The Rainbow Six series is nearly 10, and it has seen a lot of changes over the years. I remember playing the demo of the original back in 1998 and being blown away that I could die so easily. Since then, pre-mission planning has been dropped, weapon loads for squads and teammates has been dropped, handpicking squad members has been dropped, hell, squads have nearly been dropped entirely. The series has been stripped down to its very core: it’s just you and a few teammates, geared up for action in a system that eschews planning for on-the-spot tactics.
I can see why some people have been disappointed with the direction the series has been going, because what was once very sterile and methodic has morphed into a more action-oriented shooter that puts the emphasis on immediacy rather than preparation. For those wanting the ability to customize their red and gold teams, plan waypoints and paths, and set each up with particular gear, that ship has sailed. There are still multiple teams and the ability to choose your weapons before a mission, but it’s a far cry from before. Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas is instead an evolution of the changes introduced in 3, bringing the series a long way forward, yet still short of the franchise’s full potential.
Those wanting the Rainbow Six of yesteryear won’t take the fact that Vegas isn’t a look back as a shock, but they will still be surprised by just how much the series is continuing ahead in the action-oriented approach. For a while now, Ubisoft has been cherry-picking the best additions to their main three franchises – Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell, and Ghost Recon – for use in one another. Sometimes the company slips up – looking at you, Rainbow Six: Lockdown – but sometimes they get it right, like the squad control element being implemented and enhanced in Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six.
The series has gone a step further though with the addition of the kill.switch firing mechanic used in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter that includes around-the-corner aimed firing and blind firing. Now you can put your back against the wall and peak around a corner to fire a few precise shots, or you can simply stick the gun around the edge for the safer and far less accurate blind fire. This only makes sense, really, because all of these years you were supposed to be a highly trained soldier, and yet you didn’t think to not walk into every hallway and room out in the open. And the fact that there is cover at all is a revelation, considering all of those years I would run behind rocks and trees, hoping that, for whatever reason, the one I was hiding behind was designated as an object that could stop a bullet.
The other new addition to the series is the ability to repel. This is often cooler looking than it is necessary, with several repelling spots seemingly there just to show your guys looking very SWAT-like, but when it is necessary it is exactly how you would want it to be: one hand gripping the rope, the other your pistol, a slow and steady pace interspersed with jumps, then letting a few shots off whenever an unsuspecting enemy is stumbled upon. You can also switch sides to run down a building, or you can just jump through the window like the badass that you are. Very cool.
It won’t be immediately noticeable, but from the title you can gather that the game is no longer taking place in Eastern Europe or the Mediterranean but in Las Vegas. What is immediately noticeable is that the game looks bad. Actually, it just looked bad on my TV because I run it at 1080(p). For whatever reason, Rainbow Six: Vegas hates 1080i/p and will look like a hazy, washed out, and sometimes-pixilated mess until the TV’s resolution is changed. Great, exactly what I bought a nice high definition television for: inferior visuals. I can’t do that, myself, so I’m pretty much out of luck. Instead, I switched over to a standard definition television, and while that certainly cleaned things up, it made spotting enemies difficult and reading text even more so. From playing some of the 360 version and talking to fellow depoter Nick about his lengthy experience with it on an HDTV, these graphic mishaps seem to be PS3 exclusives. Even when on a standard definition set the colors are a bit washed out and the character models elongated, but it still manages to dazzle during hectic firefights.
Once your TV or eyes adjust, you will be treated to all the neon delights that Vegas has to offer. In many respects, it’s a great location as it offers up some fantastic sets to have shootouts in. A few checkpoints after entering Vegas and you’re treated to a sequence involving your team going through a casino from the ground floor to the top, complete with enemies repelling from the skylights and storming in from the side, with your team randomly holed up behind cover and returning fire, all while chandeliers, glass guards and slot machines shatter and explode all around. In the midst of the chaos, you’re telling your squadmates to hold fire and to assault, seek cover behind objects, heal each other and blast down doors down and rush rooms while you pick up a fallen enemy’s arms to keep up the covering fire. I have had some really great, intense shootouts, and the new firing mechanics bring a lot to the series.
