Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield
|a game by||Ubisoft|
|Platforms:||PC, Playstation 2|
|Editor Rating:||8.5/10, based on 2 reviews, 7 reviews are shown|
|User Rating:||8.8/10 - 8 votes|
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|See also:||Rainbow Six Games|
When it comes to tactical shooters it’s a given that they don't come better than the Rainbow Six series. But. despite the hyper-realistic settings, weaponry and scenarios in previous outings, just how good is it if you have to control a man who can only shoot from three positions: standing, lying or squatting. Why can’t you position yourself accurately below an object so that you can aim your weapon at someone’s skull without exposing yourself? This is just one of the problems that's been addressed in Raven Shield. You can also use your mouse wheel to open and shut doors slowly and silently, and although you might think that these sound like minor tweaks, the extra immersion and gameplay possibilities they bring up are infinite.
The new Unreal engine complements these little tweaks perfectly. In action the game looks hyper-fluid and everything, down to the death animations, are realtime and completely unpredictable. And, in a bid to make the game as realistic as possible, the developers have employed SWAT officer Mike Grasso to oversee all the weapons and their effects. (Mike's spent 20 years in the LAPD, so don’t go and tell him he looks like Hank from The Larry Sanders Show.)
The developers also demanded that flashbangs and gas grenades were chucked at them so that they could experience what it’s like first-hand. A bit beyond the call of duty you might think, but what’s a little temporary deafness when you've got a game this damn good?
Download Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield
Terrorism has been on our minds a lot in the last year or so. From the sporadic actions of small groups of individuals it has turned into a global threat, replacing the atom bomb as the new spectre of fear and paranoia in our otherwise cosy existences. But since we can’t do a hell of a lot about this in real life, we may as well keep playing games in which we can pretend, eh?
The Rainbow Six series has made a living out of the "safe" sort of terrorism that takes over embassies, kidnaps businessmen and stands outside doors waiting to have a cap popped in its head, and Raven Shield is no exception. Where it differs from past incarnations though is in the way it’s presented to you. Up until now, the developers could get away with confusing interfaces and shabby, angular graphics, safe in the knowledge that the tension and realism would suck the punters in anyway. These days the market for strategic shooters is that much more crowded, and Raven Shield is a far more well-groomed beast. It's apparent right from the opening menus just how much effort has gone into making this game easy on the eye, and that’s before you’re thrust into the thick of the action courtesy of the ubiquitous Unreal engine. Ghost Recon has already given us a taster of how much the Red Storm formula could benefit from good graphics, but Raven Shield makes the likes of Rogue Spear and even the recent Sum Of All Fears look like amateurish efforts. Just watching your squad move around, turn their heads and blink is a joy in itself, and it’s certainly much more satisfying shooting at enemies who look like the real thing and fall in unnatural - if completely realistic - ways against walls and down stairs. The environments are also pretty gorgeous, from industrial factories and clinical airports to hot locales and rocky mountains.
Something we found even more refreshing, however, was how the Unreal engine makes moving about and shooting feel much smoother and more natural, without the clunkiness of previous games.
And, in a giant concession to a wider audience, you can at last see the weapon in your hand instead of just a floating reticule. All of which should extend the Rainbow Six fan base well beyond the realism nuts.
A Simple Plan
Another important step towards bringing the game closer to a wider first-person shooter audience is the complete overhauling of the planning stages. Aware that many people - including myself - couldn’t be arsed with all those red and blue lines criss-crossing each other over flat representations of buildings, Raven Shield makes it much easier to forgo the planning altogether and jump straight into the action. You just pick your team, get them kitted up and start exploring the lush environments and ridding them of evil tangos.
The hardcore audience - the kind who actually spend hours planning each phase of the mission on a blackboard and prefer to sit back watching their brilliant strategies play out rather than testing their reflexes - will find the interface much easier to use. Laying down waypoints and setting specific orders for each stage can all be done with a few clicks. More impressive though, is the way the abstract 2D sketches have been replaced by detailed three-dimensional maps, making things much more enjoyable and intuitive - they even tempted me to drop a few waypoints from time to time.
