Fans of the Rainbow Six games for the PC have had every reason of late to be bitter. The popular tactical shooter franchise originally began on the PC and offered up the first realistic tactical shooting action around. However, over the past few years Rainbow Six fully migrated to the various consoles, and the hardcore, realistic action was watered down quite a bit. So there will be a tendency by PC fans to want to ignore Rainbow Six Vegas, which would be a mistake. Yes, Rainbow Six Vegas is essentially a direct port of an Xbox 360 game, but Ubisoft has done an incredible job of reinvigorating Rainbow Six. The gameplay has been refreshed and reinvented, and Rainbow Six Vegas offers up some of the best tactical shooting action on the PC.
You'll go from the slums of Mexico to the glittering casinos of Las Vegas in this intense tactical shooter.
First, the PC version is almost exactly the same as the Xbox 360 version. Instead of taking the path that it used for Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, where the PC and Xbox 360 versions featured completely different games, Ubisoft must have figured that it had something special with the Xbox 360 version and wisely decided to deliver that same experience to the PC. Thus, the single-player campaign is exactly the same, and the multiplayer features almost all the functionality of the Xbox 360 version.
In the campaign, you play as Logan Keller, the leader of one of Rainbow's elite three-man counterterrorist assault teams who is called into action after an operation in Mexico goes bad and, for some reason, the terrorists strike the casinos and high-rise hotels of Las Vegas. Your job is to stop them and ascertain their intentions, which involves the standard McGuffin device that will kill millions and a secret military base hidden inside a massive hydroelectric dam. The story borrows a few too many plot twists seen in other Ubisoft games, namely the excellent Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, and the lack of a satisfying resolution also makes the plot feel like a paper-thin reason to battle an army of terrorists in Las Vegas, of all places; but we're willing to overlook it, because the combat in Rainbow Six Vegas is simply excellent.
In Rainbow Six Vegas, slabs of concrete are your best friend, along with the edges of doorways, slot machines, the sides of SUVs, and pretty much anything else solid that you can put between yourself and the enemy. The controls translate fairly elegantly to the PC's mouse and keyboard. By moving up to those objects and holding down the right mouse button, you can "hug" the cover and then poke your body out from the sides or the top to shoot at the enemy before ducking down again. Or, if you're under heavy fire, you can poke your rifle around the corner and fire blindly to keep the bad guys at bay. The game seamlessly transitions from first-person to third-person perspective when you do, so you get a very cinematic effect of watching yourself huddle behind cover while bullets impact around you.
If you're in trouble you can blind-fire around corners to keep the bad guys at bay.
You don't fight alone in Rainbow Six Vegas, either; you're usually accompanied by your two teammates. The artificial intelligence does a great job of controlling these agents as they follow you. Pathfinding, for instance, is very rarely a problem, as they can navigate the cluttered environment effectively, and they use cover just as well as you do. Controlling your teammates is simple, too. By simply pointing at a spot on the ground and tapping the space bar, you can tell them to move to that position. Point at a door and hit the space bar, and they'll "stack up" to it, or get into position to clear the room. Tapping on the Alt key tells them to either hold place or fall in behind you. In fact, the controls for the game in general are pretty intuitive and simple, and we found it effortless to do complex tasks such as snaking a flexible camera under a door, calling out the targets inside to our team, and then executing a simultaneous takedown from two different angles.
What also promotes Rainbow Six Vegas over its predecessors is the sensation that you're really playing as an elite commando. In a page or two borrowed from Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, you can play in a highly mobile and agile manner. You can quickly rope out of a helicopter onto the top floor of a skyscraper, run over to the side, and leap over the edge on a rappel line, all in a few seconds. While on the rappel line you can hang upside down, lower yourself far enough to see into the target room, then call out the location of the terrorists inside. Then, on your command, your team will burst through the window and clear the room. This isn't just a mere gimmick, either, as the levels are designed so that most rooms have multiple points of entry, so you can determine your takedown strategy for each one. Admittedly, one of the contrivances in the game is that bad guys in a neighboring room seem unaware of all the gunfire and explosions going on down the hall, but at least this lets you execute textbook takedown after takedown throughout a level.
On the normal difficulty level, Rainbow Six Vegas is a moderately challenging game, though it's fairly forgiving thanks to the fact that you can absorb a fair amount of damage before you die. Rainbow Six Vegas uses a regenerating health system, so there are no health packs or health meters to worry about. Instead, when you take damage your vision begins to blur, and if you take too much damage you die. However, if you manage to find cover and avoid getting shot for a few seconds, your vision begins to clear and you'll be back at full health. This lowers the frustration level considerably, as you don't have to worry about rationing the health meter like you did in this year's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.
Another cool element is the feeling that you're a highly mobile commando, capable of rappelling into danger on a moment's notice.
However, if you ratchet up the difficulty setting to "realistic," Rainbow Six Vegas becomes an incredibly tense and difficult experience--in a good way. In realistic mode, the amount of damage you can absorb before you die is much lower than in normal mode, and this makes you really rely on using real-world tactics and playing a lot more conservatively (and, well, realistically). For instance, instead of charging across an open area like you might on normal difficulty, you'll probably want to pop a smoke grenade to provide concealment; otherwise, you'll get cut down before you get halfway to your destination. Realistic mode will result in you dying a lot, but when you do, you'll realize more often than not that it's because you did something stupid, which means you get to learn from your mistakes and be smarter for it.