The setting sells UbiSoft's latest tactical shooter. With news helicopters swirling above hampering progress, smoke billowing from familiar landmarks and an eerie sense that this is all possible, Rainbow Six Vegas forcefully positions itself on American soil. Rarely can you find a single-player experience as gripping as this.
Taking a small three-man squad into a variety of true-to-life locales, Rainbow Six is, however, plodding and slow-paced. While hardly as complex as it used to be, tactics are still a critical factor in survival. You can command your squad to perform a number of actions, and they'll intelligently respond. If you lead them into an area that draws fire, they fall away from your direct order to find the nearest cover.
The interface makes this as intuitive as possible. The A button handles numerous functions, and at times it can become an issue. Opening a door, commanding a team to prepare to open one, or putting a snake camera under to gauge the scenario inside can lead to some unexpected deaths. When it works, you can command your team to specifically take out a target or focus on another when they enter. It's brilliantly conceived and tactical enough that some of the lesser realism aspects can be forgiven.
Vegas starts off slowly, and completely out of the environment you'll be led to. Once inside United States territory, you can immediately tell where you are. This is a stunningly beautiful game, complete with moments that lead to sheer awe or emotion. The story ends up leading to a dead end that will feel familiar to first-person shooter fans, but the events leading up to it are unforgettable.
Online play opens up an entirely new portion of the game if the eight hours of solo play wasn't enough. By far the best feature is the face-mapping option. Using the Xbox Live Vision camera, you'll take a picture and the game does a surprising job of wrapping it onto the player model. Once into an online match, your face adorns the character.
Modes are numerous, including co-op and standard deathmatch. There's a unique approach used here to encourage repeat plays. As you rack up kills and win, you'll gain rank. As you progress, you can unlock new guns, armor, and accessories. The obvious downside to this is that opponents wearing highly protective pieces crush new players. Still, the addictiveness of watching your level increase creates the hook needed to encourage trying again.
Only a few of those features make it into the single-player campaign. You customize weapons extensively, yet the armor system is nowhere to be found. There is also no control over the offensive gun choices squad members make.
Level design is a key to both single and multi-player. Some of the game's brightest story moments occur on the Vertigo Spire, a towering landmark that requires the player to continually work downward towards their goal. In multi-player, defending a bomb as the terrorists provides immense opportunity for strategy, as the opposing squad fights their way in to disarm it.
Longrunning fans of the series have likely moved on. While Rainbow Six is still challenging (almost impossible on the realistic difficulty setting in parts), the strategy and realism have taken a hit. The benefit for the game design however is obvious, making it accessible, engrossing and addictive. Vegas is one of the better efforts this year.
Rainbow Six Vegas is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on PS3, PSP, PC.Powered by Sidelines