Even if you’re part of the crowd that prefers blood-splattered walls to complex diagrams, you can’t shy away from tactics altogether. After all, this isn’t a brainless shooter, it’s a highly tactical Rainbow Six game, where any John Wayne antics will leave you lying in a pool of your own brains before you know what the hell’s going on. Even if you ignore the planning altogether or choose one of the predefined strategies, you’ll definitely need to give commands to your squad during the actual gameplay.
Feel The Fear
It's still a stealthy kind of combat though. You have to move slowly, feeling the tension tighten with every step, your throat dry with the fear of a bullet coming from any of the dozen hiding places the enemy could be in. And, as with the rest of the titles in the series, bullets rarely wound, they leave you stone cold dead. What's more, the Al now seems to be far more aware of this potential. Whenever we caught them with their pants down, they were just as likely to run screaming as they were to spray bullets at us. All NPCs have their own predispositions, making each game totally unpredictable.
The game is still two or three months from completion, but from the handful of missions we’ve played it all looks extremely accomplished. The formula is intact, but it’s been thoroughly polished in all the right places. With the team Al also improved beyond recognition, Raven Shield looks set to create a new benchmark for tactical shooters.
In october last year 50 Chechen rebels stormed a Russian theatre during a musical and held the audience and cast hostage, threatening to detonate the explosives strapped to their chests if their demands weren't met. The siege lasted three days, dunng which the captives were forced to sleep in their chairs and relieve themselves in the orchestra pit (well, at least they hadn’t gone to see We Will Rock You). After all negotiations had broken down, Russian special forces released a powerful nerve gas into the auditorium, killing all the terrorists. They also managed to kill more than a hundred of the hostages, yet President Putin had the gall to pronounce the operation a success. He's obviously never played a Rainbow Six game.
If it had been Raven Shield. it would have been Mission Failed’ the second a hostage bit the dust. But of course, if life were like a computer game, the Russian authorities would have had 87 attempts, each time going back to the drawing board, pondering their mistakes, tweaking their waypoints and dithering over whether Light Black Cammo was really the most appropriate dress code.
Over The Rainbow
If you haven’t experienced a Rainbow Six title before, you should know these are not games for trigger-trappy thrill-(try some Unreal II istead). nor for people of little patience. When Red Storm invented the tactical team shooter, it set down some golden rules: tension, realism, in-depth planning and a by-the-book approach to e\ery aspect of counter-terronsm. It was too hardcore for the masses, a fact not helped by the high difficulty level and horrendous graphics But it found a huge audience nonetheless - one hankering for a slower, more thoughtful shooter, where one shot kills and even the simple matter of opening a door practically Hires four meetings and a ort filed in triplicate.
And while the hard-as-nails, a-realistic method is still firrily in place, Raven Shield has had an Unreal engine facelift and no longer looks like it was beaten with an ugly - and exaggeratedly polygonal - stick.
Die Another Way
The setup will be familiar to most people: get briefed on a terrorist situation, choose your men and the equipment they’ll use (from a clxxce of more than 40 weapons to heartbeat sensor gadgets), and ignore the incredibly complex planning screen.
' Wait a minute, though, it seems nething has changed there too. Gone is the deeply ugly, completely unfathomable planning stage Of old. replaced by an easier to use and to understand screen. For most of us thou, the missions work something like this:move very slowly through the level, learning the usuar position of the terrorists and which rooms need particular care, while dying a lot. Dying an awful lot. Get that little bit further while dying some more. Tear your eyes out in frustration and then die some more. As it only takes one bullet to die, it's a common occurance. And because you have a finite number of really good team members, you don’t want to lose any of the best. So you try again, and then die some more.
Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily, as it helps create an incredible amount of tension. This is one of the few games that can make you feel genuinely nervous. Standing outside a door behind which is a sniper is like waiting at the doctor's for important test results. You pause. You wipe the sweat from your palms on your trousers. You take a deep breath and a slug from your glass of water (constantly refilled to soothe the succession of dry throats you’ll get). You build up the courage to start slicing the door open.
