Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas Review
Over the past few generations, new franchises have captured the hearts of gamers everywhere. Perhaps not surprisingly, several of those series are from Tom Clancy, and that certainly includes Rainbow Six. These critically acclaimed, mostly realistic, and often very addictive games almost always deliver the goods, so we were anxiously anticipating the chance to play Rainbow Six Vegas on the PS3. Developed by Ubisoft's Montreal studio and powered by the Unreal 3 engine, this one is an intense FPS from top to bottom, with very few errors or flaws to hinder our progress or hamper our entertainment. And remember, even though you may be familiar with the series, Ubisoft is usually capable of providing very fresh experiences each and every time, so don't expect a straightforward franchise rehash.
As one might expect, the graphics are excellent although not groundbreaking. There's a great deal of exquisite detail in each and every environment, and that includes everything from the characters to the dumpsters in the streets. It may not be the cleanest visual presentation to date on the PS3 - that honor probably goes to Ninja Gaiden Sigma - but it's certainly one of the most accomplished. There is some graininess and texture issues here and there, especially in those gritty outdoor battlegrounds, but that's a minor complaint and doesn't significantly decreases the graphical quality. All in all, with such great detail, coloring, and impressive attention paid to even the smallest feature, Rainbow Six Vegas is a very pretty title that's not without its fair share of visual anomolies. But due to the picturesque reality of the visuals, you always feel as if you're part of the action on screen, which this game does very well on the whole (as you'll see later).
The sound is always crucial to a game that relies so heavily on engaging and absorbing the player in a simulated experience. Therefore, we were happy to hear the fantastic sound effects so very evident during our noble adventure, and it remained a high point of our experience throughout. The key lies in the crystal clarity of the gun retorts, frag explosions, weapon reloading, and character yells, shouts, and moans, because that's exactly what envelops us in a virtually realistic world. There was a problem with inconsistency, though, as we'd often hear effects at close range that should only be heard at long-distance, and vicey versey. The soundtrack isn't really impressive, either, simply because it doesn't play as large a role, but that's more of a development decision. We would've preferred a bit more emphasis on the music in some particularly intense sections, but it's not a glaring drawback. In the end, we come away almost completely content with this category; without top-notch sound, we instantly feel detached or removed from the gameplay. Ubisoft does a wonderful job of continually keeping us entranced by never skimping on the effects.
So the technicals are stellar, but of course, the largest deciding factor is the gameplay. Rainbow Six has fluctuated a bit between first-person shooting and tactical warfare, sometimes emphasizing one more than the other. In Vegas, it's immediately clear that Ubisoft decided to streamline the action on screen by setting the focus squarely on accessible first-person action. You can still control squad members with the simple touch of a button, but your success generally relies more on your own abilities, which will satisfy some fans but perhaps disappoint others. Well, you can't please everyone all the time. In this new day and age of faster, flashier action, it's no real shock to see a Rainbow Six incarnation lean more towards the fast-paced side of gameplay. From a personal standpoint, I'm more of a FPS fan who would rather determine his own destiny, so the style in this game suited my tastes.
The control is borderline flawless, as your sizable myriad of abilities and maneuvers are all easily accessed and simply executed. You know the control is nearly perfect when you realize one important contrast: while learning everything is very straightforward and doesn't take more than a few minutes, actually mastering everything is quite another story. The game never fails you due to sloppy, loose, or erratic control (a mistake by the creators); if you fail, it's because you messed up, plain and simple. Therefore, thanks to the accessibility and reliability of the controls, you can dump all your energy into honing your own skills, with no fear of inherent programming issues. In other words, the player never suffers due to the screw-ups of the designers. Whether you're tossing a grenade, zooming in with your scope, issuing commands to your teammates, or switching through your inventory on the fly, it's all good, all the time.
But while we hate to nitpick, we do have to point out a few little issues: first of all, for some bizarre reason, we had extreme difficulty controlling the snake cam (a wire camera you slide under doors). That got surprisingly frustrating, and we also question if one unified menu would've been better than the multiple mini-menus. By holding down certain face buttons, you could access your silencer, select between auto, semi-auto, and single fire, and also choose your projectiles, various goggle options, and weapons. But these were all spread out between three different menus, and we wonder if it would've been a better idea to just include them all in one expansive menu. Splinter Cell does this, for example, and it means the developers don't have to map extra buttons. See, with the Vegas setup, you tap the Square button to reload, but there's also a mini-menu to access by holding the button down.
