[10 April 2008]
Although it’s not entirely accurate to classify games in the Rainbow Six franchise as first-person shooters, such a description is certainly more appropriate than for games like Metroid Prime and Bioshock. There is quite a lot of action, and certainly there are cover and fire mechanics similar to those found in Gears of War and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. But it is the strategic planning portions of the Rainbow Six Vegas games that stand out. There is a certain thrill to quietly scouting a location from multiple angles, tagging enemies, and orchestrating a split second strike with your squadmates. While the planning and approach to enter a room may take minutes, the successful clearing can take less than a second, and the sense of accomplishment when this occurs is unique.
Rainbow Six Vegas 2 offers very similar gameplay to its predecessor, though the environments are noticeably less glitzy through large portions. Certainly, much of the charm of the original had to do with working your way through a casino floor, hearing the chimes and clinks of the slot machines, bathed in neon light. That occurs less often this time around, with much of the game taking place in drab warehouse and industrial areas. The gameplay tweaks are minor, but again, given how polished the tactical gameplay already was in the original, this is completely understandable. Although controlling your squadmates is relatively straightforward, it is somewhat limiting that you can’t split the team any way you like. The two computer-controlled allies always stick together, meaning that if you find a room that has three points of entry, you can only infiltrate from two.
The original Rainbow Six Vegas ended rather abruptly, so certainly the expectation would be that this title would continue those events directly. This is not exactly the case. Rather, Vegas 2 almost serves as a companion piece, with its events occurring before, during, and after those of the first game. The main problem is that the narrative is somewhat convoluted, but frankly it is also completely peripheral to enjoyment of the game. The central tactical mechanics are the key, here, and paying attention to various ancillary characters and plot twists is certainly not required.
Ubisoft recently acquired the rights to the name “Tom Clancy” as it applies to games, ensuring that the key game franchises associated with his name will continue to be developed for the foreseeable future. The setting and technical detail prototypical to novels bearing the Clancy name certainly influence games in the Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six franchises. Still, given the geopolitical overtones of these games (particularly in such an interactive medium), a more immersive overall experience might result from addressing some of the morally ambiguous issues at play. Games like Call of Duty 4 demonstrate that such concepts can certainly be handled in military games, and it may be interesting for future Clancy games to be follow suit.
While Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is in some ways an archetypal example of a successful sequel in that it offers fans of the first game (as well as longtime fans of the long running overall Rainbow Six franchise) exactly what they were expecting with a few additions, it plays it safe. The reason that the Ubisoft-developed Clancy games generally succeed, however, is that their central mechanics do excel at making you feel like an elite agent or member of a high level team. Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six all have strong fundamental design. As such, it’s difficult to argue for them being altered too drastically.
All of the titles branded with the Tom Clancy name occupy different stylistic niches. Though the presentation and overall ambience is very similar, the gameplay is markedly different. The upcoming Tom Clancy’s EndWar will add to the number of Clancy franchises a real time strategy game. As long as these games continue to be generally highly regarded and fun, there does seem little reason to change their formula. Further, these games represent part of a growing trend in mixed media, where one medium influences another.
The first Rainbow Six game was in development while the novel was being written. Following the success of the Splinter Cell games, a series of novels followed, and a feature film is reportedly in the works. Arguably, the success of the Tom Clancy brand in the worlds of books and games is as pronounced as the success of the Stephen King brand in books and films.
In any case, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a tense, fun experience that delivers exactly what is expected of it, and the tactical mechanics are as polished as they’ve always been. Reportedly, Vegas 2 is the last in Vegas version of the series, and although it’s almost certain a new Rainbow Six title will surface, it remains to be seen if it will simply involve a new locale, or a rethinking of the core mechanics of the game.