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Written by Starfox   
Tuesday, 18 March 2008 18:00
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Complete title:
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas
Suggested Secondary title:
How to dumb down a franchise in 1 lesson
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Average Price (at review time): $20
No demo available
Official Site (somehow, this is in fact the site of Vegas 2 but since the two games form only one story...)

ESRB Mature 17+ (Blood, Intense Violence, Strong language, Suggestive themes)
PEGI 16+ (Strong Violence, Bad language)


Tom Clancy's name is definitely very prolific when it comes to video game franchises, especially of the "tactical" kind. Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six are probably the best known. Today, we gather to study the special case of Rainbow Six: Vegas (and it's not my fault if we are just a few weeks away from the PC release of Vegas 2). That happens.

Once upon a time, there were two gaming franchises that were highly praised because of their particular emphasis on tactical gameplay, SWAT and Rainbow Six. Guess what, SWAT is the only one remaining. It's funny how some game franchises -- however well established -- can become suddenly so inadequate to the eyes of greedy publishers that they enjoy the simple perspective to strip out all the features that made the franchise so particular and to replace them with some trigger-happy gameplay that has just the effect to turn the game into just another shooter.

Of course the new console "target" of the franchise didn't help since most of the dumbing down was because the game had to be translated to a system that can only be used with a 10 buttons gamepad. Is it really that bad? Well that depend on what you expect of a Rainbow Six game. That is, if you're new to the franchise you might find the game quite tactical with some appropriate options while long time fans of the series will probably be disgusted by the lack of options.



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But what is Rainbow anyway?

For those who missed the previous games and didn't bother about reading Tom Clancy's book titled... well, Rainbow Six, let me introduce you to Rainbow. Rainbow is a special multinational unit of paramilitary forces trained for only one purpose: to fight the terrorist threat across the world and with just about always the same result: the death of any terrorist caught into their line of fire. The home base of Rainbow is in Hereford, England (the same as for the British SAS) and they don't really respond to any government in particular. As a matter of fact, the existence of the unit itself is supposed to be a well sealed secret with just a few guys being up to date within the governments concerned. Rainbow operates on a per situation basis and they need the approval of a country government before going on the field, approval which is generally given as soon as the government of a country assess that their own police or special forces can't handle a particular terrorist situation. Rainbow is composed of two similar squads, Alpha and Bravo to give a 24 hours/7 days operational capability.

At least not everything is completely lost

Well, the simplification of the franchise had at least one interesting result: to give more depth to the storyline. See, the Rainbow Six series always had a little weakness in this area since the abrupt breaks between two missions and the lack of character development (you seriously had to read Tom Clancy's book to know who the characters within the game were) didn't really help the flow of the story and more often than not one just had the impression to be in a "tactical" version of Unreal Tournament. In Vegas these breaks are no more and there are no cut-scenes either, the static preparation screens between missions having been replaced by in game helicopter flights during which the player still find himself within the story as the playable character. The rare cut-scenes still existing are played through video feeds on the HUD. That greatly increases the dynamic of the story telling and one can be only happy for that.

Unfortunately, this is one of the very few good sides of the new Rainbow Six wardrobe, at least for those who appreciated all the tactical options stuffed into the franchise until then.

 

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Unlike the previous games, Vegas delivers some insights about the playable character and NPCs. Logan Keller (USA) is a former Delta team member who's been re-affected to the Rainbow unit to act as a squad leader (it is to be noted that Domingo Chavez became "Six" -- the Rainbow unit leader -- while the whereabouts of the former Six -- John Clarke -- are not explained). This is the first mission that Logan conducts as a team leader and him and his fellow squad mates Gabriel Nowak (Poland) and Kan Akahashi (Japan) are heading to the border town of San Joshua del Mosquiera in Mexico to arrest a terrorist leader named Irena Morales. Like all the missions in the game, this one begins in the Rainbow unit helicopter (Aerospatiale Dolphin -- France), in which Logan receives the mission brief from Joanna Torres (Canada), Rainbow unit Intelligence Officer. The helicopter is also one (but not the only) occasion to fill up on ammo and to change the playable character weapons load-out (unlike the previous Rainbow titles squad mates weaponry cannot be changed).

As they arrive to the dropping zone, Logan fast rope to the ground just before the helicopter is targeted by a RPG. Unable to drop Gabe and Kan, the helicopter pilot (Brody Kugin -- Russia) switches to the alternate dropping zone, leaving Logan alone. Of course, this is a good excuse so the player can learn the new basics of Rainbow Six: Vegas gameplay without having to bother about team management. But well, the team management has been so dumbed down that it's unlikely players will really have to bother too much about it at any point anyway.