We got used to this as time went on, but perhaps the presentation could've been more fluid in this capacity. Still, this never really impeded our interaction, and the game never ceased to be fun. Yes, that's right, fun. Lest we forget, it's the one and only reason we play video games in the first place, and with the advent of another new generation, we often see "fun" deferring to the material and cosmetic facets of game production. But Rainbow Six Vegas is the complete package: it's both technically proficient and continually engaging from beginning to end. No, we're not pausing and gazing in awe, but at the same time, we're never disappointed in our surroundings and we're always absorbed in the experience. While it's true the player may sometimes get a little lost in their objective - "wait, where do I go? - you're very rarely without an important task to complete. Moment to moment, there's always somewhere to go and something to do.
The AI is another major component, despite the emphasis on first-person action. Your teammates are both responsive and competent; they'll often hit their targets and seek cover even without your direction. You can ask them to move to any position simply by aiming somewhere and pressing the Square button, and they will immediately move quickly and efficiently to your chosen spot. Granted, they may not always make the best decisions on their own, and they don't always provide you with the cover you'd like, but they're still reliable comrades under fire. Much like with the control, this is a blessing, because you won't find yourself dying due to what veteran gamers call "stupid crap." Well, at least, it doesn't happen too often. You'll still get annoyed from time to time when one of your teammates gets himself one-shot killed, or when your guys clearly aren't firing at the primary target...the one nailing you. But hey, that's kinda part of the Rainbow Six experience; it's a shortcoming, but almost traditional by now.
Perhaps best of all - depending on what type of gamer you are - the PS3 version comes complete with about 20 extra maps and a couple new modes. This is significant, because 360 owners initially had to purchase the Red and Black map packs separately for $10 each, although we have recently learned those packs are currently free on Xbox Live. And regardless of whether you play single-player offline or multiplayer online, you can revel in the newfound additions to the series, the most important of which is the cover system. You can put your back to most any obstacle, and either lean around or over it to fire at your enemy. You can even aim the reticle ahead of time to prepare for the best possible shot, and to minimize the amount of time you're exposed to gunfire. The greatest feature here is the ability to leap out of your cover state at a moment's notice; you simply hold the L1 button for cover and you can release it at any time to get moving again. No getting stuck against walls! Yeah, you'll occasionally run into the wall or object you thought you could use for cover, only to find out you can't, thus leaving you wide open for imminent death. But it doesn't happen often enough to be a major issue.
The other change is the ability to repel down sides of buildings and into windows. It's not drastic enough so it alters the format of the gameplay, but it's a nice little feature to have, that's for sure. It also opens up several more routes during gameplay, allowing for more strategic planning if you're so inclined. The storyline isn't incredible, but certainly passable for a game in this genre, and the military realism is...well, kinda passable. You can recover from gunshot wounds simply by finding cover and resting a bit (er...unrealistic), but you can also die from a quick shot to a vital area if you're in the wrong position (yup, realistic). The Unreal engine works great - there's virtually no slowdown to speak of - and while there are some slight hitches in the visuals and sound, it's still a very solid presentation the whole way ‘round. Fans of the series may or may not like the new changes and emphasis on faster-paced first-person entertainment, but either way, it works extremely well.
Rainbow Six Vegas is, perhaps as expected, a highly accomplished and wildly entertaining title, one that should offer anyone many hours of fun. The single-player campaign is both challenging and satisfying, the online multiplayer is fast and furious (fans of Resistance: Fall of Man should give it a try, even though it's slightly more sensitive due to its pseudo-sim nature), and it looks and sounds exactly the way it should. A few small errors here and there don't override the excellent control, and while we weren't blown away by the gameplay, the fact remains- we had a blast playing it. If you were hoping for something good out of Vegas, for the most part, your hopes have been fully realized.
8/4/2007 Ben Dutka