You see a surprised face. There’s shouting, gunfire - the screen goes deepest black and you throw your head back with a howl of deep despair. But the death of your own men isn't the most frustratina thina that can happen - it's the death of a hostage that will really get your goat. The terrorists in Raven Shield don’t believe in keeping them alive if they spot you. so every hostage rescue mission (which most of them are) has the added frustration of trying to keep the sods alive. Between that and the drive to keep your best men from dying, you can expect to play most levels between 10-20 times. And there’s 15 of 'em.
And, even though the position of some of the enemies is random - making things just that little bit more exciting and difficult - that doesn’t mean things can’t get repetitive.
At least you do get a variety of locations to thwart terrorism in from picturesque Norwegian and Swiss mountain towns, to South American airports and mansions. There’s even a level set in a London bank, involving some nail-biting stealth moments. The Unreal technology improves the series no end aesthetically, but apart from the detailed models, there is a bare, boxy look to most of the environments, and you are unlikely to be distracted from the work at hand by looking around and admiring the view.
But there are more important things to admire, like the feel of the weapons, which are great, and the little details such as footprints left in the snow (which are useful for tracking down enemies). You can even watch as they are slowly covered by a fresh downfall.
The way you can open doors bit by bit using the mouse wheel (slicing the pie is the technical term, greenhorns) becomes second nature after a while and, although the number of commands you can give your team on the go is limited, the interface is very simple and intuitive. Point to the floor, a door, window or ladder and you’ll get an icon telling you which commands are available. And delegating tasks via this interface is key to your success. Getting someone else to open a door, throw a grenade in and clear the room out is often easier than doing it yourself. Especially in light of the razor-sharp enemy Al. I know these are supposed to be trained terrorists, but at times it feels like they’re using every Counter-Strike cheat in the book. Snipers in particular seem to know precisely when your head is about to pop round a corner. One quick peek and you get one right between the eyes.
By Gum It’s Grim
So, tense, infuriatirla enjoyable and bloody hard seem to sum Raven Shield up. But it’s not to say you can’t make things easier on yourself. Turn the difficulty level down to rookie, use the auto-aiming option or load a default plan and let the Al do all the work. But then that would be cheating, and you won't get anywhere near the level of satisfaction you do when you beat a leVel by yourself.
It’s a arrie Raven Shield hasn’t taken sflme of the better ideas of Ghost Vecon, like the RPG point system, the unlocking of specialists and a more detailed command interface. It would also be to get more feedback on where the enemies are, rather than just being told one has been spotted , Special mention go to Kevin Sweeney, the riten charged with giving you the psychological side of each mission briefing, since he sports a hilarious Yorkshire accent. He sounds like an American trying to blend in at an Emmerdale convention. But other than that. Raven Shield is a serious business. If you’re up to the challenge, the rewards are well worth it. Just don’t say we didn't warn you.
How A Plan Comes Together
One Of The Most Improved Areas Of Raven Shield Goes Under The Spotlight
After equipping your team with fully customisable weapons (attach scopes to machine guns and heat sensors to sniper rifles) and all manner of gadgets, it pays to spend some time planning your missions. Especially now this aspect of the game has been improved so much. You can even watch a preview of your whole route in a 3D box in the corner before you approve it.
If you're anything like me though, you'll skip this bit to just get on with the shooting or, if you're finding a level too hard to take without co-ordinated attacks, you can load up one of the default plans. Still, there’s no greater joy for some than planning an assault to the tiniest detail, setting up waypoints and scheduling flashbangs like a record-breaking line of dominoes, before taking a back seat during the action to watch it all unfold. You can keep up with what other teams are doing elsewhere on the level by bringing up a detailed map, giving go-aheads when they’ve reached the correct position and making sure it all goes to plan.
