Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
AFTER THE DISAPPOINTING ending of the original Rainbow Six: Vegas, we were as happy as Tom Clancy's accountant when we heard that the developers were making a return trip to the glitzy, gambling capital of the world for a sequel.
After tracking down the team in Canada using sophisticated satellite GPS technology (and a phone), we shoved a snake cam under the door of the Ubisoft Montreal studio to listen in on lead multiplayer game designer Jean-Pascal Cambiotti and game designer Philippe Therien discuss how they avoided massive copyright lawsuits from Vegas hotels, what happens when terrorists become over-friendly, and getting professionals to fit into tight spandex and crouch and crawl around on the floor.
Back In Town:
Cambiotti: "We really weren't done with the Vegas storyline and so we still had a lot of things that we wanted to do, both in the sense of location and in the sense of the story. So we wanted to go to Vegas' old town to show what the terrorists had been up to while we were going around quickly in Mexico. So it's really about filling in all the gaps and making sure that there was closure to the original's story. Therien: "The first game had a bit of an odd ending [a slightly rubbish 'to be continued' affair -Ed], and we knew that, but at some point you just have to ship the game, right? If we had done that without the notion that we would do a second one, I would have felt terrible about it. But in a very, very vicious way I was kind of glad that people were disappointed with the ending because a lot of people wanted more, and that was kind of cool."
Therien: "Making sure the locations were different enough from Vegos was really about art direction. In the first one we had a lot of the Strip, with the bright lights, blit we didn't want l/egos 2 to look exactly like the first one. So we decided to look more into the seedy back areas and locations when yon go off the Strip, and a whole lot of the Nevada desert. It was really just 'What else in Vegas can we show?' and it was a logical choice to move off the Strip - the nightclubs for example, the refinery, all that stuff is about exploring different locales while still being about Las Vegas.
"During the day, it's all grey, I it's not that glitzy, its not that impressive, so we wanted to explore that unknown part of the city that people might not be familiar with and that's what has allowed us to keep the game fresh."
Viva Las Vegas:
Therien: "Well, the thing is with Vegas is that we can't recreate it per se because everything is copyrighted - only the general look of the city from the outside is not copyrighted. So what we tried to do was tap the general feel of the city with an amazing Strip in the middle and all that but we recreated everything for our purposes - we didn't want to have the real buildings anyway, because they're not great for gameplay. So going off the Strip was a lot more interesting. The trick is to make it feel like Vegas, look like Vegas, but not be obviously legally liable for anything."
Cambiotti: "There are a lot of buildings and landmarks in Las Vegas that are actually copyrighted - for example, for one of the missions we had a light show, but the actual light show at one of the hotels we wanted was copyrighted so we couldn't use it!"
Cambiotti: "We've done many, many outings and meetings with the professional SWAT guys. We're making a game that aims to cross that gap between a simulator and making a fun, entertainment product, and our challenge is to take all those really cool real-world tactics and complex rules and make them into something that's consumable for most people.
"We've met with Russian special forces, American special forces, people that had been in Iraq, guys who have l)een to Afghanistan, police officers, firemen, a guy from the Montreal SWAT team. We take all of what they are telling us, and we ask them also what are the really unusual things that people may not know, and then we take all that and try to make it into a game."
Cambiotti: "Making the squad look and feel realistic means ensuring the Al is aware of the environment, but without cheating, so they have to know where the threats are and react believably. The Al programmers also put a lot of effort on the heuristics - for example, do the squad engage the threat, do they take cover, do they retreat, do they reload? So there's a bunch of algorithms that are set in place to make it feel like this is a real SWAT mission and the challenging part is to make sure that the squad actually works as a team. They need to be tactically aware of one another, so the Al knows when to take cover or provide covering fire for example."
Therien: "We had a hilarious bug though, where our Al would wave! We weren't sure what was going on, but the bad guys would be holding their weapons and yelling at us, but also happily waving..."
Therien: "The cover in Vegas was just too slow, and sometimes the camera angles were frustrating, so we looked at fixing all that for the second one. The cover system has become one of the staples of our games and we're really satisfied with the way it turned out. We have people who come up to us and say, 'I was playing this other shooter and I wish I could take cover like you do in Vegas 2 and we're kind of the same way now."
Cambiotti: "We feel like we stepped up the cover system in Vegas 2 because we now have a bullet penetration system which really makes you think about what you're trying to take cover behind, like with a cardboard box you're going to be pretty vulnerable."
