Reviewed: July 14, 2007
Released: June 26, 2007
Iíve long since given up on Ubisoft ever making another Rainbow Six game that comes close to the first games in the series Ė the games that actually got me and a lot of my friends into gaming in the first place. Some of you might not even be old enough to remember the original Rainbow Six and the few installments that followed. Those games were all about tactics and planning and coordinated strategies. Youíd spend more time planning your missions in the map screen, drawing routes, noting locations to stack and wait for the Zula code, and outfitting your characters with the perfect mix of firearms and grenades.
Apparently, the next-gen gamer doesnít have the time or patience to deal with all of that pre-mission planning. Theyíd rather jump out of a chopper, rappel down the side of a building, smash through tempered glass, and unload on a group of terrorists taking over a Vegas casino. And as much as I miss all of the pre-missions details, I have to admit, Rainbow Six: Vegas is fun Ė probably the most fun Iíve had with a Rainbow title since Athena Sword back in 2004.
Interestingly enough, ever since 9/11 the U.S. military has been planning and executing various scenarios in many major cities across the country just in case terrorists attack the homeland. Iíve been involved in the planning stages of several of these counter-terrorists strikes including scenarios for Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam, and I have to admit, I was impressed at how close Rainbow Six: Vegas actually played out to some of the scenarios already in place.
Previous Rainbow games have taken us all over the world, but nothing is more exhilarating than fighting in familiar territory, especially when that territory is the vibrant city of Las Vegas. Moving from burning car to burning car down Fremont street, sneaking along planters and going spine-to-the-wall against an information kiosk as you stalk terrorists along the Strip is a total rush, but nothing can prepare you for the thrill of scaling down the glass towers of high-rise hotels, and unloading a clip from your assault rifle into a slot machine and seeing the coins spill out.
Sin City has never been this much funÖ
Before we gear-up and head to Nevada there is some preliminary work that Team Rainbow must take care of down in the small Mexican border town of San Joshua del Mosquiera. Intel has flagged Irena Morales as a known terrorist currently sneaking other terrorists across the boarder. This triggers a rather lengthy tutorial mission that can take the better part of an hour to complete, but once you do, you should be up to speed when that chopper sets you down on that first rooftop in Vegas.
For the most part, Vegas returns us to the roots of the Rainbow franchise with numerous changes in gameplay, tactics, and control, and I canít really find fault with any of them. The most notable change is the lack of a health bar. Vegas now uses a regenerative health system much like Call of Duty, where the screen turns red (and eventually black) as you take damage and die. This certainly takes the edge off the game, but can still be quite challenging on the harder difficulty settings.
Squad commands have been tweaked and refined to near-perfection. You can point at just about anything in the game and get a context-sensitive command cross. Point at a door and you can open it, or order your men to stack there in preparation for the next command with is either frag and clear, flash and clear, or just open the door with guns blazing. You can also point at the crack under the door and use your scope to recon the area, complete with various vision modes.
Now here is where things get really good and totally realistic. I can tell you from experience that you almost never make a frontal assault on the enemy. Itís all about distraction, flanking, and getting the advantage. To that end, almost ever room or area in Vegas has multiple entry points. Sure, it might not be totally realistic. In real life, we might have to blast a hole in a wall to create that secondary entrance, but Vegas gives us two or more doors or a skylight, or a window. Now comes the new trick.
While using your scope to recon the room beyond the door you can now lock in a primary and secondary target for priority attack. This means that when you order your men to breach they will target those men first. This is a great tool in cases where one terrorist might have a hostage at gunpoint and you need to take him out before he can pull the trigger. It also helps when you want to have you men enter via one access point while you come smashing through a skylight or kicking down the back door. When done properly you can kill all threats in about 2-3 seconds and never take any fire.
Of course, you and your men will eventually take damage, and while you are able to heal your men or better yet, order them to heal each other, they will not return the favor. This means that if you die youíll have to restart from the last checkpoint. For a lot of players, this means you wonít be taking as many risks, and I even found myself using my men as bait. I could order them into a room and subject them to fire, comfort in the knowledge that I could heal them if they went down. This also made good tactics for drawing enemy fire to reveal their concealed locations so I could snipe them from my own safe vantage point.
