Rainbow Six: Vegas
30th Nov 2006 | 12:22
Rainbow Six Vegas is all about steps. Some slow, some quick, but all must be learnt and understood if you're to survive the main story - and especially if you're going to manage to get past the first firefight in the near-suicidal run that is 'realistic' mode on the singleplayer campaign. But the first step is in understanding this is not a game about gung-ho behaviour. It is definitely not a game for the impatient.
The game style is in the same mould as Ghost Recon, with Ubisoft Montreal cutting another slice of strategic warfare, judiciously ladling in intense battles with the noticeable tang of a Hollywood blockbuster, while encasing all in the solid Observe, Plan and Assault system - a system that will govern your time in the original Sin City, Las Vegas.
The second step is in learning the rules of engagement. Being immersed in the tactical shooter realism that has been the series hallmark since day one, means the learning curve entails dying. you will need to get used to shuffling off the mortal coil with regularity as you edge closer to the underlining principle of Rainbow Six which states that a single bullet can stand between you and success.
A 'normal' mode allows you a few mistakes before biting the proverbial bullet, but for the first few scenarios you'll be swearing at screen and controller as you snuff it and have to readjust your thinking.
Sounds like hard work? That's because, for a while at least, it is - as you learn the intricacies of the OPA. No matter how broad the strokes get as the threat level escalates, your response will always fall back on this central game mechanic.
Observing an area beforehand, planning exactly how your team is going to enter is the theory, while the assault is the practical, proving whether you were right with a lightning-quick takedown of terrorists, or wrong - resulting in a protracted firefight and withdrawal.
You'll learn, slowly, the flow and ebb of battle, when and where exactly you need to perform live-saving actions; usually through making a complete pig's mess of it the first time round. Miscue a weapon reload mid-firefight and you're easy prey. Mis-step a room entry and it'll lead to a grenade in your face. Misjudge orders to your teammates and they'll die and most probably you'll follow soon after.
All these things will happen within those first few hours and it'd take only a handful of times staring at the Game Over screen before newbies drop the game quicker than quarters into a slot machine.
But instead, take a breath, hit reload and prepare for that hard-earned next step. Because when you eventually do pull off that successful run through, it makes the previous hardship worthwhile. The intense difficulty curve may be off-putting, but it does make the buzz from stopping a live execution or reuniting a mother and child all the sweeter.
It's in these moments that the grand scheme of Rainbow Six Vegas clicks into place; you start moving, acting and organising your plans of attack as if you were trained by the SAS. But it still doesn't stop you from dying; room layouts grow in complexity, as the game shifts from two-entry block rooms to a four-storey hotel lobby with escalators, stairwells, multiple rooms and terrorists on each floor. It's a logistical nightmare, but keeps your mind mostly diverted from a few uncomfortable truths.
Mostly. Because when you shift from reserved rookie to confident commander on the battlefield, you brain isn't dedicated to surviving and you start taking in the sights and sounds around you. It starts off well enough - the Unreal 3 Engine proving its worth in every neon sign and billboard, bringing the Las Vegas experience direct to your living room.
You'll forget helicopter briefings to stare down at the Bellagio Casino's fountain show, and forget hunting terrorists to shoot every one-armed bandit just so it'll cough up its contents, showering you with a hail of quarters. Ubisoft Montreal has made a £1,000 plane ticket seem invalid; why fly halfway around the world for fifteen hours straight when spending £50 quid and an afternoon can bring the Vegas experience to your living room in all its Casino Royale glory?
But then your wide-eyed perceptions shift to your enemy as a flanking manoeuvre catches you unawares. It overwhelms you at first and you'll panic, sweeping your gaze in every direction, forgetting your tactical map for fear of a terrorist sneaking up behind.
But once that worry abates - to be replaced with cool-headed thinking - you're left with the nagging suspicion that they're just not as smart as you want to believe. This partly comes down to the trialby- fire the developer has put you through in the game's opening levels. You've literally learned to move as quickly and efficiently as a Special Ops agent.
Great though the OPA is, there are times that you see the entire game as embodying those same three repetitive actions - a notion not lost on the developer, who bombards set-pieces and story twists along the road to stop you lingering.
Don't expect the huge plot shocks of your average 24 episode; the game plays out more like Die Hard, while interplay between Logan Keller and the terrorist leader is firmly in the Hollywood territory of script-writing - but during your first tour of duty, it's easy to get hooked into the mounting tension as Las Vegas visibly becomes a city under siege.
A second run through threatens to dislodge your belief that this was worth every penny of the £50 you spent; it's a question of longevity and replayability.
First time through will probably have you clocking the game in around 12 hours. Once the rooms and enemy movements have been memorised and the in-game storyline ignored as you race through, you could almost cut that time in half, if you become proficient at headshots. Lucky then, that Ubisoft Montreal have served up a dessert of the finest multiplayer around.
You've already heard of the Persistent Elite Creation 2.0 system, in which you kit out an in-game avatar with your face via the Xbox Live Vision Camera. The results are stunning and give a new edge to death matches; friends can now be recognised by sight and downing a familiar face is always more satisfying than a standard avatar.
Maps on offer are a good mix of single-player areas and special multiplayer areas, throwing in a few redesigned classics that'll have series veterans remembering old war stories. The layouts gallop you towards quick paced tactical manoeuvres, meaning there's little chance for campers sitting back, keeping everyone on their toes.
The multiplayer has been designed to last, and players will be practising their OPAs long after Vegas has been saved. Overall, the slick package manages to override problems with the single-player, and while the nails shoot-outs won't see this on everyone's must-buy list, Ubisoft's run of creating stunning showcases for the Xbox 360 remains unbroken. This is one gamble we think you should take - it might be the smartest money you've bet all year