When I was a young lad, I used to accompany my parents on their semi-annual trips to Las Vegas. Too young to be interested in--or even aware of--the more "colorful" aspects of Vegas, but old enough for some degree of independence, I was allowed to wander freely the downtown area while my folks plied the slots. Like many young boys of my generation, I enjoyed building model aircraft and armor, and I often fantasized about high-tech commando battles in and around the neon-bathed streets and casinos.
Those memories of Vegas--back when the Strip was controlled by the Mob and before Fremont St. became hermetically sealed--came rushing back as I started playing Rainbox Six: Vegas, the latest (and possibly best) entry in the long-running Tom Clancy franchise. By my count, this game is an almost-impossible-to-believe eleventh chapter in the Rainbow Six story (and that's counting only PC incarnations). Along with Gears of War, R6 Vegas is one of the best tactical squad shooters of the year for the xBox 360.
Like all of the R6 titles, Vegas is a squad-based, 3rd-person tactical action game in which you directly control your character and give orders to two squadmates. Far from being the generic game this description implies, R6 Vegas is one of the graphically richest and most tactically ambitious entries in the series. In addition to the eye-popping Las Vegas setting, a wealth of new tactical options, some great detail, and enjoyable pacing, R6 Vegas brings back a load of tension and a lot of fun to the somewhat stale franchise.
Before moving to its Vegas setting, the game runs through a set of missions in a Mexican border town. These do a near-perfect job of introducing the gameplay mechanics and myriad of weapons and tactics, as well as setting up the backstory for the Las Vegas chapters. Painted in shades of dusty brown and grey, the washed-out colors of the Mexican city and abandoned mines hardly prepare the eye for what is to come.
New in R6 Vegas--and coincidentally appearing in Gears of War--is the ability (using the left trigger; right mouse button on the PC) to find cover and shoot blindly, or peek out and aim more precisely. I actually think the cover mechanic is implemented better and more fluidly in this game; it is certainly the most important tactic in surviving the experience. Levels and battles are designed around the player finding--and then losing--cover. Like all Rainbow Six titles, weapons look and sound (and presumably, behave) like their real-world models. Spread throughout the game are weapons and supply caches where you can restock; you can also pick up weapons from fallen enemies. Now, there is, early on, one of the most-loathed mission types: "lose all your weapons and gear (save for a pistol), and start all over." Happily, you can shoot an enemy within seconds and grab his shotgun, but you have to finish the act sans grenades, silencer, etc.
Once in Vegas, the team is sent on a series of missions--infiltrate, hostage rescue, assassination, etc--tied to a somewhat unbelievable (though entertaining) storyline that I won't spoil here, having to do with Terrorists and a Superweapon...and if you didn't see that coming, I have some Florida land I'd like to sell you. The player will explore and fight through many instantly recognizable landmarks...although real-world names had to be changed.
Friendly AI is pretty good--teammates rarely get themselves killed, and if your squadmates are wounded (and you can get to them), you can heal them. If you can't and they die: mission over. And oddly, they can't seem to heal you. I was a little surprised that enemy A.I. didn't use flanking tactics a little more often, especially in hallway labyrinths. Baddies tend to hang back, find cover, and wait you out, and they do listen for you to re-load so they can attack when you're exposed and unable to fire. While much of the enemy behavior is scripted, there is certainly enough that happens real-time so that any replay will be an essentially unique experience.
I'm reviewing the game on the Xbox 360, so games are saved at checkpoints. Now and again, I was frustrated by some extra-long stretches between save points, meaning very long and multiple re-tries. A save-anywhere system would have been appreciated, especially as the game is built around a "one shot, you're dead" philosophy. I assume the PC version will allow the player to save more liberally.
Rainbow Six Vegas looks great, easily on par with Call of Duty 3 and only slightly below the visual richness of Gears of War. Textures are detailed and lighting is very effective and the framerates are smooth despite the graphical splendor (there are some pretty long initial loadtimes, however). While much of the environment is destructible and movable, I was sorry that I couldn't, for instance, shoot out electric lights to provide cover or roll barrels of explosives towards and enemy and ignite them. There are little problems with clipping as you move past--or through!--objects like crates or pallets. The figures are amazingly detailed and move very realistically; mocap was obviously done well.
Sound and Music
As noted, the weapons sound great, the voice acting is good--though really, in this type of game, where most situations result in dialogue that is terse and clipped, a lot of personality isn't an issue. Ambient environmental sounds are superb and well positioned in space which is important when you're playing a game that depends on listening for an appropaching enemy.
The music in the game is very much a background element and rarely noticeable. Whether it's moody, muted Latin jazz in the Mexican levels or Muzak in the casinos, the music adds to the mood but I wish it had been featured a little more prominently, especially in the music-rich Vegas environments.
Multiplayer in Rainbow Six Vegas can be a lot of fun or a pain in the ass depending on your playstyle and skill. There are six adversarial modes to choose from; four of them are team based and two modes are for solo players. As in previous R6 games, the multiplayer "sharpshooter" mode allows respawns, while the "survival" mode does not. Additionally, you can play through the game cooperatively or join a team in fighting a squad of AI enemies.
My time on the multiplayer side has been sort of a let down, mostly having to do with Xbox Live and its population of players (I confess the same disappointment when playing most shooters on Live). As a more mature (i.e. old) gamer, I get tired of not just the profanity laden-smack talk, but also the overall immaturity of the community. Most times, I toss the headphones aside and ignore it but that's hard to do in a team-based game. I also had problems with lag--sometimes pretty severe--in most games I played. I'm looking forward to trying multiplayer in the PC version.
Between Rainbox Six Vegas, Gears of War, and Call of Duty 3, action and shooter fans are going to a happy winter season on the Xbox 360. The original Rainbox Six spawned the realistic, tactical shooter genre and Vegas might be the best entry in the series since the premiere game. The graphics hit the jackpot, the new cover mechanic is implemented fantastically well, and the setting provides a lot of color and tactical opportunities. A rich multiplayer suite rounds out a game that already has a lot of replayability. Whether you play it on the xBox 360, the PC or the PS3, you don't want to miss this trip to Vegas. You can't lose.