Rainbow Six: Vegas Review - 16/02/07

The Rainbow Six franchise has faltered in recent years as a result of the disappointing Lockdown and Critical Hour instalments, leading many to believe that the series was on its last legs. But that was before we were treated to the genuinely stunning Vegas, the fifth original game in the series and the debut of Rainbow Six on a next-gen platform.

It seemed as though the franchise had lost its way, with a distinct absence of what made the series so revolutionary being the most common complaint directed against it. Ubisoft took this abundance of rampant criticism very seriously indeed, and for Vegas, several significant changes have been made. Firstly, Ubisoft’s Montréal division were put back in control of the game’s development, in an effort to restore the tactical gameplay that had once made Rainbow Six a resounding success. Vegas also sees the return of a more realistic health system, intelligent squad controls, and above all else, the classic room clearing gameplay that has defined the series over the years.

However, being as this is a next-gen effort, Ubisoft would still have to innovate in order to move the franchise forward. The presence of a third person cover system is something of a controversial decision given the first person combat found in all previous games in the series. The introduction of a single location (Vegas) as opposed to missions that span the globe is also a tricky one, as it would mean developing a strong narrative that would have to get players engaged in the action like never before. Ding Chavez and co. have therefore not returned for this installment, and have instead been replaced by a three man team led by one Logan Keller. Blind fire, rappelling, and fast roping are other techniques new to the Rainbow franchise that rely heavily on the aforementioned new third person view. To the more hardcore fans of the series, Vegas would appear to be, at least on paper, something of a ‘hard sell’. Thankfully, the game does not disappoint, and is a welcome return to form for the franchise.

Your latest tour of duty begins in Mexico, with Logan Keller leading something of a rookie team on one of their first assignments. Graphically speaking, this introductory level is reminiscent of Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, with hazy lighting and dusty textures featuring throughout. The depth of visual detail is certainly worth noting, with realistic draw distances and a super smooth frame rate adding to an already impressive visual package. However, where the game really comes into its own is during your first helicopter fly by over the city of Las Vegas. Despite the wealth of tactical information being provided, you’ll find it difficult concentrating on anything but the beautiful sights, immaculate detail and sheer size of the landscape before you. The glare of neon lit advertisements, and the subtle lighting effects illuminating your team sitting beside you, come together to represent one of the most awe inspiring sights ever produced for a video game. This brief sequence in itself would be enough to give Vegas a high score in the graphics department, but this isn’t a flight simulator. What really matters is how the game looks when you’re fighting terrorists on the ground.

The lighting and small details are, first and foremost, equally as impressive. A significantly enhanced physics system brings life to the much larger environments you’ll find yourself playing through this time around. Although some of the textures may appear bland or overly dark, there will always be something, some subtle lighting effect or impressive set piece that makes Vegas into a genuinely stunning game. However, the terrorists (and their frequent hostages) aren’t nearly as detailed as Logan or your squad mates. This is a great shame, as when they’re surrounded by such amazingly detailed environments, it becomes easy to notice how awkward they look in comparison with everything else. Aside from that and the occasional graphical glitch (in the form of some ‘overly enthusiastic’ physics), Rainbow Six Vegas is a visual treat for the eyes, and one of the finest looking games you’re likely to find on the Xbox 360 for quite some time.

The phenomenal graphical improvement of Vegas over its current-gen predecessors not withstanding, there is still the small matter of how well the game plays with the additional ‘third person’ gameplay elements. The cover system is closer to GRAW than it is to Gears of War, in the sense that the realism of remaining in cover is still maintained. The camera effortlessly slips between both first and third person perspectives by pressing and holding down the Left Trigger when you’re near an object large enough to accommodate your entire body. This presses you against that object, giving you the option to blind fire, or take aim whilst exposing your position. It happens to work extremely well, and rather than detract from the immersing nature of Rainbow Six’s classic first person gameplay, it actually enhances it. The game feels more tactical somehow, as you lean around corners from behind cover in order to establish your position and decide how best to advance. Any concerns surrounding the risk of implementing such a feature into a Rainbow Six game will be silenced upon giving Vegas a go. The rappel and fast rope techniques also open up new tactical options, such as allowing you to observe, and ultimately enter, a room from a totally different perspective, and to designate to your teammates which targets are of the highest priority. These third person elements may have been controversial at the time of their announcement, but in the finished product, it should be noted that they aren’t particularly complicated to utilize. Their innovative nature and smooth integration help breathe new life into the Rainbow Six series.

The nervous mutterings of a group of terrorists, the short burst from an M8 Assault rifle, and the atmospheric weather effects are but three examples of how Rainbow Six Vegas is truly in a league of its own when it comes to its auditory elements. The voice acting is nothing short of incredible, with your team mates reacting differently depending upon the situation they face and the amount of danger they find themselves in. The terrorists have full blown conversations in the middle of combat, whether they are requesting backup, extra ammo, or even medical support.

As Tom Clancy wouldn’t lend his good name to a console offering that wasn’t as realistic as humanly possible, each weapon’s attributes have been configured to precisely how they would perform in real life. This also goes for how they’d sound when on single shot, silenced, or fully automatic fire modes. The noise of a distant C4 explosion or the echo of a sniper rifle are both more examples of how the audio aspects of Vegas help create an outstanding level of realism.

The game’s soundtrack consists of a series of dynamic drum and bass and orchestral affairs that increase and decrease in tempo depending upon whether your in combat or observing how best to clear the next room. This is something of a bizarre mix, as one would think that the two genres were very much separate from one another. Nevertheless, it actually works pretty well, although it can get extremely repetitive after a while. This is disappointing, as you would expect music to play something of a secondary role in a game of this type. As a result, you will find that, at times, it does tend to dominate your speakers a little too much. However, this problem can be easily overlooked when you take into account everything that Rainbow Six Vegas offers in this area. Technically speaking, Vegas is a well polished and immersing shooter that combines excellent graphics with superb audio capabilities.

Although it may seem like a departure, when you consider all that has changed, Rainbow Six Vegas is probably closer to the series’ tactical roots than any of its near predecessors. The capabilities of the next-gen hardware has given Ubisoft the opportunity to expand on gameplay elements that have been limited by the constraints of the previous generation of consoles. The superb single player campaign and 16 player, practically lag free, multiplayer modes (with upgraded P.E.C support) form the basis of what makes this game a truly next gen experience that should not be missed.



Xbox 360 - PS3