Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Irena Morales is a very naughty girl. Not only has she been sticking soggy pieces of chewing gum to the underside of tables, she and her team of Mexican terrorists are also dabbling with the idea of blowing up Las Vegas with a big bomb that goes boom and breaks stuff into little pieces. Sounds like a job for the Rainbow team and I'm not talking about Zippy, Bungle and George. Rainbow Six: Vegas is a fairly triumphant return to form for the venerable Rainbow Six series, with Ubisoft Montreal striking an excellent compromise between the visceral realism so revered in the original Rainbow Six games and the all-out action approach so reviled in Rainbow Six: Lockdown. There's also far more location diversity this time around, with tight, claustrophobic areas mixed up with wide-open, sprawling spaces.
Back On Form
The result is a superbly paced campaign of room-clearing carnage, as you and your two Al-controlled sidekicks (the usual third member of your team seems to have gone AWOL) work your way through enemy-infested territories in order to save hostages and shatter Irena's plan of making the contents of a 100,000 slot machines rain down on the Nevada desert.
But before we get into the meat of the game, I need to make a confession. I like wearing... No, wait, wrong confession. What I meant to say was that for the first couple of missions, Vegas excited me about as much as a naked, wart-ridden granny (which is to say not at all, in case there was any lingering doubt your mind on that one). Starting out in a dusty Mexican town, Vegas makes the kind of first impression usually reserved for someone who's just turned up at a party and pissed on the carpet.
After having your eyes offended by the blocky front-end, the campaign's early missions then proceed to totter on the verge of tedium, feeling starved of entertainment, direction or tension, and lulling you into a false sense of insecurity for what's to come. Pockets of enemy resistance are wiped away with nonchalant ease as you cleave your way through the first couple of missions like a scimitar through butter. But then, all of a sudden, everything changes...
After such a slow opening, you suddenly find yourself immersed in what's undoubtedly the most intense Rainbow Six game to date as the action switches to the light-drenched streets of Sin City itself. It's here that you first start to appreciate Vegas's excellent damage system, which breathes new life into the series by allowing you to take anything from a couple to four or five shots before you drop dead (depending on whether you're playing on the 'Normal' or 'Realistic' difficulty setting).
However, unlike the 'three strikes and you're out' mechanic employed in previous Rainbow games, Vegas offers a tad more respiration space, by enabling you to duck down behind cover for a few seconds in order to regenerate your health.
What's that you read? Regenerating health? In a Rainbow Six game? Surely not! To which 1 retort, worry not my would-be anti-terrorist friend, because it's actually great and works in rfect unison with the well-spaced checkpoint save system.
When a chunk of searing lead pounds into you, your vision blurs violently, temporarily incapacitating you (or as good as). In this brief period, the enemy lias the opportunity to close in and outflank you. Brilliant, right? Well, almost. See, it would have been brilliant had the Al showed a consistent level of intelligence and tactical guile. Once again, the developers seem only too keen to push out the boundaries of graphical fidelity while the field of artificial intelligence is left miserably overlooked.
The problems with Irena's goons don't stop there, as they don't fare too well in the looks department either, in fact, the majority of them seemingly share the same sister and father, judging by their identikit, inbred, expressionless faces. You'd really expect better from a power-hungry beast like Vegas, which is driven by none other than the in-vogue Unreal Engine 3 and needs a fairly substantial set h of specs to run smoothly.
While the locales are admirable - if hardly breathtaking - the majority of characters look dull and wooden by comparison. Hardly a compelling argument to make you shell out the best part of $250 on a 3D card so that you can play the game at a decent frame-rate, or even at all.
Duels And Duality
The unevenness of both the visuals and the Al is perhaps fitting, given that Vegas swings from the sublime to the substandard on a regular basis. And while the emphasis remains firmly biased in favour of quality throughout, there are precious few areas immune from criticism, a crying shame when you consider that Vegas has enough potential to suggest it could have been one of the finest teambased shooters ever to grace the PC.
However, one feature does manage to emerge untarnished by the wagging finger of judgement and that's the new cover system. Whereas in earlier Rainbow Six games you'd find yourself clumsily leaning or slicing the pie' around each corner till your sights came to rest on the back of an enemy's cranium, you now have the option of pressing yourself against a wall and ducking out from behind cover to shoot at your opponents.
It's these moments that constitute some of Vegas's most captivating and intense gameplay. With the game's new, more frenetic pace (though still not as frenetic as Lockdown), taking cover creates a host of new options for you to tinker with. By slapping your back against a wall, the action switches to third-person mode, allowing you to monitor the movements of your enemies as they approach your hiding place. Think Splinter Cell on a caffeine trip and you'll get a rough idea of what I mean.