Therien: "With the Advanced Combat Enhancement Specialisation (ACES) system [weapon unlocks for specific in-game achievements and playing styles] the rewards are given for doing certain things in the game, but on a deeper level, it allows you to understand and appreciate the actual gameplay that you're doing. So people now are able to understand what CQC (Close Quarters Combat) is, what a marksman is - and this is something that we're happy about. Now they know what the game is, why they're doing these actions and they can put a name to it One of our big objectives was to give everybody a taste of really cool SWAT tactics, while giving those rewards out and we think that we managed it".
Cambiotti: "Well, right from the start we put a lot of effort into improving the multiplayer, taking what worked in Vegas and building on that, and at the same time changing some of the key modes like Total Conquest. We reworked the game rules so that it would be more intense but still have the same gameplay. "One of the areas we put a lot of effort into was to try and reduce the amount of time that the player waits before he plays a multiplayer match, so he can join a game in progress. We also reduced the loading times and reworked some of the game modes that were problematic."
Therien: "We actually have the technical knowledge and the programming skills to make the weapons very realistic. If there was dirt in your barrel, we could make the gun shoot differently, we could calculate if it was raining, with wind pressure... We could make a life-like simulator that would be extremely accurate. However, is that fun? God, no.
"We look at each weapon and see what makes this weapon unique, then emphasise these features to give them more of a cinematic feel, but only in the sense of bringing out their personality.
"For example, the AK-47 is a weapon that people are familiar with and it has a very distinctive sound, so we've amplified that. We cheat the values because if we didn't, the game just wouldn't work, but as far as how the weapons look and how they sound, that's perfectly accurate. We didn't compromise, right down to the screws on the handle of the weapon."
Therien: "All of the animation is motion-captured. The guys do clean it up a little bit when it comes back from the studio, but every single animation in the game was mo-capped in our own broadcast studio here in Montreal. We do put on the gear ourselves when we're in pre-production or we're talking about what we are going to do, but with us not being the most in-shape people in the world, we get professionals to come in. They put on the nice little tight spandex number and go around crouched for a while..."
Download Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
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With A Series that dates back 10 years, you can't really start a review without giving a brief overview. People might assume I was ignorant, and as a reviewer and a vain bastard, I simply couldn't handle that. In the case of Rainbox Six, it's also a great chance to bang on about the hey-day of tactical shooters on the PC.
From 1998 to 2003, the Rainbox Six series was the poster boy for unforgiving military tactical simulations. Even the third game, Raven Shield, saw the game survive the move to Ubisoft with its excellence intact, and the PC and Xbox versions were so different that the accusations of dumbing down never flew too thick or fast.
Lockdown changed all that, when a critical panning was the reward for a tactically bereft fourth game of brainless bang-action. Then, Clancy's company Red Storm Entertainment was sponged up by Ubisoft Montreal and Rainbow Six: Vegas capitalised on the newly-lowered expectations of the world, by being a thoroughly enjoyable (and admittedly flawed) compromise of the two approaches.
Back In Vegas
Take off your headsets, gentlemen, we've arrived at today. And you'll be unsurprised to hear that Vegas 2 isn't so much the sixth Rainbow Six game, as the second Rainbow Six: Vegas game. While it's more of the same, Clancy's multicolour franchise has long since cashed in its hardcore chips and no-one was seriously expecting SWAT5. And hey, it's better than Lockdown.
We're still in Las Vegas, but don't expect a game that's all slots, hookers or a combination of the two. There are some scenes in clubs and casinos, but your pursuit is of the bomb letting-off terrorists, so there's no time for prostitutes and fruities. Mostly your trip to Vegas features rooftops, conference centres, libraries, junk yards - basically anywhere where there's an interesting map layout, lots of stuff to hide behind and an episode of CSI being filmed. The locations have the feel of dust and grime and although they serve their purpose, they're still a little lacking for 2008, with plenty of glimpse-snagging polygons to break the illusion. If the models of your teammates weren't so good, it'd make sense that some of the NPCs look like an Irish Wolfhound took a shit in a tin of corned beef. As it is, it doesn't.
But hell, that sort of fixation on graphics is exactly why game development costs have rocketed, and that's why Rainbow Six went commercial, so let's not trap ourselves in a self-perpetuating spiral of complaint. We care about stories too and Vegas ?s is standard Clancy, with a group of terrorists, led by a greasy looking type and his brother, who've been making bombs. The Rainbow Six team have been landed with the job of investigating the contents and locations of these dirty blow-ups and defusing them. Then, you'll hunt the guys responsible down, like the big blue jeans and freedom-hating dogs they are.
