The total conquest and retrieval modes add considerable depth to Black Arrow's already substantial multiplayer offering.
For starters, there's a slew of multiplayer maps, many of which are new (though a few return from the previous game). Last time around, there was already a bevy of competitive and cooperative multiplayer gameplay modes on offer, all of which return here. Mission mode simply has you playing the same missions from the single-player game but with other players, while terrorist hunt uses the same maps but tasks you with simply killing all the terrorists and not worrying about other goals. These two modes are quite a bit of fun, because it can be especially rewarding to work together as a team against artificially intelligent baddies--especially with real-time voice communication over the headset.
Among the returning competitive multiplayer modes are survival and team survival, where everyone fights it out to see who can stay alive the longest. In addition, there's a sharpshooter mode, which is essentially the game's deathmatch mode. However, Black Arrow really ups the competitive ante with two substantial new modes: total conquest and retrieval. Total conquest already appears to be emerging as the fan favorite, because it's a team-based mode in which both sides vie for control of three satellite transmitter stations that are scattered around the map. To control one, you have to run up and claim it for a few seconds and then defend it from attackers. Victory is based on one team controlling all three points for a set amount of time. The retrieval mode is similar to the standard capture the flag of many other games, with one notable difference: there's only one flag (actually, in this case it's a biohazard canister). Each team will race to secure the canister from a point on the map, and then it will run the canister back to its own disposal site to score a point, all while fending off opposing forces. Both of these new modes gives you more depth than the previous game, and both represent very welcome additions to Black Arrow's multiplayer loadout.
It shouldn't be hard to find a game online, either. There were plenty of sessions to try out online as of the very day the game was released. Many of these featured the new team conquest and retrieval game types, so it seems as though dedicated fans of Rainbow Six 3 are taking to the new modes quickly. It's worth noting that many of the games we encountered were being run by hardcore players affiliated with competitive Rainbow Six 3 clans, so our presence (as a potential newbie) was not always desired. So you may want to ally yourself with an existing group of players if you want to make sure you always have someone to play with or against. Fortunately, Black Arrow makes this easier than ever, since it's one of the first games to support Xbox Live 3.0 features. You'll easily be able to send and receive messages (both text and voice), keep track of the last two dozen players you played with, form your own squad, or simply look for others who are currently recruiting. It's safe to say that Black Arrow has one of the most complete multiplayer implementations--at least from an interface standpoint--that we've seen in a console game.
As if all that weren't enough, Black Arrow has a feature that was found in the PS2 and GameCube ports of Rainbow Six 3 but not in the Xbox original: split-screen cooperative support. You and another player can negotiate any of the single-player missions as a two-man team, which is about as straightforward a process as you would expect. There aren't any serious performance hits here either, which is nice. You don't get to see your weapon models and the detail seems reduced a tad, but otherwise it's basically the same experience. The split-screen support is a welcomed alternative to system link if you only have one copy of the game and want to try a little cooperative play with a friend. Don't expect to be able to play cooperatively online, though.
When Rainbow Six 3 came out late last year, it looked great on the Xbox. In turn, the easiest way to describe Black Arrow's graphics is to say that they're, well, pretty much identical. That is to say, the scenery is different, but the quality is pretty much equivalent. Your squadmates will look pretty familiar, because they're still here in all their highly detailed glory. Additionally, the maps are clean and functional, with a reasonable number of set pieces and some nice effects (like curtains blowing in the wind) to enhance the realism. Graphical standards have been raised on the Xbox since Rainbow Six 3 was released, but even next to better-looking games on the same system, Black Arrow still looks quite impressive. And the weapon models still stand out as some of the best in the business.
Though visually similar to its predecessor, Black Arrow is still a great-looking game.
The audio also remains basically unchanged from the previous game, so you'll hear all of the same gunfire and Team Rainbow voice samples that you're familiar with. But these were terrific in Rainbow Six 3, so Ubisoft essentially hasn't messed with success. The guns are really worth mentioning, since they sound highly realistic and pack a serious punch, which is only enhanced if you use a 5.1 home theater setup. Just as powerful are some of the game's grenades. In fact, you'll seriously jump when one goes off unexpectedly in your face. There's little music to speak of (except for some stirring militaristic melodies in the menus), because the sounds of combat are all the score this game needs. Aside from this, the in-game voice work is well done and helps to set the tone of the missions.
All around, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow is a great package that builds on the framework that was laid out by the original game. The worst thing you can say about this release is that it's essentially the same game as Rainbow Six 3, but since its predecessor was exceptional, is that really such a bad thing? Black Arrow retails for less than most new Xbox games, thus making it a good value for fans of Rainbow Six 3 who want to get more of what they loved the first time around. It's also one of the most complete online-enabled console shooters around.