It isn’t all running and gunning, though; there are plenty of times when a more subtle approach is required. Using the sixaxis controller’s tilt abilities, snake cameras can be slide under doors and eased around by tilting, a process that is seamless and quick, a great implementation of the feature; of course, those who prefer or require the standard method of using the analog sticks can use that one as well. With the camera under the door, optimal targets can be ‘painted,’ marking them as priority targets for your squadmates to go after once the room is breached. Rooms can still be breached through various means – rushing in, exploding the door off, tossing in a charge before entering – and the area-sensitive means to choose what option to use when at an entrance has been slightly improved. The same approach has been used with repelling, to similar results: when approaching an area of activity, a door or repel hook, an option comes up for you to do the action or to order the team to do it, then a second menu appears that allows you to order an approach for the team to take. The system is very quick and intuitive, but it doesn’t always go off without a hitch.
As the series continues to expand and refine, there are still some issues that crop up. The controls are the most problematic, with the developer’s attempts to streamline everything often resulting in unintended actions and the new features not always working as they should. One problem is that many areas that could and should be marked as spots for entry, like air vents, aren’t; the result is that telling your squad to stand by an area could – and for me, did – result in one of them just walking through the an enemy-infested room to meet the other squadmate, knocking down off a vent cover to back inside the ventilation tube. The A.I. isn’t bad, but it definitely shows its cracks in situations like that. When using the snake cam to target objects, it isn’t uncommon for the map to pop up, since L2 does double duty by being pressure sensitive, since targeting an enemy requires a good bit of pressure, multiple attempts are often necessary. I will say that it is the best controlling first-person shooter for that style of controller though, with precision that is far beyond the last generation’s offerings.
There are some worrying times when you randomly cannot slide against a wall to and away from a corner. There will be situations where you can slide with ease, peak around the corner to pop a few shots off, then slide back a ways to reload; other times, you just stay there, without rhyme or reason as to why you can’t move, forced to finable your way out of the situation as enemies close in on your position. Sometimes objects will be in the way, other times there won’t be anything, either way, there’s no reason why an elite soldier can’t ease around something. If you manage to make it to a corner and spy an approaching enemy, relying on blind firing to spook them or get a quick kill would be a mistake as I often missed, even when a shotgun was equipped and the enemy was a few feet away; when it spooks them, the feature at least has a purpose, but often they just continue to approach as if they are impervious to the blast … which I guess they kind of are.
Still, these are growing pains and, while I am not excusing them, these problems are much more tolerable than the boneheaded A.I. of Lockdown or the all-knowing terrorists of the earlier releases. I would have preferred a flawless release, of course, but Vegas provides more than enough thrills to work through and around its hang-ups.
Since the PS3’s online infrastructure is out of its league when compared to Live, developers need to pick up a lot of slack. The new maps in the PS3 version have since been released for free for the 360 version, leaving little in the way of exclusives for a port months delayed. The online portion itself is actually pretty fun, with the ability to create a character from an initially small handful of options – face, clothes, hair, etc. – that expand as you gain experience, move up in rank, and unlock new items. There will be some maps that limit what you can have, or change your settings altogether, but the ability to customize through a leveling system is a great addition. As good of an addition as it is, the ranking system can actually make finding matches difficult, as I was initially given the boot plenty of times due to my low rank. It is a bit clunky though, with load times and an actual crash to my dashboard bringing the experience down a notch. For those who are leery about going toe to toe with others, Vegas does include Terrorist Hunt, which populates a map with a number of terrorists and sets you out to take them down by yourself; it isn’t unlike the past Lone Wolf option, but with the new abilities, it feels entirely new. It’s unfair to bring Live into this, so taking the PS3’s online portion on its own merits amounts to a great start but with a few kinks to work out.
Overall: 8/10The PlayStation 3 Vegas is a decent port of a great game. For old-timers pining for the nerve-wracking days of one-shot kills, Vegas won’t do much. For those who have followed the series or are new to it, you will be treated to a fantastic title that sports a few rough edges alongside its neon lights and maniacal terrorists. In the end, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas is a standout title in the paltry PS3 library and a must for first-person shooter fans.