 

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After a few tutorial loops to jump through (they're well integrated so don't distract too much), Logan regroups with his team which gives players the occasion to learn the rest of the gameplay features. Then all three happily proceed to their objective. The capture of Irena Morales appears easy... Too easy. And as a matter of fact, it was a trap. She knows their names, the knows about the secret unit Rainbow, she knows a lot of things that she isn't supposed to know. Big explosion; Logan finds himself buried under the rubbles while Gabe and Kan are captured. All his equipment and weapons (except for his handgun) stolen by a terrorist who believed he was dead, Logan immediately decides to pursue Irena and to rescue his team mates. Unfortunately everyone vanishes and Logan has no choice but to return to the helicopter only to learn from Chavez (Rainbow Six) that he is ordered to Las Vegas immediately were a "horde" of terrorists (no joke, they're really a horde and even more) took control of some key locations. Logan sees his request to go pursue Irena rejected but Chavez informs him that the troubles in Vegas and Irena appear to be connected.

So here's Logan flying to Sin City to join up with two other Rainbow team mates, Jung Park and Michael Walters. Additionally to their inherent combat skills as members of Rainbow, the Korean Jung is expert in computers and hacking while the British Michael is rather specialized in all kind of things that go "boom". These two teammates are the ones who will backup the player during the remaining of the game.

And this was the story introduction. All in all Rainbow Six: Vegas story is not overwhelmingly complicated but is interesting and offers some welcomed twists. And once again, the way it is told within the game represent a tremendous leap forward for the franchise, as far as the story is concerned. Alas, it also follows the current trend of gaming which is "You won't know anything else until the next game" which unlike Crysis is confirmed at the end of the "episode" with a black screen and the words "To be continued..."

 

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A gameplay quite... Well, a gameplay at any rate

Let me see... Summing up most of the gameplay in a few words is fairly easy: take cover, shoot, dodge grenade... shoot, take cover, dodge grenade... dodge grenade, take cover, shoot and launch the occasional grenade for a change because hey, you have some of those too even though the "so called" terrorists seem much better equipped than the player in this area. In fact they seem much better equipped than the player in just about any area. And they are not just a bunch, no. There is a whole battalion of these guys. Just thinking that the USA would just let so many A-gear equipped bozos like these approaching Vegas is hilarious in the first place. I mean they are so armed to the teeth that they would make all the metal detectors of an airport start ringing just by standing two miles away from it. That certainly allows the player to get a new grip on the terrorist threat.

So what's tactical about the gameplay? Not much. Compared to the last Rainbow Six game, one can forget all together: the multiple teams (red, green, gold) allowing to proceed through different entry points to caught the terrorists by surprise, the map planner that allowed to determine point by point the route of each team and their actions, the helmet mounted cameras that allowed to follow the progress of the different teams, and one can also forget about the over complicated command menu that allowed to micro-manage the teams on the field... Well, in fact as soon as Ubisoft decided to remove the multiple teams factor and to focus on only one playable character, the rest was easy to evacuate as well. No need for the map planner, no need for the cameras nor for the command menu... no need for any refinement. Hell, who need all that stuff anyway?

So what remains? Well, just the basic. You can still order your team members (they are two with you) in assault or in infiltration mode. You can still tell them to equip silencers or not and you still have the possibility to somewhat move them around (more precisely hit the space bar and they will go where your cursor is aiming or they will stack in front of a door if you target one... and that's it), make them hold or fall back on you. You can also order them to open doors in different ways (depending on the Rules Of Engagement in use). "Breach and Clear" or "frag and clear" when in assault mode or "bang and clear" and "smoke and clear" when in infiltration mode. "Open and clear" is valid whatever the mode is. The player also has a "snake" cam that can be slipped under doors to see what is on the other side (à la Splinter Cell or SWAT 4) to give some tactical advantage.

 

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New feature introduced in Vegas? Taking cover. Well, this feature is nice, I won't argue, and give even more dynamic to the gameplay. In the game you can switch to cover mode (à la Gears Of War I guess, even though I didn't play this last title) behind just about any element of the scenery, the corner of a wall, a car, a dumpster, a crate... The game is first-person perspective but as soon as one take cover, one switch to third-person perspective. Then one can slide on one border or even the top of the "cover" to return fire. One can even "strafe" -- shooting without aiming -- which offers the best protection while greatly decreasing the accuracy. If players want to survive Vegas, they'll have to use covers a lot... In fact at any available occasion. Remaining for too long out of cover at any point is a very bad idea. The team mates take cover too and they don't even need to be ordered to do so. They also act accordingly to what a military trained anti-terrorist unit is supposed to do which means that for once they never wander into your line of fire, unless you instruct them to do so and they never run in plain sight right under the enemy nose to get stupidly shot at, there again unless you instruct them to do so.

All in all the gameplay was entirely revised to bring more action to the game and less thinking. "Console" anyone? I wouldn't say that Vegas gameplay is necessarily bad, I would just say that it is vastly different of what the fans of the Rainbow Six series were used to, up to the point that Ubisoft could have forgotten the "Rainbow Six" part and just call that "Happy Frag" or whatever name that would have set the title apart from the franchise (with the appropriate storyline changes of course). But then, what would have been the profit in there? I mean, they wouldn't drop Tom Clancy altogether, would they? The guy's name only is a sales insurance.

 

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