It might sound like something a level 13 wizard might cast in the middle of an ogre battle, or a special umbrella available at the Tower of London to protect you from the local birds’ droppings. But, of course, it isn’t. Do you really think we’d devote five pages to talking about either of those? What Raven Shield is, as if the big words at the top of this article weren’t clue enough, is the second sequel to the trend-setting Rainbow Six. And that is more than worth a few minutes of your time, especially when you consider that we have exclusive information available nowhere else except Ubi Soft’s development offices in Montreal. And believe us, the Rainbow Six nuts in the US are not happy about it at all.
You know the drill. You control an elite team of counter-terrorists who are sent on missions around the world. You plan your tactics in advance, you rescue the hostages and you die a lot. You also spend a considerable amount of time wiping sweat off your brow as the tension escalates with each step. Every corner, every closed door hides a potential bullet in the head.
Although the first Rainbow Six game detonated the whole tactical team shooter genre, a lot has happened since the sequel Rogue Spear appeared three years ago. Games like Hidden & Dangerous and, specially, SWAT 3 (another urban special operations, close-quarter title) have made Rainbow Six’s rigid and complicated pre-mission planning seem archaic with smooth, on-the-fly command systems that allowed you to immerse yourself in the action with much greater ease. Graphics too have moved on from those ugly, angular polygons, which might be why Raven Shield is using the latest Unreal technology. But more on that later.
Remember when leading a special group of agents against terrorists operating on a worldwide scale seemed like the stuff of fiction? Not anymore. While IRA attacks have always been on the British conscience, theT word has taken on a new dimension since September 11. One that sends a shiver up the spine of every citizen in the democratic (Western/capitalist/secular if you prefer) world. According to Mathieu Ferland though, the game’s senior producer, Raven Shield neatly sidesteps the whole thing by steering clear of Islamic fundamentalism and concentrating on what he calls "classic terrorism".
"Rainbow Six has always dealt with classic terrorism," says Mathieu. "As a potential terrorist threat unfolds, Intel will receive information before it occurs and the local authorities might intervene, or the Rainbow Six team will be alerted and prepare to act." In classic terrorism (the kind that Hollywood has safely used for years in its plots), the terrorist groups make demands and take hostages/dant bombs/set up a chemical attack and sp., on. These are all things that can be dealt with. The FBI has manuals oolhe stuff. It’s not the nightmarish, almost inconceivable situation that you get when a group of inhuman extremists decide to fly two airliners into the most heavily populated buildings in New York. "The events of September 11 were considered war attacks," Mathieu continues. "There was no negotiation before and no clear demands. In this kind of situation, there is no place for an international elite police team and the activation of Rainbow Six would not be justified."
What we have here then, is a set of realistic scenarios that can be dealt with tactically and heroically. These are manageable fantasies, even if they do conform to the stringent standards of believability anything with the Tom Clancy™ name on it must deal with. "Even if Clancy’s stories are never 'real-life events’, the geopolitical context is usually very close to reality, which adds a lot of credibility and tension to the plot. Of course, since September 11," he adds, "we wanted to make sure that Raven Shield's threats and characters made no reference to those terrible events."
As with all Rainbow Six titles, the setting is slightly futuristic, to allow for credible political changes and, more interestingly from a gameplay point of view, to slot in some nifty gadgets. In this case, the "geopolitical" background involves the collapse of the Eastern bloc, putting the setting for most of the missions in Europe and South America.
The environments promise to be more varied than the ones in previous Rainbow games with missions taking place in hot locales and snowy fields, suburban houses and rocky mountains.
Although there is still very little information on the actual missions -primarily because they’re still being designed and built - we do know for sure that one of them takes place in and around a London bank being terrorised by an armed gang.
"The intervention takes place inside the building," says Mathieu, "but before getting inside you’ll definitely notice the high quality of the graphics." And the quality of the graphics is certainly something that separates Raven Shield from previous Rainbow titles. It seems every developer is jumping on the Unreal train, and Ubi Soft is no different. But while it might be perfectly normal for adrenaline-filled shooters to use the hottest engine around, it has come as a surprise to many that it will be used for such a slow, thoughtful, realism-obsessed game. Rainbow Six has always been high on tension and atmosphere, but fancy effects? Forget it. But there's a very good reason why they chose it.