Moments Of Truth
Your heart races as foes bear down on your position, the elevating soundtrack laying down a syncopated pulse while you wait for the perfect moment to duck out and unleash a salvo. There are few more satisfying moments than swinging out of cover and dropping a bad guy with a perfectly placed headshot, or laying down suppressing fire while sending your lads on a flanking excursion - replete with a packed lunch which the little blighters probably ate on the bus. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities to utter those immortal words: "I love it when a plan comes together." And that, surely, is what this type of tactical shooter is all about. Not enough for you? Then how about the ability to shoot around corners without exposing yourself at all - a perfect tactic when an enemy bullet has distorted your vision and you need to buy some recovery time. In a word, brilliant.
Shame then that the same can't be said of your team-mates. Yes, they're highly (perhaps overly) compliant to your every whim (issued through a sublime context-sensitive command system - see Click & CongueT. left). However, they feel like a pair of conjoined twins forced apart against their will. These boys never leave each other's side, practically holding hands and exchanging wistful glances as bullets fly past their love-filled eyes.
To their credit, the lads can't half shoot, and it's all too easy and tempting to just send them on ahead to scope out an area, while you remain in relative safety behind a 4ft-thick concrete wall. It's a situation that's made worse by their seeming indestructibility. You may not Ire able to take much damage yourself, but these guys eat it up like a Fat Club member let loose on a shelf of pick W mix.
Admittedly, you do have frequent call to take on the role of squad medic -sticking healing injections into your teammates' backsides whenever they take a hit - but you never feel as though they're in any mortal danger. After you've revived them, you can just send them straight back into tire danger zone with a pat on the back and a kind word. This isn't so much of a problem in the fiendishly hard Realistic' mode, but in 'Normal', it can sometimes be a serious hindrance to the tension levels.
Stick And Twist
Other areas are just as hit-and-miss. Tire voice-acting ranges from wooden to wonderful, with your character sounding like a hillbilly who'd Ire more at home shooting tin cans off tree stumps with his pa's shotgun than blasting the entrails out of a bomb-crazed terrorist.
The physics are generally impressive, but collision detection is suspect Your arsenal is stunning both in terms of scope and realism but a smattering of weapons are solely misjudged, especially the shield, which allows you to crawl around levels practically impervious to damage.
Hit-and-miss, hit-and-miss, hit-and-miss. That's Vegas in a nutshell. Now I don't want you getting the wrong impression here, because Vegas is in no way a poor game. It's really not. Far from it. It's an experience packed with thrills, tension, excellent pacing, a myriad of top-class multiplayer options and a half-decent plot that throws a few swerve balls at you when you're least expecting them. The real problem is that it simply isn't as good as it could have been. Erratic Al, overly impervious sidekicks, some suspect voice-acting, patchily impressive and hugely power-hungry visuals. It's a list that adds up to a missed opportunity if ever I've seen one, but while Vegas may not quite have hit the jackpot, it does still manage to walk away a winner.
With a little help from my friends
The campaign ends but the fun doesn't have to...
Vegas teems with extra options to extend your fun once you're done with the-six-to ten-hour story-driven campaign. You can choose to go solo in Terrorist Hunt missions, which reveal just how much harder the game is when you don't have a couple of willing, virtually indestructible sidekicks following your every order. There are also eight multiplayer modes to enjoy, including: Co-op mode, where you and up to three other wannabe Rainbow warriors can tackle the single-player campaign together; Attack and Defend, which sees one team defending an objective while the other attempts to wrest control from them; and good old-fashioned free-for-all contests where you have to kill anything with a pulse while staying alive. Now that's what we call variety! Rival shooters bow your heads in shame.
Download Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Rainbow Six: Mexico?:
"We began the game in Mexico, largely for narrative reasons and to tell the story of the terrorist organisation, but we were trying to do a few things too. We wanted to introduce the team to the player and then take it away again - we wanted that to be an emotional experience. Second, we wanted to make a really distinct contrast between the dusty streets of Mexico and the glitzy glamour of Vegas. I think perhaps, the Mexican missions went on a little longer than we intended, but we also wanted the player to explore and get used to the game before they got to the 'money shot', as it were."
"RainbowSix has traditionally been about multiple teams of four, so it was a tough decision to reduce that to just three guys. We wanted to improve their characterisation, to make them feel like humans, and having only two team-mates made that a lot easier, and let us put a lot more into their Al. The context-sensitive command system was a huge effort right across the team - just from the programming side, we had one guy from start to finish developing all the info we'd need in the game to allow us to do that. We went through half a dozen different iterations, trying again and again until we got something we were happy with."
