Less than a year ago, Ubisoft successfully brought the Rainbow Six series of realistic tactical shooters to the Xbox with Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3. The game was so successful, in fact, that it's already begotten a sequel of sorts in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, a follow-up that offers a hefty amount of new content without any major changes to the gameplay. Black Arrow will be instantly appealing to anybody who enjoyed the original game, since it includes a slew of new maps, a few new weapons and multiplayer modes, and some other slight refinements. And since the game is built on such a winning and accessible formula, it makes a great place to start for newcomers, too.
Black Arrow is packed full of the same fast-paced, tactical gameplay that made Rainbow Six 3 so great.
If you have played Rainbow Six 3 for any length of time, you can skip to the next page to proceed to what's new. For the uninitiated, Black Arrow (like its precursor) puts you in the shoes of Domingo "Ding" Chavez, a longtime Tom Clancy character and the leader of the crack antiterrorist force Team Rainbow. Along with your international squadmates Eddie Price, Louis Loiselle, and Dieter Weber, you'll be tasked with creeping your way through a linear progression of missions that are located in hotspots around the world. You're basically tasked with taking out terrorists, defusing bombs, rescuing hostages, and generally fighting the good fight against the forces of evil.
Black Arrow features an all-new single-player campaign composed of 10 new maps, which are set in a mixture of everyday environments (a subway, a hotel, the streets of Milan) and industrial or military installations (a nuclear reactor, a rocket facility). These maps are well crafted in essentially the same style as those of the previous game, with tight corridors, wide-open spaces, and, most importantly, lots of cover for both you and the bad guys to hide behind.
The single-player portion of Black Arrow, like Rainbow Six 3 before it, is as much about telling your teammates how, when, and where to shoot the terrorists as it is about you shooting them yourself. The designers of the original game devised an elegant method of issuing commands, despite the limitations of the Xbox controller, and that method is identical here. Essentially, you can give the most basic, context-sensitive commands by simply pointing and tapping a button. For instance, if you want your team to move to a certain position, you just aim your crosshairs at that location, hit the button, and away they go. Your teammates will also do a fairly good job of defending themselves should they be assaulted by enemies; however, as in Rainbow Six 3, both your allies and your opponents will sometimes act in less-than-intelligent fashions, which can include sometimes running straight into opposing fire. Nevertheless, most of the game's shoot-outs that involve computer-controlled characters play out quite believably.
There's more to squad management than point-and-click, however. More-complex commands can be given by holding down the same button, which pops up a menu that can be used, in conjunction with the directional pad, to have your team do things like breach a locked door so that the room can be cleared of hostiles. Issuing one of these orders "on zulu" will let you have the team ready itself to execute the action on command so that you can have them go in one direction while you try to flank the enemy from another. As in the previous game, you can optionally use an Xbox Live headset to verbally give your teammates commands, which is (obviously) much more hands-free than using the controller. This scheme does work pretty well, as far as voice recognition goes. As action-oriented as Black Arrow is, it's also a surprisingly complex and rewarding tactical experience, since the careful consideration and execution of your orders will get you through a given situation much more smoothly than simply running in, guns ablaze. In fact, this will usually get you killed.
The game's missions expertly blend strategy with run-and-gun action.
Even though you can have your team do the majority of the work, you'll want to do plenty of the shooting yourself--because, hey, that's the fun part. You'll get to choose your weapons and equipment loadout before a mission starts, drawing from a large assortment of rifles, sidearms, grenades, and so on. All of these are real-world weapons, and most of them return from the previous game, with a few notable exceptions. The deadly .50-caliber rifle that many players felt dominated Rainbow Six 3's multiplayer modes has been removed. In its place are two more-standard (and more-sensible) sniper rifles: the Dragunov and the PSG-1. You'll get a basic briefing before each mission that will detail your objectives and help you tailor your weapons selection to the situation, although sometimes it's easier to try the mission out once to see exactly what you need before going back to pick new armament.
The actual shooting action in the game is identical to Rainbow Six 3's, which had a truly excellent feel to it. In fact, Black Arrow owes everything--from the sounds of its guns, to its accurate models, to its solid game controls, to its subtle implementation of rag-doll physics (which make enemies drop in heaps when hit by well-aimed shots)--to its predecessor. One of the best and most unique features of both games' shooting interfaces involves the targeting reticle, which (contrary to other such games) actually gets bigger as your precision increases, such as when you're standing still, crouched, or looking down your weapon's sights. This gives you a tangible perception of where to aim to hit an enemy, since anyone that falls inside the circle will take a hit. It's a minor innovation that really helps to enhance the action in the game, especially since controlling a first-person view with a thumbstick is sometimes an imprecise affair, made all the more so by unclearly implemented auto-aim systems.
The core 10-mission, single-player campaign in Black Arrow is solid and well built. The missions also pack replay value in that you can revisit them with different weapons and at different difficulty settings to make for a challenging and tense shoot-out each time. But the single-player options are only the beginning of what the game has to offer. Rainbow Six 3 had a similar campaign that was just as good, but what really kept players coming back for months afterward was the game's superb Xbox Live support, which has been at least matched, if not exceeded, in Black Arrow.