Reviewed: September 25, 2005
Released: September 6, 2005
The Rainbow Six franchise has always been one of my favorites. Hell, it’s what attracted me to gaming in the first place. As a former Army Ranger and Special Forces sniper, the Tom Clancy-inspired games offer an interesting insight into what myself, and hundreds of other dedicated soldiers go through on a daily basis.
Red Storm titles have always been a huge hit with me and my group of online comrades dating as far back as the original Rainbow Six in 1998. Rogue Spear, Black Thorn, and more recently Rainbow Six 3 and the expansions for that title have kept the franchise alive, each offering incremental improvements to gameplay tactics, weapons, and even topical stories.
But something has gone terribly wrong at Red Storm, or perhaps Ubisoft is responsible for this latest slap in the face called Rainbow Six: Lockdown. My beloved series of tactical stealth games has been given a brutal facelift, dumbed down for the masses, and basically turned into a mindless action game with some arcade sniping tossed in.
Someone has lost their vision for this series and simultaneously betrayed a whole lot of loyal followers. Ubisoft may attract a new following of casual gamers but at what cost. Lockdown still remains difficult enough to intimidate weekend warriors or even worse, dilute the online gaming pool with a bunch of punks out to screw with the system.
Admittedly, I am able to critique these games at a level the average gamer would never be able to, but you don’t have to have 25+ years of military service to realize this game stinks, at least in comparison to everything that has come before it.
While Ubisoft has kept a lot of the core principles intact, the AI and tactical gameplay has been dumbed down to where thinking and planning are mere afterthoughts that only serve to slow down what has now become an action-shooter. Previously, you had to position and order your men before kicking open a door or flash-banging a room, but now you can just run around shooting wildly and pretty much win the game.
They must have added somebody new to the design team this year, somebody who loved the old Silent Scope games, because now we have arcade sniping levels reminiscent of the coin-op games that have been around for nearly a decade.
Scattered about the main campaign are brief interludes where you exit the role of Ding Chavez and take control of Dieter Weber, elite sniper who is usually perched on some rooftop with limited ability to move to a few key positions to lay down cover fire for the rest of the team below. The first session of sniping takes place from a helicopter that predictably circles the area, moving to each new waypoint when you have cleared out the requisite number of bad guys.
While these levels might be fun on their own, they have no place in a Rainbow Six game. It’s total arcade action with enemies spawning from predetermined locations that you can quickly commit to memory; then it’s just a matter of cycling through all the target zones and killing the 2-3 guys who are taking pot shots at your team below. From time to time an enemy sniper might appear and shoot back at you, but seldom are you ever in any real danger.
Team control has actually been improved, bringing over some of the elements from the latest Ghost Recon games. You can now order your men to follow, stay, or scout ahead. Your men are much more aggressive this time around, which also means they can get careless and take extra damage if you don’t keep a tight reign on them.
But considering that you, as Ding, do 80% of the killing in this game your men are here more for ambience than tactics, which is not the way of a Rainbow Six game. It would have been nice to simply approach these missions as a “lone wolf”, but lest you think you can abandon your men, they will frequently remind you of their presences with their incessant “awaiting orders” com chatter.
Rainbow Six has often been dismissed as a game of “room clearing” and in some ways this is a valid assessment, so Red Storm has given players a few new ways to breach a room in Lockdown including battering rams and shotgun blasts through doors. The enemy has also gotten a bit sneakier in their tactics with the addition of trip wires and carefully placed snipers.
“Sneakier” often gets reduced to cheap shots and just plain bad programming. Enemies will shoot you right through walls, which in reality is a valid tactic assuming they have vision modes on par with something like your new heartbeat sensor. But when you have your men flanking an entrance and they start taking fire (through the walls) by the guys on the other side…that is pure bogus bull.
Ultimately, these unfair enemy tactics force you to play the game at a more accelerated pace. As previously mentioned, if you just keep moving and shooting in the general direction of the enemy you can win the game.
Enemy AI has been tuned for a lot more aggression. They’ll charge on your position now, which can be rather intense if you are charging towards them. They will throw grenades and run from yours and their flanking abilities are unexpectedly good. But in a game that has devolved into a simple adrenalized action-shooter all of these subtleties are lost in the gunfire.