Predictable it may be, but it's told with more flair than Vegas; the pacing of the tutorial is not patronising nor remiss, and there's no drawn-out Mexico scene to kick things off. (If you're a connoisseur of tutorials, then you're weird - but Vegas 2 will keep you happy.)
With hit-and-miss graphics and an eminently ignorable storyline, it's down to the gameplay to drag the game up. And thankfully, that's where it all comes together. The main thrust of the action lies in the console-friendly areas of context-sensitive action buttons, regenerating health and squad members who can take far more damage than your flimsy wee self. In short, everything is immediately playable and very flattering to the skills of a military layman.
You're Just Great
Stacking your men by a door, while you run up to the roof to support them with sniper fire makes it easy to think you're amazing. When you're not dying - and you will die, a lot - Vegas 2 really pampers your self-esteem. Despatching your guys to the other side of the room with a glance and a tap of the space bar feels natural and awesome.
Tentatively edging through an exposed room with multiple access points and a skylight, through which terrorists are probably going to rappel any minute, is gripping. The music (which you'll turn down) swells to an abrasive crescendo in times of tension, and is tooth-grittingly appropriate.
The heat vision and night vision modes both look great - and beyond that shallow observation, you'll use them because they're useful. Finally, sliding your snake cam under a door to get the lay of the land and tagging guys for death makes you feel like a big man. A big bloody man with a bloody great snake cam. Yeah.
A slight irritation emerged after delivering a couple of accidental rounds of friendly fire to the spinal columns of my squad, so I started to investigate why. What became clear was that my fellas weren't always taking the most obvious path to my indicated destination. They might have been taking a more tactical route, I can't honestly say -but how tactically superior did they feel when they walked into my line of fire? How black ops did it feel when I peppered your buttocks with buckshot, eh?
The way around this is to keep your guys involved in what you're doing. Don't give them a vague order to run somewhere over there. Keep them tight. Make them flank a door. Don't leave them hanging around unless you've got a sound reason. Basically, accept the fact you're fighting in a team and stop being such a glory seeking cock.
That one minor drawback is perhaps a symptom of a much larger good thing; the various ways in which you can progress through a level. There's always more than one route to your goal and securing a room with more than one door usually involves a bit of reconnaissance - or the abandonment of boring doors in favour of sniping through a window. If you're finding progress difficult, take a step back and look for another door. Go upstairs, get the drop on those bastards.
The space bar is your universal wonder key. Place your sights on anything, and if you can do anything with it, the space bar will probably do it. Point to a door, it'll make your squad prepare for entry. Point it towards a rappel line and you'll order them to 'knot up', which means hop onto a rope for a nice slide. The V, B and N keys then replace the 360 controller's D-pad in fine tuning those options. If they're surrounding a door, V will make them throw in a flash, then run in and kill everything. B is a straight enter and clear. And will drop a frag grenade in, before storming the room. The options are literally three.
Seeing as this is a compromise control method, does mouse and keyboard work as well as a 360 controller? Yes. This is an FPS, it's what mouse and keyboard were designed for. And although some of the multipurpose keys don't quite work (holding E for inventory is a slight failure), stretching your finger all the way over to N makes you feel like you're delivering a particularly obscure and clever command.
Nice touches are littered throughout. The conversations of the NPCs - when they're not unnecessarily repeating themselves -are a treat to listen to. These range from poignant insights into the humanity, private lives and moral ambiguity of your enemies, to slightly embarrassing conversations when you're watching them through the always handy snake cam.
With your sights trained on them, they'll say, "It feels like we're being watched." Then they'll needlessly continue, "What if their sights are trained on me right now?" You almost expect one of them to say "Oh shit, what if my hands are just pixels?"
The cheekiest example of this has to be in Act 4, where two terrorists are talking about a new war game in which there is no violence.
"You just send in the diplomats," explains one soldier. "You don't control them, you just send them in, and they make everyone happy." When asked what the point of that game is, the soldier explains that it's to make a huge bunch of money. Touche, Ubisoft. Touche.
The game forces you around to its way of thinking, like a particularly severe dog trainer. Disobey the rules of gentle, tactical progress and run into a room with your tongue hanging out and you'll quickly find your gizzards smeared across the stuff you should have been using for cover. You'll understand the value of keeping your squad members around you and you'll quickly learn to value (and abuse) their accuracy and bullet absorbing. They can be dropped any number of times and will only require you (or better still, a teammate) to heal them. In fact, in the two easier modes, it's a temptation to use your squad as a dipstick for danger.
