It's pretty easy to imagine that plenty of eyes rolled when Ubisoft revealed that the next game in the Rainbow Six franchise was going to be set in Las Vegas. It sounded like a move that only the creatively bankrupt would undertake, and the Rainbow franchise is certainly getting up there in terms of years. It also seemed kind of fitting, since Vegas is where all the washed up entertainers eventually wind up. Well, any such notions are a big mistake, because this new Rainbow Six is like the new Las Vegas. It's refreshed, reinvented, and ready to take on the world, and it's also one of the best tactical shooters on the Xbox 360 to date.
You'll go from the slums of Mexico to the glittering casinos of Las Vegas in this intense tactical shooter.
In Rainbow Six Vegas, 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 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 it's easy to overlook because the combat in Rainbow Six Vegas is simply excellent.
What elevates this chapter of Rainbow Six is the cutthroat tactical combat, which is far above anything seen in the series. The combat elevates the action for shooters in general, but Rainbow Six Vegas happens to arrive on the heels of the superb Gears of War, and it's eerie just how similar the combat systems in both games are. It's hard to say that one cribbed from the other, since both games were in development at the same time, but it's easy to get the feeling that the maturation of tactical combat is an idea whose time has finally come, and the result is a lot of intense action as you scramble for cover from all the bullets headed your way.
In Rainbow Six Vegas, just like in Gears of War, slabs of concrete are your best friend, along with the edges of doorways, slot machines, the side of an SUV, and pretty much anything else solid that you can put between yourself and the enemy. By moving up to those objects and holding down the left trigger, 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 get behind cover, so you get a very cinematic effect of watching yourself huddle 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 A button, you can tell them to move to that position. Point at a door and hit A, and they'll "stack up" to it, or get into position to clear the room. Hitting down on the D pad 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. For instance, these new Rainbow agents borrow a page or two from Splinter Cell's Sam Fisher, and 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 the same kind of health system found in Gears of War and other shooters, 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.