Reviewed: April 28, 2006
Released: March 14, 2006
Just when I thought Ubisoft had exploited their once-beloved Rainbow Six franchise to the point of no return, they go one step further by not only releasing another lame installment, but a game that merely revisits missions most of us have already played years ago. Sure, they are retooling the graphics and gameplay with the most recent game engine, but Lockdown was probably the worst possible edition of the Rainbow Six engine to date, so it’s a bitter update.
Rainbow Six: Critical Hour takes us on a “best of” flashback journey of seven missions from the earlier games in the series. If you have been a member of Team Rainbow from the beginning then this will definitely be a case of déjà vu. Rookies might find the game a revealing insight into the history of the franchise, but it certainly doesn’t advance the series.
No one should be surprised that the Xbox is capable of playing PC code that was written nearly ten years ago, but after playing gems like Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow, its all too easy to be a bit overly critical of Critical Hour. The original PC games were admittedly, quite primitive by today’s gaming standards, but they made up for it with outstanding gameplay and tactical authenticity. Now those missions have been dumbed down for the casual gamer and tweaked for the limited functions of a console interface.
The core gameplay is unchanged and you continue to play as one of the four members of Team Rainbow. The story does pay homage to the original team leader, Jack Clark, so those of you who have only known Ding Chavez as the leader, will get some interesting backstory.
Regardless of its average presentation and rehashed levels, Critical Hour does offer more of the same for those who enjoyed the new gameplay style of Lockdown. This game is all about strategy and the methodical breeching and clearing of room after room. It’s all close-quarters combat where one or two bullets can end your career.
Lockdown simplified the control scheme to near-action game standards. Simply point at the floor, door, corner, or other area where you want to have your team interact and press the A button. In the old days I used to be quite the commander, orchestrating complex raids, but there is little need for that with the current engine. It’s just as easy to use your team as decoys to distract and draw enemy fire while you flank their location from another entry point.
This tactic works only if you are a skilled marksman and know the right time to issue the GO code. Once the bullets start flying it is all too easy for your men to start going down. If done right, you shouldn’t hear more gunshots than there are enemies. If you are feeling particularly daring you can even draw the enemy fire before issuing the GO code and let your men get some kills.
Controls work well enough but the aiming assist seems a bit too forgiving. Admittedly, the Xbox controller is nowhere near as precise as a mouse and keyboard, but often I can score a hit and the cursor isn’t even close to the target. The least they could do is snap the crosshairs to the enemy so it looks right.
AI is pretty good for your own team. They follow orders and work well when left to their own agenda, but the enemy is a bunch of idiots most of the time. Poor collision detection allows for bullets which obviously strike the enemy to have no effect whatsoever, and it is not uncommon to see enemies running around on some oddly scripted rampage totally oblivious to your presence.
To their credit, the designers did do a decent job of remixing the levels, so if you are like me and can beat those original games in your sleep then there are still a few surprises. But then again, if I want to take a trip down memory lane I’d just fire up the original games on the PC.
It was the original Rainbow Six that got me started in gaming, and I must have played countless hours online back in the pre-Internet days of 56k modems. It was all about the multiplayer, creating clans, and teaming up with your friends to go up against other people you would likely never meet in real life.
Critical Hour offers split-screen multiplayer as well as Xbox Live support for up to 16 players using the standard game modes we’ve come to expect from the franchise as well as a few new ones that actually held my interest past the point of simply reviewing this game.
The new Assassin mode takes two teams and makes one member the assassin. Each team then needs to kill that particular character. There is a Free-for-All Survival which is basically a last man standing mode and a Free-for-All Sharpshooter which is just a scoring competition to see who can get the most kills.
The classic modes are back and offer significantly more fun than the solo game. You can play the single-player missions cooperatively or engage in the Terrorist Hunt mode that removes those annoying hostages from the equation. If you prefer head-to-head action you can play Total Conquest, Team Survival, Retrieval, and Sharpshooter modes. I have to admit that Xbox Live is easier to hook-up and play with other gamers than the PC and modem ever was.
Introduced in Lockdown, Persistent elite creation (PEC) is back and allows you to create an online presence and build up that character with an RPG-like point system for skills and the more powerful weapons. As you play the various online matches you will earn points that you can then spend hours with, tweaking your character’s stats and inventory.
Lockdown was far from visually impressive and Critical Hour doesn’t take any positive steps in enhancing the graphics engine. Arguably, the game looks better than the low-poly, flat-shaded PC original, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. This is 2006 and I want to be immersed in graphics that are somewhat realistic. Maybe GRAW has spoiled me.
The game is simply dark with muddy and pixilated textures that just aren’t fun to look at. There are even some jaggies thanks to a lack of progressive scan support. Animation is really bad, despite major improvements to the character models including more detailed facial expressions. Neither your team nor the enemies look remotely realistic as they jerk and glide across the levels. The only thing that approaches graceful is the improved ragdoll physics engine that is much better at showing death than the game is of showing life.
The interface continues the use of the new in-game HUD that mimics the visor that a real soldier would wear in these types of missions. My only complaint is that when my visor gets damaged to the point where I can no longer see clearly I would TAKE IT OFF; not play the rest of the level with 10% visual clarity. Even special effects like explosions are dull and lack the punch to be believable.
Critical Hour continues the fine use of traditional military themes for the soundtrack during movies, menus, and briefings, but all goes eerily quiet during the actual mission (as it should) leaving you to hear the minimal sounds of the environment, your own footsteps and rattling gear, and the occasional noise from the enemy.
Sound effects are accurate to their respective weapons, but again lack the punch to make them believable. The only thing that saves the sound portion of this game is the excellent voice acting, both during and between missions.
Most gamers can finish off the solo mission in 10-12 hours, less if you have played the original games where these missions were plucked. While I did enjoy the nostalgic trip into my Rainbow past I only wish they would have used the Rainbow Six 3 engine. Lockdown was one of the worst efforts in the franchise, and to base any more work off of that engine is like shooting yourself in the foot.
The multiplayer is certainly the driving element of this game and the series in general. The new modes are interesting if not unoriginal or unexpected, and we’ll likely see them in future RB6 games. The PEC is still an interesting idea provided you can find mature gamers who are willing to build up their characters naturally (slowly) and not try to go on dedicated “leveling-up” missions.
Critical Hour, despite being the latest game in the series, takes several severe steps backwards in both graphics and audio technology, and the unpredictable enemy AI and target assist put this game more in the action genre than the tactical one.
If you are dying for a fresh Rainbow Six fix, especially if you never played any of the older games, then Rainbow Six: Critical Hour is certainly worth a look, but if you despised Lockdown or don’t plan on investing a lot of time playing online then you might want to pass.