Today I'm kicking off a new feature called "Versus," where similar or related products are pitted against each other to see which one is truly the best, or at the very least, it will provide a list of significant similarities and differences to help you decide which suits you best. This premiere starts with a bang, a four-way throwdown where Rainbow Six: Vegas not only competes between original and sequel, but also each title goes up against itself on two different platforms (PC and PS3). There are many facets to this debate, more than you might expect (more than I did, that's for sure), so let's get started.
Note: I haven't had the chance to play these games on Xbox 360, though they also appear on that platform. I expect them to play comparably to the PS3 iterations, though I can't comment specifically on those iterations.
How Did We Get Here?
After a strong start on PC with the original Rainbow Six in 1998, and Eagle Watch, Rogue Spear, Black Thorn, and Urban Operations following, things got a little rough in Rainbow Six 3 and its expansions. It continued turning shoddy across numerous console ports, then became relatively embarrassing with the PC and console versions of Lockdown, much the way Sum of All Fears was an awkward half-breed of ideas from the previous R6 games and the forthcoming and excellent original Ghost Recon (2001). The series had made several missteps and was arguably on the ropes at this point. A complete overhaul and injection of new ideas were needed to right the floundering ship.
I remember the cover story for Vegas 1 coming to EGM in March of 2006, and it seemed so ridiculous as to possibly be one of their famous April Fool's jokes. But this wasn't the April issue. With the popularity of the "What happens in Vegas…" commercials and the debut of Las Vegas on TV, even if it wasn't a joke, it reeked of a lame cash-in on a popular trend.
Imagine my surprise when, with great skepticism, I popped the Vegas 1 disc into my PS3. Not only were my expectations for the game low, but this was the console port of a PC game, which was at the time one of the many established recipes for disappointment (movie tie-ins being another biggie they still haven't bested consistently). However, this was something different, something good. It was so engaging that I forgot to lambaste it for its absence of pre-mission tactical planning which existed in earlier titles in favor of an on-the-fly interface to set up and execute room breaching and enemy flanking. The frantic firefights and environmental destructibility completely distracted me from thoughts of loyalty to a punishing, hardcore, one-hit death system from franchise titles of the past. In fact, I came to appreciate and even embrace the health regeneration system that rewarded patience and using cover over twitchy reactive gameplay. It was still tactical and well-paced, just in a new way. This is what the series needed.
Vegas 1 vs. Vegas 2
Perhaps the afterglow left by the new play style gave me better impressions of the first game's story, or maybe it was the sense of mystery, discovery, and the cliffhanger ending of the original that made it feel so much more fresh than the sequel's continuation. In Vegas 2, you know you're after Gabe Nowak, and the story is mainly about him. There's no sense of discovery, uncertainty, or revelation. You just have to find him, hear out his motives (no really, you have to sit through his whining), and stop him. In terms of story, Vegas 1 wins. I have to also give atmosphere and pacing to Vegas 1 for being mostly at night and using more colors and lighting effects to really bring life to the game world of Sin City.