Hanging upside down outside the unlicensed Stratosphere casino called "Vertical Spire," a thousand feet above the neon Strip, your silenced 92FS pistol aimed at the head of an unsuspecting terrorist, one thought creeps into your mind.
"Hey, that's the Bellagio!"
Yes, across the Strip the fountains of the sprawling casino resort continue their magical light dance, comfortably oblivious to the terrorists that have taken over Sin City. As Logan Keller, you don't have that luxury. With a quick order to Team Rainbow, your squad breaches the tower restaurant, exploding through the glass windows in an expertly-timed assault, just as you squeeze the trigger.
Team Rainbow's newest mission finds the team at arms with Irena Morales, a Mexican terrorist that is smuggling bad guys across the border into the States. Intel puts her in the small border town of San Joshua del Mosquiera. In Mexico, Six learns that a major assault is being planned in Las Vegas. We'll leave the rest of the story to you, but take note that there is a decent storyline in place, and that Ubisoft's latest effort is setting the stage for future entries along the same storyline. We're hoping Ubisoft goes with a more exotic locale than Rainbow Six: Carson City or Rainbow Six: Reno, but we'll have to wait and see. Either way, it's clear that the Rainbow Six franchise is back as a premier tactical shooter.
For a while, it looked as if Rainbow Six was in danger of losing its identity, thanks to screaming message boards proclaiming, "It's too hard," "It's too slow," and "I want an energy sword." The result was 2005's Rainbow Six Lockdown, a run-and-gun arcade game take that would make Tom Clancy blush. With Ubisoft Montreal back at the helm, Rainbow has been reined in to pay homage to its roots -- squad-based combat with a healthy dose of slow and deliberate room-clearing tactics. At the same time, Vegas has been infused with some new, more mainstream elements like a regenerating health system, streamlined controls and open, sprawling environments. The result is the most accessible and among the most satisfying Rainbow Six titles yet -- a treat for former Delta Force operatives and acne-ridden Halo gamers alike. If only there were more strippers.
What Vegas lacks in lap-dances though, it makes up for in hard-as-nails realism. Like every Tom Clancy title, Rainbow Six is Clancy-proofed, meaning that every weapon is accurate in appearance, reload time and recoil. If the Glock 18 can't be customized with a silencer, then by God the Glock 18 won't be customized with a silencer. Even on the outfitting screen, the weapons look exactly like their real-life counterparts. I know because I googled.
And the weapon selection is diverse, featuring a number of assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, machine guns and pistols. If you are low on ammo, go ahead and pry an AK-47 from the cold, dead hands of an enemy. You are able to carry two large weapons or one large weapon and a bulletproof shield, which is another great way to play the game. Along with those slots, you can carry a pistol and two gadgets, such as frag grenades, C4 explosives, non-lethal flashbangs or smoke grenades to mask your movement. And again, every weapon is accurately modeled, every blast radius is right on, and every bullet is deadly.
In the field, the focus on realism means that Keller and the rest of Team Rainbow can only take a few bullets before the blood-red Game Over screen pops up. And even then, a single head shot or well-placed blast from a SPAS 12 will put you on the floor. A regenerating health system allows for some breathing room.
Regenerating health system? Now before you get your Kevlar assault panties in a bunch, know that Ubisoft did not throw an overshield on its operatives. You will still die, and die plenty, so much so that inexperienced players will find even the normal difficulty setting too challenging. And the Realistic setting? A bullet or two is enough to take you out. When you do take a bullet to the arm or the leg, your vision is blurred, the screen goes dark red, and all you can manage to do is move away from enemy, fire and take cover, and pray. If you manage to escape harm and take cover, your health will slowly recover. Compared to an energy bar, this health system keeps the action flowing while retaining a high level of difficulty.
he core of Rainbow gameplay has always been squad-based. In Vegas, your team is down a man as you will command only two teammates instead of three, like in previous games. There are no individual orders either. New team members Walter and Park, fresh out of training at Camp Pendleton, move together and are tied at the hip. Controlling your team is simpler than ever. Simply aim and click A and so goes your squad. Aim at a door and they will prepare to clear the room, taking proper position and reloading their weapons. Aim at a bomb and they will defuse it. Aim at a rope and they will rappel. You can also plug in a headset and give simple voice commands to your team, which it will dutifully follow.
This simple control scheme is a welcome addition in the more open environments -- you'll shoot it out in a Mexican train yard, on casino gambling floors, outside on the Strip, and on the Hoover Dam. As such, you'll need to move your team quickly to cover your flanks while you work for a good position.
And positioning is really what Vegas is all about, thanks to an excellent new cover system. By holding down the Left Trigger, you will switch to a third-person view and duck behind cover, be it a slot machine, an Axe Body Spray sign or a bombed out Dodge Durango (product placement, you see.) While in cover, you can still aim and safely blind-fire. Among the greatest moves in the game is placing your reticule on an enemy face, popping out from cover for a split second, firing a single, brain-splattering round, and sliding back into cover. By pushing up on the stick, you can pop out above cover. By hitting left or right, you can pop out to the side. The system is, quite simply, the best use of cover in any shooter, more intuitive and smoother than even Gears of War. From a doorway, you can pop out, check that the room is clear, and then actually bend all the way around the wall -- you have 360 degrees of movement. By letting go of the left-trigger, you swing right back into first person.
