Reviewed: May 30, 2004
Released: March 9, 2004
I probably owe my love of gaming to Rainbow Six. Even though I got my casual start in PC gaming back in the early 90’s fighting Nazis in Wolfenstein 3D I didn’t really get excited about the prospect of sitting down at the computer to play games until I got my hands on the original Rainbow Six. Let me tell you there is nothing more exciting than playing a game based on your chosen career in the military.
Over the years the Rainbow Six franchise has delivered numerous sequels, expansions, and countless user-created levels and missions thanks to a thriving online community as powerful as many third-world armies. Just when the series was dangerously close to stagnation Raven Shield gave new life to the franchise with updated graphics and a new intuitive interface. Now, just short of a year later, Rainbow Six: Athena Sword continues the saga in the first official expansion pack.
Athena Sword features:
I’ll take it for granted that if you are reading this review you have probably already played Raven Shield so gameplay is fairly self-explanatory. While Athena Sword arguably offers more of the same it does so at a much higher level of difficulty. Not only are the levels designed to offer a greater challenge, the enemy AI, scripting, and even the mission objectives are all taken to the next level.
As expected with any expansion you are given a nice selection of new weapons. These new “tools” simply aren’t put here to artificially inflate the weapon list or give the designers bragging rights. Several of these new weapons are mission-specific, even if you don’t realize it at first. Picking the right weapon for the right mission can often dictate success or failure.
The G3KA4 7.62mm short assault rifle is the new shining star of the weapon list, lighter and more versatile than the G3A3 and great for close-quarters combat. If you prefer to hose your enemy down you might opt for the OTs-14 or M240G 7.62mm belt fed machine gun for maximum coverage. The Beretta M93R with single and 3-round burst capability and the SM4 CQB 9mm make great fallback weapons while the M1014 12-gauge delivers the most punch when clearing out a room. You can deliver some long-range justice with the HK SL8-1 5.56mm sniper rifle.
Eight missions might not sound like a lot but keep in mind these are longer and harder than anything the series has delivered to date. Then again, is anyone really playing this game for the solo missions? Rainbow Six has always been about the multiplayer experience dating back to the days of 28.8 modems and the formation of the very first clan.
Athena Sword offers five new multiplayer locations specifically designed to offer the greatest enjoyment for large numbers. The level designers have done an excellent job of creating large areas that work in three dimensions. Death might be lurking above as well as behind that next door you kick in. Levels like the university offer a nice open central battle space surrounded by plenty of opportunities for CQC, while the chemical plant gives would-be snipers plenty of ideal places to perch and wait for the perfect shot.
Five new online-exclusive gameplay modes are added to the line-up including the devilishly clever Adversarial Terrorist Hunt that pits two teams against a group of terrorists and each other. The added threat of a rogue group of terrorists mucking up the traditional head-to-head mode is simply brilliant and increases the tension exponentially.
Raven Shield broke new ground in the graphics department. We were introduced to the new QOI (Quick Order Interface), which was probably the best thing to ever happen to the series. Weapons were also modeled and shown in the first-person view. All of these improvements remain intact in the expansion, but perhaps the most impressive, or at least the most noticeable addition is the inclusion of three classic Rainbow missions, now updated for the new engine.
Keeping in mind that storming the Embassy in the original Rainbow Six was a life-changing moment for me as a gamer, revisiting that level almost ten years later and seeing it remodeled, re-textured, and now fully furnished delivered nearly the same powerful impact as the first time I played it. It’s easy to take graphics for granted these days, and it takes something like this to see just how far we’ve come in such a short time.
As far as the rest of the game is concerned, you still have all the excellent character models complete with rag doll physics that deliver some disturbing images of death. Lighting and special effects are excellent, especially in the night missions. As a victim of several flashbang encounters myself, I can testify to the accuracy of the whiteout and vision-blurring effects used in the game.
Athena Sword concentrates its sound presentation where it should, on environments, weapons, and voices. Everything is quite subdued and realistic as far as environmental feedback is concerned. Weapon effects are deadly accurate. I’ve fired most of the weapons depicted in the Rainbow series, and somebody really did their homework when creating the sound effects library for this game.
Voices are used to confirm orders and add to the immersion of the single-player experience. They carry the script and move the missions along while offering some convincing accents and quality acting for the most part.
What little music found in Athena Sword is nearly identical to the music we’ve heard in the past with this series. Bill Brown is a brilliant composer and his music is as much a signature to the series as Tom Clancy’s name.
Seasoned Rainbow members will make their way through the eight missions in a day or two, but as with all games in the Rainbow series, Athena Sword is a game that was meant to be played with others. The inclusion of the new multiplayer modes is proof of that. There is virtually unlimited gameplay potential with this, or any other game in the franchise.
Even so, I found the $30 sticker price a bit high, especially when you know this game will soon be dropped to $20 and eventually stuck into some combo-pack with the original. Unless you are really craving some new Rainbow action you might just want to hold off for a better price.
Rainbow Six: Athena Sword is a solid follow-up to Raven Shield and not only raises the bar on difficulty and mission design, but does so while adding some really great weapons and some creative new multiplayer modes.
Hardcore fans of the series will have no qualms about adding this title to their library, but everyone else should probably wait for a more realistic price tag or the inevitable “special edition” combo pack.