear them spoken the same way that you would say them into the mic. Basically, any radio chatter is pertinent to the gameplay and you should be paying attention when somebody says something, as it will probably be useful. The quality of the voices along with their respective accents are all very professional.
The music is pretty much what we’ve all come to expect from these Tom Clancy games. It’s great stuff but nothing that really stands out, and once the game starts things get eerily quiet so you can hear footsteps crunching in snow or tapping across cement or wood floors. The music does crop up during moments of intense action and the familiar and ominous death theme has been brought over from the PC version.
The Dolby Digital mix offers up a great 3D spatial sound system so you can identify incoming fire and footsteps by their sound placement. This is of utmost importance in an FPS game where you don’t have the wider field of vision. You do lose a bit of the 3D goodness while wearing the headset but it’s worth it for the added immersion. There is just something very cool about having that voice “inside your head”. You’ll also find the microphone an invaluable tool in coordinating multiplayer tactics.
You can probably make your way through the 14 solo missions in about 12-15 hours, but the fun doesn’t stop there. You can revisit any previously completed mission and customize the settings or play the mission in multiplayer co-op or Terrorist Hunt modes. There are also custom multiplayer maps and five modes to choose from for up to 16 players when playing on Xbox Live or connecting multiple systems with a system link cable.
With so many gameplay possibilities and more content coming soon there is really no end in sight for this game. Rainbow Six 3 rises above previous online mega-hits like Ghost Recon and Return to Castle Wolfenstein to secure a top spot in the Xbox Live game library.
If you like tactical, squad-based, close-quarters combat FPS games or any derivatives of that all-encompassing genre then you will definitely want to play Rainbow Six 3. If you enjoy online FPS games either cooperatively or in exciting versus modes then look no further. This is a definite must-own game for Xbox owners everywhere.
Ubisoft has taken their PC masterpiece and trimmed it down just enough to make it accessible on the Xbox while adding enough new features like the voice command interface to make Rainbow Six 3 the most immersive tactical simulation you can experience without years of military training.