"We wanted a powerful and reliable engine and tools that could provide nice, realistic environments, freeing us up to spend most of our programming efforts on Al, team management and tactical aspects, and not having to start everything from scratch." It seems like a very sensible decision when you think about it. The engine is so advanced that it can easily be used to create real-world scenarios, spot on soldier animation and the kind of detail that is so crucial to this kind of game. The weakest feature of Unreal- powered games has always been the Al, so it's encouraging to know that a lot of time is being spent on that area.
"It’s a key element of the game. Our objective is to make the enemies react according to the way you are playing, so the experience may be different each time you play." Rather than stand in the same room or always go in the same direction, the enemies don’t follow a specific path or action plan once they've seen you. "They may call for back-up, hide and wait, or run at you screaming like crazy." And while the satellite intelligence you get before a mission is usually pretty accurate, both terrorists and hostages can have moved by the time you get there. "Once again, our goal is to provide a strong replay value and a new experience each time you play. That also means they will be unpredictable."
When A Plan Comes Together
The big questions though are how good will the Al of your team be, and whether the tortuous pre-mission planning will still be there. After all, while a small number of people actually enjoyed spending ages setting waypoints and pointing arrows all over the place, most gamers just wanted to get on with the action. After playing something like SWAT 3, where a beautifully simple command interface let you give orders during the missions without missing a step, it all seems like a waste of time. Well, the good news is that, while the planning is still in there, it has been simplified to make it easier and faster to use. And you will also be able to give commands during the action with a new interface. "We want to stay faithful to the Rainbow Six spirit from the Clancy novels. The operatives are heavily trained and they always start by carefully studying the Intel information before entering the fray. Everything during a mission moves quite fast, so timing and co-ordination are very important. You need to know what you’re going to do before you get to the action phase, otherwise it would just be suicide." The improved Al will ensure your team-mates do exactly what you’ve told them to do, but you can also give out new orders to respond to the events unfolding around you. And you needn’t worry about them running off and getting themselves killed. "They’ll communicate with you, but you’re the only one who can make decisions." Just how we like it.
It will be interesting to see how the new command system affects multiplayer games. Although it isn’t all that popular over here, in the States and Korea the heavily tactical gameplay is massive online. We don’t really expect that to change this time round. While Ubi Soft has paid close attention to the strengths and weaknesses of Counter-Strike, they’re very keen to keep Rainbow Six's identity. So don’t expect any fast arcade action.
Bang And Clear
Ghost Recon translated the Rainbow Six feel into wide-open spaces very well, but I still felt that the best bits in the game were the ones set in urban environments where you could scuttle inside buildings. Raven Shield isn’t really a continuation of Ghost Recon though. In fact, it isn’t even being developed by the same team. Ubi Soft’s Montreal development branch created the rather tasty Rogue Spear: Black Thorn last year, and have now been handed the job of coming up with a proper sequel all by themselves. Not that Red Storm is too far away. As Mathieu says: "We are working very closely with them and meet up regularly. The team at Red Storm are highly involved on core topics of the game, like story, game design, characters, weapons and so on, and all important decisions are made with their input."
Still, it would be nice to see some of the improvements that Ghost Recon introduced adapted for Raven Shield, like the RPG elements and the unlocking of specialists. No final decisions have been made, however. "Before introducing features of Ghost Recon in Rainbow Six, we need to test them and see the effects on the gameplay and all the repercussions it may create. So, right now, nothing has been decided on that topic."
Another Ghost Recon feature that could rear its useful head is the ability to lie down and shuffle along the floor. A teaser trailer released on the game’s website showed an agent in a prone position, immediately sparking a furious debate on fan forums (OK, maybe furious is too strong a word) as to whether this was a good thing or not. Ubi Soft is as yet undecided and are testing the possibility. Another approach they are currently exploring (which has been another big discussion point among fans) is whether to show the weapon on screen or not. A lot of people find that running around in first-person with no visual representation of your weapon and just the reticule in front of you doesn't feel right. Then there’s the people - the real hardcore realists - who think the angle at which the weapons are held in FPSs is totally unrealistic. If a gun visual is included it will definitely be optional.