Iíve never had any complaints with realism when it comes to weapons and gadgets. Vegas offers all the latest in declassified weaponry used by the guys who do this kind of stuff in real life. You are allowed two primary weapons and two types of grenades. From time to time you will come across a weapons drop where you can change your weapons and reload, but other than those rare crates, you are at the mercy of whatever weapons you can find lying around on dead terrorists.
The weapons are extremely accurate, not only in their visual appears, but also their performance and the various ways in which some of them can be modified with a silencer, scope, etc. Attaching a laser sight might look cool but it also gives the enemy a distinct advantage in locating you. You can also toggle the rate of fire from single shot, three-round burst, and full-auto, depending on how much you need to conserve ammo.
Gadgets are equally realistic with the standard snake scope, thermal and night vision goggles. There are maybe two instances in the game where you need the NVG but otherwise, the thermal is almost always the best option for detecting the heat signatures of enemies.
The tactical interface is flawless and totally intuitive. By aiming at an area or object and pressing a single button you can order your men to move, stack on a door, hack a computer, disarm a bomb, use a ladder, rappel down a building, or heal an injured man. You can order you men to go weapons free, infiltrate, assault, hold, or regroup on your position. And if you have a headset you can also use actual voice commands to issue most of these commands, adding a whole new level of realism and immersion.
Also new for Vegas is the cover system, which works a lot like Gears of War only you must actually hold down the let trigger to stick to the wall. Once stuck to the wall or even an object, you can peek around or over the top and fire from relative safety. You can even do a blind fire attack where you just aim the gun in the general direction and unload. Chances are you wonít kill anybody but you can cause them to retreat for cover allowing you or your men a quick moment to relocate.
The mission design for Vegas presents some very realistic challenges, some based dangerously close on scenarios the military has already considered. For most of these missions you only have two men at your command rather than three, but Walter and Park pretty much act as a single entity, which means no individual orders. It keeps things simple and even a bit realistic, since you are the senior officer and would never send grunts fresh from the academy out alone.
Levels range from the wide-open areas of the Vegas Strip to the top of the Hoover Dam. Missions will also take you inside stunning hotels, casinos, and even a massive theater with multi-tiered balconies, stage, catwalk system, and a mounted machine gun turret. There is a very cool level where you fight inside the new construction of Danteís Casino, although I found it a bit unrealistic that a building, which was nothing more than a structural skeleton had working slot machines inside. And all things culminate at the Hoover Dam for a very exciting finale that leaves several questions open for the obvious sequel to answer.
For those looking to share their Vegas vacation, the game offers a full cooperative online mode for up to four players. This is about as real as it gets to actually enlisting in the military and training for 4-6 years. Nothing comes close to the realism of coordinating your attacks with real players using your headset. No longer are you confined by the AI of the game Ė not that it is bad by any means, but nothing can replace a real human holding the controller.
There is a new mode called Terrorist hunt where 50 terrorists are out to get you and you must get them first. But for those looking for the ultimate challenge, check out the Versus mode featuring 10 maps (plus 10 bonus maps) that are quite large and perfectly suited for up to 16 players. Go head to head in locations like Mexico, the casino, the Hoover Dam and many others. The multiplayer package is rounded out with classic modes like Sharpshooter, Survival, Retrieval, Attack and Defend, and team versions of many of these modes. Attack and Defend is by far the best of these modes in my opinion, as you must not only recover a package, but also return it to the extraction point. Itís the ultimate CTF that requires smooth and precise teamwork.
Rainbow Six: Vegas was one of the first games to use the Xbox Live Vision to map your face onto your online characters. Sadly, this feature is not included on the PS3 version despite the availability and affordability of the EyeToy. Itís a small omission to be sure, but once youíve had the fun of seeing yourself IN the game, it is sad to lose this ego-serving feature.
There is also no real support for the unique functions of the SIXAXIS. The lack of any rumble feedback wasnít as noticeable or missed as I had feared, but I still donít like the way Sonyís new controller feels. Itís way too light and those breakaway triggers just feel wrong.
