Reviewed: May 29, 2003
Released: March 18, 2003
Back in the late 90’s RedStorm Entertainment changed the way we played FPS games. Up to that point we were all running and gunning through games like Quake, Doom, and Duke Nukem 3D, but the original Rainbow Six game and subsequent mission packs and sequels slowed things down and made many of us appreciate the art of squad-based tactical combat.
Introducing several new features such as pre-mission planning, waypoints, go codes, team building, weapons selection, cooperative play (both solo and online), and the devastating “one-hit kill”, a new genre was born and a new breed of gamer was soon to follow. Clans sprung up all over the world as friends and strangers united to experience this intriguing new form of online game.
Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield marks the third major evolution of the Tom Clancy series, merging all of the minor improvements from the previous titles including some other spin-off series such as Ghost Recon. Substantial improvements have been made to the HUD and command system allowing you to actually concentrate and play the game rather than getting lost in the command system.
While many things have changed, others have not. Raven Shield is basically a collection of unique missions, each with a brief backstory that serves as the launching point for your team, but none of the missions really tie together in any substantial form creating any type of continuity. The intriguing opening movie sets up an interesting scenario then fails to deliver much of a conclusion or even a middle. I still find it ironically amusing that a series based on a famed writer such as Mr. Clancy doesn’t offer a more rewarding plot.
Ubisoft has kept everything that was good with the original interface and enhanced it to make it much more intuitive. New ideas like rolling the mouse-wheel to inch the door open slowly or the new Quick-Order Interface are brilliant additions. The QOI is very slick. You basically hold down the action button when an “interact” icon appears but hasn’t lit up. A circular menu pops up giving you four pie slices of commands that you pick with the mouse. Left click issues the order immediately and right click queues the order for the next go code.
You can have full control of up to three teams individually or use the Zulu code to issues orders to all teams at once. During the pre-mission planning stage you are given a recon map of the area you will be infiltrating and you can plan your routes right down to the last waypoint. You can have one team make a sweep of an upper area then provide cover for a second team below while a third team takes up sniper positions. You can insert go codes to coordinate the various teams so once they reach their objective or waypoint they will hold up until you give the next order.
Gamers who don’t care for all the strategic planning will appreciate the fact that there are at least one or two preset routes for each mission, and while these will generally work out for you they simply don’t give you the level of satisfaction of actually planning your own assault then watching it all unfold. For those wanting to jump right into the game you can quick-launch the missions bypassing the team select, weapons loadout, and mission planning sections. You’ll be given a default team with standard issue weapons based on your objectives, but not necessarily your playing style.
Playing offline could be considered “training” for the online games, but even if you never go online you can still have a great deal of fun with Raven Shield thanks to some of the best enemy AI I have ever gone up against. The enemies are extremely aggressive in Raven Shield but not so much in that the game ever seems unfair. Terrorists respond to noises and sight. You can’t snipe one of two terrorists and have the other one stand their oblivious to his dead friend. He will immediately become alert and start looking for you.
Team AI is also very much improved providing you with a great support team. If you ever spin around to watch them you will see each man realistically looking and aiming in a different direction providing a full 360-degree range of cover. They seldom lag behind unless they are engaged by the enemy and their actions, when responding to your orders, are very authentic and were supervised and approved by actual military personnel.
I had a few issues with the AI; mainly a few minor bugs in the pathfinding but nothing as severe as in previous games, and sometimes when I would issue the order to “Open, Grenade and Clear” they would open the door completely and stand there a moment before tossing in the Flashbang, and they would often get shot before they could throw the grenade. What ever happened to opening the door just enough to toss the grenade and waiting?
Level design is very good and there are several unique places to conduct your missions that are surprisingly realistic. The previous games had levels that were functional but everything in Raven Shield seems to have been bumped up to the next level with subtle environmental and architectural additions that just flesh out the levels. There are plenty of confining areas such as maze-like corridors and rooms, but then you go outside into the threatening expanse of the unknown. You’ll be carefully moving down a street or between rail cars and start taking fire from some unseen location. By the time you pinpoint the sniper in the upstairs window three houses down the street half your team is dead.
And don’t try to memorize enemy locations and think you can walk through these levels on subsequent replays. The game does a great job of randomizing events and encounters so each replay is just different enough to keep you guessing. In a game where one bullet can kill you, over-confidence is a fatal mentality.
There is a good variety of missions that range from hostage rescue to bomb defusing and of course the “kill every terrorist you see” missions. Each offers their own subtleties that will require a bit of creative thing when you go to plan and execute these missions.