One aspect that has finally been decided is the non-inclusion of a third-person view - present in all other Rainbow Six games - on the grounds that it isn’t realistic and is used primarily to cheat by swinging the camera round corners. Instead there will be gadgets that let you do that (as in SWAT 3).
Guns, Carsand Birds
Like most people involved in making shooters, Mathieu Ferland is very enthusiastic about the weapons. Someone should alert the authorities about this unhealthy obsession among developers. "We are investing a lot of time trying to get the real feeling and real sounds of the weapons," he says, almost hopping with excitement. "We are working with some fantastic people who will probably make Raven Shield the most realistic game in terms of weapon handling." It’s probably that fixation with realism - as well as time restrictions - that prevents Raven Shield from including useable vehicles. You might think that having cars and trucks around whose doors won’t open and which you can’t drive isn’t very realistic, but the Red Storm ethic meant that they would only consider including driveable vehicles in Ghost Recon if they handled just like the real thing, and the same principal applies here. So, until they have the time and money to make a tactical shooter which is also a driving sim, we won’t be seeing that feature just yet. Besides, as Mathieu rightly says: "This is a close-quarter battle game, not a war game, and f vehicles are not that important in a counter-terrorism intervention once you’re on the site. We feel it is better to focus on things that will immerse the player more."
Although Raven Shield is also being developed for the Xbox, PC gamers needn’t worry about the game being dumbed down to make it more of a console experience. Ubi Soft assures us that they are making no concessions visually or in the gameplay, mainly because the Microsoft console is powerful enough to handle it all.
Finally, if you’re wondering just what the hell a Raven Shield really is, you’ll have to play the finished game to find out. "In Rogue Spear, you had to actually play the game a while to find out what 'Rogue Spear’ meant (something about a stray nuclear warhead if we remember correctly). We’d like to keep the same experience for the player in Raven Shield," says Mathieu. "You'll just have to find out for yourself."
Well, I for one can’t wait to find out. This looks like it’s shaping up to be another big year for tactical shooters, with the likes of Hidden & Dangerous 2 and SWAT 4 also in the works. Who says games are dumbing k down?
The squad-based action genre has thinned out somewhat of late, with SWAT 4 going AWOL and Flashpoint 2 only a distant prospect. Raven Shield marks the latest title in the benchmark Rainbow Six series, and very much affirms the series' position as genre leader.
This demo contains a full single-player map with four modes, including Practice. Terrorist Hunt, Lone Wolf and Hostage Rescue. You can customise the number of terrorists and the difficulty level you want to play at, and you also get to build your own team of ass-kicking counterterrorists for the op. The new and improved mission planning mode allows you to move your teams from waypoint to waypoint, clearing areas to allow other teams to move around safely, without first having to take a cartography course.
It's certainly more accessible than previous Rainbow Six games and seems to have a bit more pace than the likes of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, although this might well be down to the fact that you can cower behind your team mates and hope they kill the enemies with precision accuracy. You might want to make sure that you set up a sniper team to cover the large outdoor area around the train tracks so your team can make an assault on the control room with the benefit of some covenng fire. Going outside without sniper support in this part of the map can be deadly, especially as many terrorists will hide along the walkways.
So strap that MP5 over your shoulder, ready your team for combat and get going before the hostages see an untimely exit from this planet we call earth.
THE GOOD GUYS:
Those loveable rapscallions from Team Rainbow are back for another round of counter-terrorist heroism. If you missed their earlier exploits, they're basically a crack team of stealthy special-ops gurus sent in to clean up the messiest international situations.
THE BAD GUYS:
Punk terrorists who kidnap innocent civilians, blow things up, and generally try their best to mess up our happy planet.