Going back and playing other FPSs just isn't the same anymore. When I duck behind a corner, I don't want to stare at a poorly-textured wall before strafing out into the open. I want to peak around the corner, line up a shot, and shoot things. The only downside to the cover system is that Ubisoft found your squad to get a little crowded at times, so the fourth member of Team Rainbow was removed to make room.
Rappelling is another excellent gameplay touch. Be it from the roof of a Mexican church or a giant Vegas casino, having the ability to breach through windows adds yet another option when you clear rooms. By flipping upside down on the rope, you can creep down for a quick peek, do a little recon, let your team know where the bad guys are hiding, and order them in. Or you can go silent and pick off a few tangos before they know where you are. In any given situation, you always have a number of options for how you want to breach a room. Do you split the team up or stay together? Do you frag and clear? Do you use flashbangs so as to not endanger a hostage? Or do you go in guns blazing? (No).
The options are there, and after a few deaths, Vegas will feel like a trial and error game, but in a good way. That's to say that you died because you didn't follow proper procedure -- you either ordered your squad into a bad position or you didn't cover your flank or you were simply outgunned. Patient Rainbow players already know that a bit of recon work and a well-timed breach are the keys to success. You have the option of switching the rules of engagement from weapons-free to infiltration, which means your squad will only fire when fired upon. This gives you time to get into position and issue the order that every terrorist fears: "Go! Go! Go!"
Thankfully, you have the snake cam at your disposal, with which you can look under doors to scout a location. You can also hit the back button to tag tangos, which tells your team who to kill first.
Enemy AI is solid but shows occasional stupidity. Terrorists will try to flank you, will throw grenades at every opportunity, will hide behind cover, and have very good aim. When I use the shield, I will sometimes walk while crouched straight up to an enemy, and he will fire right into my shield with his machine gun. While crouched, only my bullet arm is exposed to an enemy in front of me, but this guy still managed to hit nothing but shield. Then he reloaded and did it all again.
The story mode lasts about 10 hours the first time through, mostly because Vegas is tough. You can also play cooperatively online with up to four players, which is among the most enjoyable co-op experiences out there. Imagine coordinating over your headset with three friends. Who is going to rappel through the north window? Who's going through the main entrance? Who's throwing the flashbang? And when it's all said and done, you countdown "Three, two, one," and go. Awesome.
You can also play through a number of maps in a Terrorist Hunt. Basically, there are 50 terrorists out to get you, and your mission is successful when each one is pushing up daisies.
Versus multiplayer has always been a strength of Rainbow Six, and that doesn't change here. The game comes with 10 huge maps suited for 16 players, including a casino, a Mexican Village, the Hoover Dam and some classic maps like The Streets. Game modes include Sharpshooter, Survival, Team Sharpshooter, Team Survival, Retrieval, and Attack and Defend. The team modes are especially fun because you have to work together to succeed. In the new mode, Attack and Defend, one team has to recover a package and reach an extraction point. Well let's say that briefcase is tucked away inside a heavily-guarded casino vault. A few guys will have to toss in a bunch of grenades and assault from the front. Others will flank around the back. And one sneaky fella with his eyes on the prize will go for the grab. Finally, the entire team will try to clear a path to the extraction point. This makes for excellent multiplayer, pure and simple.
Online, you also customize your character using the Persistent Elite Creation tool that allows you to unlock different clothing, armor and weapon choices and trick-out your antiterrorist. You can even use the Xbox Live Vision Camera to import your own ugly mug onto your character, and the tool works very well.
Visually, Vegas is a bit washed out and fuzzy, although the game still looks great. The environments are nicely detailed, featuring exploding slot machines and food in the kitchen. From the chopper, you can spot most of the Sin City's largest casinos, like Paris and the Mirage. The animations look great, especially when your team clears a room or crashes through a window. The blood effects are excellent, and you'll dynamically spray terrorist guts all over the city.
The sound is wonderful, with a pulsating soundtrack straight out of an episode of 24. The dialogue is especially well done, including gritty lines from your squad like, "Get on your knees! I will f***ing shoot you!" The terrorists offer their own quips. Sometimes you'll shoot a guy and his friend will say, "He's dead? Sh**! That bitch owed me money!" There's also a hilarious debate on videogames that a few terrorists will engage in while you spy on them with the snake cam. The gunfire effects are dead on, and the explosions rattle the entire area, as they should.
Rainbow Six: Vegas returns to form as an excellent tactical shooter, but is much more accessible for the average shooter fan with streamlined controls and a simple health system. The sprawling levels like the glowing Fremont Street or the Hoover Dam open up Rainbow like it's never been before, and the result is a balanced shooter that is as much close-quarter combat as long-range head shots. The new gameplay mechanics, notably the intuitive cover system and inverted rappelling, are simply outstanding. While the visuals are solid, the textures and colors are muted and appear washed out. The sound, on the other hand, fuses a pulsing anti-terrorist soundtrack with gritty dialogue -- "I will f***ing shoot you!" -- and even some humor -- "Hey man, you play videogames?" The multiplayer options feature huge, well-designed maps, a variety of modes and four-player co-op. In total, Rainbow Six: Vegas is the best first-person shooter on the Xbox 360. Viva Las Vegas indeed.