For the serious gamer Raven Shield is about 30% planning and 70% executing that plan (playing the game). Planning your missions has never been better but there is certainly room for improvement in some areas. New for Raven Shield is an improved character select screen where you can pick your team, their weapons, and any special items from a single interface. It’s very convenient and the fact that you can view weapon’s data on that same screen helps in picking the right weapons for the right job.
The actual planning is handled on a map screen where you can plot individual waypoints and issue various automated commands for your team when they reach those points. When you click a waypoint you are given a 3D camera view of that area – like placing an instant surveillance camera. This is great for allowing you to properly place the waypoint so you don’t leave a team exposed for the enemy.
Multiplayer has never been better and you can now even play some versus modes. Tom Clancy’s “prime directive” for all of his games has been that you can never play as a terrorist, so Ubisoft has managed to “bend” those rules by allowing you to play as rogue Rainbow operatives. So basically when your mommy says you can’t be the robber in a game of “cops and robbers” you play the corrupt cop.
Adversarial game modes include Survival, Team Survival, Bomb, Hostage, Pilot (escort) and cooperative modes like Terrorist Hunt, Hostage Rescue, or Single Mission round out a stellar multiplayer package. When you take into consideration the huge mod community that has already developed around this title, there will be plenty of original content for years to come.
Playing online has never been easier. All you need is an account on ubi.com and you will find at least a thousand people playing online, even at 4am. The game has some pretty steep requirements and you will definitely have a more enjoyable experience if you have a broadband connection to the net.
Visually, Raven Shield is easily the best looking game in the Rainbow Six series. Using the latest graphics technology from the Ghost Recon games you now have some of the best levels, both in design, textures, and environmental realism, and the character modeling is second to none. I actually got shot while watching and admiring the realistic movements of my team. They are smoothly animated and you can even see the wrinkles in their uniforms and reflections on their face shields.
There are plenty of special effects like streaking graphics when tear gas gets in your eyes or the ultra-bright whiteout of your screen during a flashbang followed by the view slowly coming back into focus. Explosions are bright and suitably orange with black billowing smoke and there are great weather effects like rain and snow. You even leave footprints in the snow.
The new rag doll physics are definitely more realistic in most cases. You’ll never see a dead terrorist sticking out off some stairs into space, but you will see some really twisted positions these guys end up in when you kill them. A few of them looked like I shot them while they were doing Yoga. One guy was literally bent over “backwards” at the waist in half so his head was between his feet. It was amusing and slightly disturbing at the same time.
Raven Shield is a silent experience when it comes to music. At least during the movies and the mission prep screens you can enjoy an excellent score from Bill Brown, composer for more than 20 major games and movies including most all of the previous Tom Clancy games.
You need to be using all your powers of sight and hearing to stay on top of things. The radio chatter is quite useful and they manage to mix up the idle comments enough so it doesn’t get repetitive on subsequent replays. Replaying the Stolen Flame mission over and over I can recall at least four unique comments my team made at the start of that mission, one even warning about the danger of stray bullets in a refinery. All of the dialog is delivered by some professional sounding voice talent complete with authentic accents and appropriate emotions.
The guns and other weapons all have realistic sounds and the explosions are quite convincing and pleasing. The game supports EAX, which will literally surround you in sound during the major gun battles or give you subtle clues to enemy sniper locations in the larger areas. Perhaps the most disturbing sound in the game is the sickening thud of the bullet that ends your life as your vision gets blurry and you slump to the ground.
Raven Shield is one of those rare games that has no perceivable end provided you are willing to take part in the online community. A huge group of fans have already formed and they are kicking out mods, levels, and missions, faster than you can download them. There is never a shortage of people playing online so you can always find an opponent or a teammate night or day.
This is probably a good place to give Ubisoft the much-deserved kudos for the 50+ page manual that is one of the best and most complete pieces of documentation I have seen in a recent game. They’ve even put the entire thing on your hard drive in PDF format in case you left your hardcopy in the bathroom.
With a wide range of skill settings and optional pre-planned setups you can make this game as complicated or as simple as you want. This makes it accessible to the rookie commando who just wants to dive in and play, but who can further develop their planning skills later down the road if they so choose.
If you enjoy tactical, squad-based, close-quarters combat then you are going to be doing cartwheels all the way home from the software store. Most of the changes and improvements in Raven Shield are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but Raven Shield is by far the best game in the Tom Clancy series and easily the best “thinking man’s” FPS game currently available.