To stop insidious terrorists all over the world, in environments like a Central American barrio, a posh London bank and a crumbling U.S. penitentiary. The gameplay builds upon the classic Rainbow Six model of strategic planning and execution. Careful preparation is even more crucial than ever, as the previous games' on-screen radar map has been axed. You'll have to rely on heartbeat sensors or the new sniper-only thermal vision ability to pinpoint terrorist locations. Oh yeah, it's really hard, too. Just like in real life, if your boys take a bullet to the skull, they're gone for good. This ain't Duke Nukem, kids.
THE BIG DEAL:
Hey, it's Rainbow Six 3, the latest chapter in an immensely popular series. With stunning graphics, impeccable realism, sizable gameplay enhancements (you can actually see your guns now!) and online play, this title delivers a state-of-the-art tactical-action experience on the Xbox.
In 1998 Rainbow Six made its debut as the original 'thinking mans'? tactical shooter. The series has since garnered a strong and loyal fan base addicted to its unique blend of realistic game play and detailed tactical planning. Ubi Soft attempts to continue this tradition with Raven Shield, the third and highly anticipated addition to the series. While the designers have been careful not to make any radical changes, they do offer some welcome game play refinements to an already great concept. Despite some minor bugs and assorted gripes, this is by far the best Rainbow Six to date.
If you are new to the Rainbow Six franchise, Raven Shield offers a nice series of training levels designed to help introduce its deliberate style. While the 'one-shot-one-kill? dynamic has become increasingly popular, the game can be quite a shock for those who are used to more traditional first person shooters. Rainbow Six is all about making quick and decisive actions in a controlled manner.
Before you jump in and start ridding the world of German militants, terrorists, and hired thugs, you must first make some key decisions. After receiving your briefing and choosing your team members you get to equip your operatives. Raven Shield offers a whopping 58 weapons, with the ability to add attachments such as a silencer or mini scope. From these choices, you select one primary weapon (such as a MP5) and one secondary weapon (Desert Eagle anyone?). You can also choose a couple of items to take along with you such as Frag Grenades, Flash Bangs, Breach Charges, a Heartbeat Sensor, and more.
Once you are happy with your selections you move to the most debated feature of the Rainbow Six franchise, the Mission Planner. Here you plan routes for your team and direct actions to be performed. You can direct team members to follow specific waypoints and coordinate actions by giving the 'go-code.' For instance a team can be assigned to breach a door, clear a room, throw a 'flashbang,'? etc. The Planner has been updated and streamlined and is much more accessible, however it is not for everyone. Thankfully for those of us with no patience, you can simply load the default plan and get straight to the action.
Ubi Soft made a good move and scrapped the internally developed graphics engine opting to use the Unreal Engine. The results speak for themselves as the graphics in game are fantastic. The level designs are excellent, as are the highly detailed modeled character's and textures. I am particularly impressed with how well the Unreal Engine looks in these real life scenarios. The sound is equally dynamic and well done, further immersing you into the game world.
The enemy AI is quite smart and can be a real challenge. At times they will run away, set an ambush, and even react to sounds such as footsteps, breaking glass, or explosions. This makes replaying missions actually viable as you never know exactly how the enemy is going to react.
While the single player mode is engaging, the heart of Raven Shield is its Multiplayer. There are 5 modes of Adversarial play and 3 modes of Cooperative. The adversarial play is set up very similar to Counterstrike with hostage rescue, bomb defuse, and pilot escort game types. Similarly the rounds are fast and frenetic with the smartest man winning rather than the fastest. While the cooperative play is fun, it is rather disappointing that there is not a great variety of options ala Ghost Recon.
Raven Shield is simply the best tactical shooter on the market. The high level of detail and the wealth of options offer a great amount of replay potential. Raven Shield is by far the most accessible of the Rainbow series and the switch to the Unreal engine means user created maps and mods will be plentiful. You might think that a series based on a book by Tom Clancy would have had a memorable storyline by now, but to the game's credit, the single player is still engaging without one. With that said if you are a fan of the genre, or are simply tired of CounterStrike, do your self a favor and pick this one up.