The characters in Vegas look outstanding; especially the members of your team whom you can view up close a lot easier than most of the terrorists. The models feature realistic textures, wrinkles in clothing, and every last item of equipment is individually modeled and animated as you crouch, rappel, run, and use various cover techniques.
The game levels are massive and highly detailed with working slot machines, video monitors, flashing lights, neon, and even cars and trucks spinning on their prize pedestals. The initial flyover of Vegas is jaw dropping, as is your insertion flight onto the Hoover Dam.
Expect plenty of explosions from bombs, flash bangs, and frag grenades. The effect of the flash bang is about as close to reality as a video game can offer; only the recovery time is a bit longer in the real world. But having the current image burned into your retina and having to stumble around blindly is spot on, although the bang could be louder.
There are also nice smoke and particle effects and some of the most stunning lighting Iíve seen this year in a game. Many of the levels play out in darkness if for no other reason than to use your NVG and thermal goggles, both of which produce realistic vision effects.
Sadly, on the PS3 a lot of the subtler details have been lost and the colors are a bit washed out and the special effects just arenít as ďspecialĒ. The lighting isnít as pronounced, which could be considered more ďrealisticĒ by some purists, and the faces arenít as detailed or expressive. There is also a bit more pop-up on game objects left lying around the levels. I also had some serious issues trying to play the game at 1080i Ė something the Xbox 360 did perfectly. Ultimately, I settled on 720p, which fixed the graphics glitches and probably ended up netting me a few more frames per second, but this could be a serious problem for people with TVís that donít offer native 720p support. There are definitely upconversion issues.
The soundtrack dynamically shifts with the action and creates a totally cinematic and suspenseful situation. Admittedly, in real-life we donít have the luxury of a professional score to accentuate our missions, but it makes for good gaming.
There is a lot of speech in Vegas, mostly from Joanna giving you updates and mission briefs from the safety of her chopper orbiting the city. From time to time you will get a TV broadcast in your PIP and you can expect a lot of realistic chatter from your men as they verbally confirm your orders and relay their status. Some of the best dialogue is purely for fun and can be heard as you eavesdrop on unsuspecting terrorists as they chat about anything and everything.
Sound effects are extremely details from footsteps crunching on broken glass to the sound of that glass shattering as you come through a window feet-first. Every single gun and grenade effect is perfect. I can only assume the sound designers got to fire or at least record these weapons being fired. And it all comes together in a fantastic Dolby Digital surround mix that will put you smack in the middle of the insanity; however, I did experience several PS3-specific occasions where the sound processing was off, specifically the volume of the sound in relation to the distance of the sounds origin.
The solo game can take anywhere from 8-12 hours depending on your skill level and the difficulty level you have chosen. The co-op mode is incredibly fun, challenging, and realistic, even more so than the solo game since you are coordinating with real people rather than merely ordering around the computer AI. Stack on a hefty pile of versus and team games with massive maps and the promise of future downloadable content and you have a game you wonít stop playing for at least a year.
The PS3 version of Vegas packs in the same multiplayer content as the 360, and while this was one of the first PS Network games Iíve played since obtaining my PS3 that hasnít had serious connectivity and lag issues, there is no denying that the Xbox Live network still offers more and better options for hooking up with like-minded gamers. If you have both a PS3 and a 360 I still have to give the nod to the Xbox.
Without a doubt, Rainbow Six: Vegas is a great port from the 360 and well worth the extended wait it took to get here. It has a solid and compelling single-player mode that only gets better when you play it cooperatively, and with a huge fan base, numerous multiplayer maps and games modes, and perfectly balanced gameplay for teams and individuals.
While I still reminisce about the early days of Rainbow Six and planning my ultimate strategies through foreign embassies, not all gamers have the patience or desire for such intricacies. Iíve come to realize I will probably never see a game like the original Rainbow Six again, and the series has definitely taken a steep spiral into mediocrity over the past few years, but if Vegas is any indication of where the franchise is headed, Iíll certainly be looking forward to the next installment.