Sometimes, a very good game can seem like a disappointment simply because it's a less glitzy, half-step sequel to a great game. Rainbow Six Vegas 2 leaves new boy, Bishop (your playable character) in a bit of a bind. As this game is part prequel, part sequel, part concurrent game, you’re never visiting the same parts of the city as you did in the first outing. And this is where Vegas 2’s first problem rears its ugly head. Until the fifth level - and these are big levels - you never get within 50 feet of a casino. Not a whiff of neon. Not a whisper of coins rattling through slot machines. Just endless treks through generic warehouses and building sites. Sure, they’re nice-looking warehouses and building sites, but they could be anywhere in the world.
This might seem like an odd criticism, but if you’re buying a game called Rainbow Six Vegas 2, you’d expect a few of the famous landmarks to make it into the final product. It’s a shame the developer couldn’t leave Las Vegas, because the actual combat is on par with the mighty Call of Duty 4. In fact, when it comes to claustrophobic indoor gunplay, Vegas 2 actually trumps CoD4 thanks to its excellent cover mechanics. When Bishop pushes his back to the nearest piece of cover, the camera zooms out to third-person, leaving you with a view of what’s ahead and a number of options at your disposal. You can issue orders to your squad, let off a volley of blind-fire to kill off any terrorist dumb enough to rush you, or you can snap out and take a precision shot before returning to cover. There are few moments in gaming more satisfying than popping out from behind a door and pulling off a clinical headshot on one of Vegas’ many bad guys.
The combat system served the original game well, yet there have been subtle, but notable changes since. Mercifully, teammate AI has been considerably beefed up. Your buddies Michaels and Jung are now smart enough to realise that taking a shortcut through a room full of terrorists isn’t the smartest way to get from A to B - a massive issue we had with the original. Even more impressively, they’ll move to their destination by creeping from cover to cover, watching each other’s backs as they go, so there’s less chance of either ending up stranded in the middle of a room sucking up enemy bullets. It’s the most intelligent squad behaviour we’ve seen, and although this smart programming is somewhat wasted on a couple of personality-devoid meat-heads in a semi-sequel, it can only be a good thing for the future of the franchise.
You certainly notice a change in the game when your buddies aren’t around. One of the later levels has you stalking Alvarez, the terrorist honcho, through (yawn) an industrial plant next to the Clark County airstrip just outside Vegas. The stage is set entirely at night too, so you’re at the mercy of your night-vision, and in short it’s a bitch of a level to beat. Without its squad mechanics, Rainbow Six becomes a frustrating, run-of-the-mill shooter where you’re constantly at risk of being shot in the back or picked off by a sniper before you reach the next checkpoint. Long before you finish your little lone-wolfing session, you’ll be begging to hear Michaels whispering “Tango neutralized” in your ear.
Another more noticeable change is the integration of Rainbow Six’s multiplayer RPG-lite mechanics to the single-player game. When you first play the game you’re asked to create a custom character and kit them out with a variety of weapons and armour. Once you’ve custom-built your all-American hero, he (or she) is your character throughout both the single and multiplayer modes. This means that as you plow manfully through the main campaign, or the offline Terrorist Hunts, your character gains XP and levels up, unlocking new weapons, armour and clothing. On the plus side, this means that you don’t have to spend a handful of deeply frustrating weeks online shaking off your noob status and leveling up your character to get the best kit.
On the downside, this means that until you’ve completed the main game, your character won’t have snagged enough experience to unlock the majority of the guns. So, if you’re partial to the meatier assault rifles like the MTAR21 and the G3KA4, or the better sub-machine guns like the MAC11, you either have to pick them up from fallen enemies or keep on slotting terrorists until you’ve unlocked them. Newcomers probably won’t be too fazed by this, but long-time Rainbow Six players will feel a little aggrieved at having to spend hours with noticeably second-rate firearms.
Another slight twist to the RPG system is the introduction of ACES (Advanced Combat Enhancement & Specialisation). These three specialist classes reflect the sort of player you are, and as you level each one up according to the way you play, they reward you in kind. So, if you’re partial to picking off enemies from long range, or with headshots, you’ll level up your Marksman skills quicker and unlock more sniper rifles and long-range assault weapons. Conversely, if you like to see the white of your foe’s terrified eyes before making the kill, you’ll advance your close-quarters-combat specialisation and bag more shotguns. It works in theory, but can be annoying if you’re looking to add specific weapons to your armoury that require you to play out of character.
Aside from these minor changes, and the ability to equip a riot shield, the single player campaign remains largely the same as the original. In fact, some of the similarities smack of out and out laziness. The terrorist sound bites have been copied and pasted from the first game, and they were laughable to begin with. Do AK-47 toting insurgents really have conversations like: Grunt A: “Looks like we might have a situation.” Grunt B: “What kind of situation?” Grunt A: “The killing kind”? Similarly, we were rather hoping we wouldn’t have to spend another ten or so hours of our life with Jung and Michaels, our squad mates from the original, because they bring new meaning to the word ‘wooden’, but sadly, they’re major players in this sequel. They’ve even got some of the same god-awful lines.
Still, they’re marginally less irritating than certain members of the Rainbow Six online community. At least Jung doesn’t accuse you of being something offensive (insert any racial, ethnic, or sexual slur you like. We've heard 'em all) if you steal his kill. Multiplayer plays a massive part in this sequel, much like it did in the original Vegas. There are two new online game modes, bringing the grand total up to twelve, and you’ll have 13 maps to play them over. With the ability to level your character up now embedded in the single-player game, expect multiplayer sessions to be more balanced, but infinitely more brutal and unforgiving than before because everyone will be toting the finest guns within weeks of the game’s release.
Oddly, Ubisoft has taken the decision to reduce the number of players that can take part in online terrorist hunts to just two. In the last game, it was you and up to three buddies: now it’s you, a mate, and two AI squad mates controlled by the host. This bizarre move seems like foolish pride on the part of the developer (yes, we know your new friendly AI is great, but do we have to take it into multiplayer too?), and is the sort of thing that’s bound to upset the hardcore Clancy-ites. And that includes us, by the way.
All in all, though, the Rainbow Six experience has improved. A bit. The idea of having the custom-character system working across the entire game is a solid one, and the improvement in team-mate behaviour makes the single-player mode easier to digest. But Ubisoft is asking big favours of the Clancy community by demanding half a ton for this glorified expansion pack, especially as this game showcases the duller, more forgettable sides of Sin City.
This is still an imminently playable game, but the first Rainbow Six Vegas owned the Strip, setting future expectations very, very high. As good as it is, this sequel doesn't evolve enough to up the ante and put pressure on the other high rollers. Maybe it's time for Rainbow Six to step away from the craps table and the roulette wheel while it still has the Kevlar vest on its back.
Mar 18, 2008