Red Storm has always been as visionary about their weapons as gadgets as Tom Clancy has been in his books. I swear the man has inside contacts at the pentagon. He always seems about a month ahead of the R&D boys creating these things in real life. Lockdown offers a massive assortment of firearms and gadgets, based both on reality and forward thinking designs.
Primary weapons include the new MTAR-21 micro-assault rifle, AS9, G36C, M2249SPW, M73E, Mag 7, MP5/10, MP7-50, O12W, P90TR, RP-90M1, SA58, SPAS 15, SR4-CQB, Super 90, UI00MK3, UMP-9, and the USAS-12. Secondary weapons include 92FS, 5-7, GC69A, and the MEV (SOC) 45. Grenades come in multiple flavors like smoke, flash bang, and frag, plus the heavy anti-personal devices like claymores.
Tech gadgets are both realistic and futuristic. The various vision modes are based on real-life technology while the new motion-tracking heartbeat sensor is still ahead of its time (as far as you know).
Rainbow Six has always emphasized multiplayer, even when we were connecting directly with 56k modems in the pre-Internet days. Lockdown tackles Xbox Live with a new Persistent Elite Creation (PEC) mode that is long past due. It’s just regrettable that they chose this lame installment to introduce it.
PEC allows you to create an online presence and build up that character with an RPG-like point system for skills and the more powerful weapons. As you play the various online matches you will earn points that you can then spend hours with, tweaking your character’s stats and inventory. PEC is destined to help build a more loyal online community of players, just not in this game. Hopefully this system will become a staple of future Red Storm titles.
But even with this new online aspect the multiplayer, much like the single player, has been reduced to an arcade shooter. Where are those long periods of intense silence and quiet chatter with the Communicator as you move into position, followed by a quick exchange of gunfire? There is just too much random shooting and running around for this to be called a Rainbow Six game.
Gameplay isn’t the only thing to suffer with this sequel. Visually, Lockdown is about three steps back in visual quality. After playing the stunning Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike I have to wonder how long Lockdown has been in development. Perhaps the game was created with the PS2 in mind then ported over to the Xbox.
Whatever the reason, the game is just way too colorful, bright and cheery, especially in those sniping missions where the game looks like a tribute to Silent Scope. Animation is really bad, despite major improvements to the character models including more detailed facial expressions. Neither your team nor the enemies look remotely realistic as they jerk and glide across the levels. The only thing that approaches graceful is the improved ragdoll physics engine that is much better at showing death than the game is of showing life.
The interface has been upgraded, both in the new fancy menus and the in-game HUD that mimics the visor that a real soldier would wear in these types of missions. My only complaint is that when my visor gets damaged to the point where I can no longer see clearly I would TAKE IT OFF; not play the rest of the level with 10% visual clarity. I was literally so blind in one level that I simply had to sit back and order my men to finish off the mission.
Lockdown offers a solid sound package, both in stirring and suspenseful music as well as a wide range of environmental effects that help break up the often-long periods of silence. The soundtrack keeps to the menus and to scripted points in the missions where it is used for tension and emotional impact.
Most of the game is played in eerie silence allowing you to hear every footstep, creaking board, click of a reload, not to mention very authentic weapons fire sound effects and explosions. Voices are limited to com chatter and the occasional position-revealing comments from the enemy. “Who’s there?” is not a smart thing to say if you are being stalked by Team Rainbow.
The whole sound package is presented in a nice 3D sound mix with full Dolby Digital support and is probably one of the best things about this game.
Normally any Rainbow Six game would get a very high value score. After all, this is one of the franchises that pioneered online gaming. And while Lockdown does introduce the PEC mode, the game it is attached to is simply so uninspired that you’ll want to hold out for the next installment.
As it is, if you can stand to play this game the solo campaign will net you about 15-20 hours of unrealistic Rainbow action and you’ll probably experiment with the PEC mode for another 2-5 hours before you put this title away and go play one of the older (and better) Rainbow games.
Rainbow Six: Lockdown is guaranteed to disappoint any true fans of the franchise. The step down in graphics, the horrible animations, the unpredictable AI, and the inclusion of pure arcade sniping levels just make this game so far removed from the Rainbow legacy that you’ll wonder how this thing ever got approved for release.
If you have never played a Rainbow Six game then I beg you not to start with this one, that is unless you are simply out for a mindless action-shooter. The only positive thing about this title is the PEC mode, and hopefully that will be included in a more deserving future title.