Viva Las Vegas:
"We sent three of our artists down there for a week, and they took thousands of photos and gave us really amazing reference material that the level designers could work from. Las Vegas is a very well publicised place - people know what it looks like. We could use the exteriors of the buildings - the shape of them - but we couldn't use the names of the casinos and hotels, or anything copyrighted. However, a lot of what you see is what's actually there in Vegas, apart from the stuff we blow up, which is our own invention."
Good For The Health:
"The heart of the Rainbow Six experience is that it's super-brutal and unforgiving, so moving to the new health system was a tough sell. The real driving factor was that we were producing this 24-esgue continuous experience where you spend the night in Vegas, and to do that with only three health points wasn't really feasible - it would've made the game extraordinarily hardcore. There was no way we were going back to the health pack mentality, so we went with the idea of the bullet just grazing you rather than hitting you in the heart, and it proved the best solution. It also leads to some really intense moments, when you've got your screen darkened out and you're under fire."
"This actually happened really early in development. Two-and-a-half years ago we decided to have this cover system, and from then it was just what it was going to be and how flexible it was. There was a lot of fear from fans earlier on, especially the multiplayer crowd, that it wasn't going to allow for balanced games and so forth. We were looking at forums and they were saying 'It'll destroy Rainbow Six' but we were like, 'Don't worry - it's all under control'!'"
"It was absolutely crucial to get this right for the PC game. FPSs live or die by their multiplayer mode, and it's always been integral to and a big focus of the Rainbow experience. Personally, I'm a big fan of co-op, so I really wanted to make that work well. We wanted people to have fun going through the casinos together - it's always a really powerful experience when you gather your friends together, and instead of competing against each other, you're working together against the Al. It's great fun and I'm aiming to put co-op in all my future games.''
"A lot of it is just real Spec Ops, what they actually use. We looked at teams around the world, but unfortunately it still boils down to a very limited range of weapons. So we had two focuses - the Rainbow weapons and the terrorist weapons, which can be more varied but are mostly things we know are really common out there. Of course, we wouldn't work on Rainbow Six if we didn't have a certain fascination with weaponry, and we all have our personal favourites - mine is the Raging Bull handgun. There are certain manufacturers we're not allowed to work with though, because they're very protective of their IP, which is unfortunate for us because we'd like to put those weapons in."
The snake cam is my favourite gadget. I love the experience of just sitting there, peering under the door, watching the guys chatting away with each other and marking a couple of targets for my team-mates. We spent a lot of time getting that whole room entry stuff right - the snake cam ties everything together for the player really well and gives you some great moments."
Just For Laughs:
"We had some great funny moments during development, including some unbelievable stuff from the Al such as turning themselves inside out, growing 50ft tall, or bouncing around like the Crazy Frog; but that's development for you. Also, I'll never forget our animation director Aaron Gilman, who did the mo-cap for our main bad girl, Irena. Aaron's a method actor, so for a while he was actually walking around the office as Irena. Having this bloke prancing around as a psychotic chick was pretty weird for a while! He's mostly back to normal now, with only the occasional flashback..."
I, for one, welcome our realistic shooter masters. I've been waiting for Rainbow Six Vegas ever since its announcement, and it is better than I could've hoped. Playing through Vegas is a dream come true. Go buy this game right now. If you're still here, let's discuss some of the finer points in the game.
There's something wonderful about taking cover behind a slot machine. Each engagement area is full of detail and depth, and usually offers vertical movement to boot. The developers didn't skimp on the game play either. Not only is it easy to command your team, Vegas is designed to let you design certain encounters on the fly. Anytime you need to breach a room or take an objective, some simple tools let you designate targets and attack each target simultaneously. For those times when you have to rely on good old pin and flank tactics, you can take cover behind whatever item you'd like. Borrowing the idea from earlier titles like Kill.switch (horrible game but incredible use of cover), Rainbow Six Vegas makes it necessary but also very easy to take cover wherever you like. This highlights one of Vegas' only flaws though. Sometimes the game doesn't always pick your position that well, so you've got to be careful how you control your character.
Special attention should be paid to Rainbow Six Vegas multiplayer. Although it is reportedly a tad buggy, especially with the audio, it does offer a wide variety of game and character options, and stands up as reputedly 'awesome'.
Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. The single player storyline in this game rocks. Vegas is awesome, especially when you're storming it with an MP5.