This is cleverly deterred by the game's experience and promotion system. Let your guys do the all the thinking and you'll rise the ranks at less than half the speed. You only get full XP for a kill from your own gun, or a kill by your sguad which you tagged through the snake cam. What's more, your progress through the A.C.E.S. ranks - the disciplines of marksmanship, close quarters battle (CQB) and assault - depend on specific kinds of kill that you have to deliver yourself. This system gives such regular and satisfying rewards that you'll resent the kills of your teammates and use the rules of engagement options to limit their fire. They can be set to fire at will or return fire only.
Marksmen unlock higher ranks through headshots, long-range kills and so on. CQB is rewarded through close-up kills (not just melee) and shooting a man from behind, amongst others. While progress along the assault path is made by kills from explosives (grenades and, of course, exploding barrels) and shooting people through soft cover. Your progression in military rank unlocks new camouflage and armour, and advacement along the specialist trees unlocks new I weapons, all of which can be taken into multiplayer. What was once the remit of Vegos' multiplayer alone has now joyously I encompassed the entire game.
So far, so Rainbow Six: Vegas. But while the sequel may not have been a complete - or even substantial - reinvention, it did promise some new stuff. Amongst which was improved Al, giving the enemies more reactions and more ways of attacking you.
Although it's impressive to see a terrorist react to your laser sight on his forehead by dropping to the floor and firing blindly, there's never a real sense that the terrorists have the claimed number of options open to them. Perhaps it's the curse of Airborne -give the enemy Al the chance to behave in an unscripted and unpredictable way and it'll just do the same things over and over again anyway. But progress through the more difficult maps is seriously helped by memorising where the enemies came from on your failed attempts. Not guaranteed, but definitely helped.
Sadly, the Al does suffer from exactly the same problems as in Vegas. When it works, it works. But all too often, shooting someone in the leg doesn't make them realise they've got a shit hiding place, which is a problem Ubisoft explicitly said they'd be addressing. And worse still a terrorist will occasionally stare blankly through you, stubbornly refusing to be woken by your unstealthy advances. A couple of times, I watched my men and bad guys standing face-to-face, racing to reload. I'm no soldier, but I'd have taken cover myself.
This is all immersion-breaking rather than game-breaking, but it's something that should have been fixed. As for the new weapons and armour, well - they're still guns and armour and they're more for people who like guns and armour, rather than representing a massive gameplay enhancement. Every little helps, though.
The multiplayer additions (see the box outs) generally work well and are good solid fun. Any game setup problems seen on the consoles, when the servers are filled with the public, have yet to be seen at the time of writing - but there's no denying that they're decent diversions when up and running. If somewhat unlikely to steal happy military type players from beneath the noses of Call of Duty 4 and Counter-Strike.
In summary, Vegas 2 is a refinement and general improvement on Vegas, as it's better paced, more consistent and bigger. Of course, its had most of its dramatic thunder stolen by the fact it's a deeply similar game to its predecessor, but that just makes it easier for me to unthinkingly gob out a fatuous cliche like "If you liked Vegas, you'll like Vegas 2 a bit more!" And this is certainly an accessible entry point to the series. If you're new to the Rainbow Six series and tactical squad shooters on the whole, this is an entertaining entry point. Just don't expect to get all the glitz and glamour that the title implies.
A player's gotta play (online)
Vegas Zs new co-op and PvP gameplay stripped bare
Vegas Zs new multiplayer modes, complement the previous game's formidable array of online options. The Team Leader mode involves one team attempting to get their leader to an extraction point on the far side of the map. Both team leaders can see one another's respective locations on their HUD, making their communication with the rest of the team, and the ability to shoot through certain materials, vital. The demise of the team leader dismisses that team's ability to respawn though, turning the game on its head as victory becomes a matter of dogged survival.
Meanwhile Demolition whiffs of the succulent pong of Counter-Strike's bomb-planting mode, with one team attempting to secure three objectives (planting bombs, establishing satellite uplinks etc) while another tries to sabotage their actions at every opportunity.
Stupid, stupid, stupid
This is why soldiers look down on civillians
You've just saved this lady's life. She's so thankful, that she's going to let you through a gate. We can only assume she doesn't tell you the code because she likes punching it in herself. No lie, the mercifully short journey from her rescue to that gate will make you hunch into an angry, wretched ball. In what is overall an excellent game, she stands out as its outright nadir.
Imagine the squad members of Half-Life 2, whose gawping was mitigated only by the fact that they politely retreated a couple of steps when you ran into them. This stubborn cow doesn't back off. She follows you down corridors and blocks your retreat She doesn't respond to your orders, like your team-mates. And she cheerfully moves into your line of sight while you're picking off a soldier.
Congratulations, Ubisoft for making the single most aggravating experience of the entire Rainbow Six series.