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Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3

Review By:  Jared Black

Developer:  Ubisoft Montreal / Red Storm
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# of Players:  1-16
Genre:  FPS
ESRB:  Mature
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Memory Unit, In-game Dolby Digital, System Link, HDTV 480p, Communicator (voice commands), Xbox Live (content, multiplayer, scoreboards)
Date Posted: 

12-03-03

Previous attempts at bringing the world of Rainbow Six to console-land have met with mixed results.  Although generally decent conversions, ports to the PSX, N64, and Dreamcast have suffered primarily from a lack of online support and control schemes with deep PC roots and too complicated for a controller.  When Ubisoft announced that Rainbow Six 3 would be customized for Xbox, I figured it would be the same kind of graphic and interface changes that have produced those mixed results in the past.  I never expected this.  Rather than try to shoehorn the Rainbow Six experience onto a console, Ubisoft has almost completely reinvented the franchise.  The result is the best console Rainbow Six yet, and arguably the best Xbox Live game yet.

The primary way in which the game has been streamlined is in the game play.  Now there’s only one team to control, as the player takes control of team leader Domingo “Ding” Chavez (a name any Clancy fan should recognize).  The front-end planning has been minimized, most notably in the absence of the entire planning room (including waypoint assignment).  There’s also no need to pick specialized team members (such as demolitions experts), as the same four members are used throughout the game and each is capable of performing any task needed.

The player guides the team through 14 different missions, and to be honest these missions are one of the few weak areas in the game.  While not terrible, most boil down to the same few basic objectives: rescuing hostages, defusing bombs, and killing terrorists.  Unfortunately attempts at variety resulted in an out of place Splinter Cell-esque sneaking level, as well as a sneaking segment in another mission.  Quite frankly, the Rainbow Six franchise wasn’t designed with this kind of mission in mind and it sticks out like a sore thumb.  When you want to kill tangos, you’re instead forced to skulk in the shadows.  The game engine doesn’t handle skulking very well, as the shadows provide virtually no cover, Ding makes sound at even the slowest of walking speeds, and it’s difficult to tell where an enemy is in the level in relation to the player (even with limited radar assistance).  Thus this 1+ level is basically a frustrating trial-and-error affair.  Other than that the missions are acceptable, despite the lack of objective variety.

The controls have also been streamlined, and this time around the team got it right.  The A button handles all main “actions”, which are different depending on the situation.  For example, when preparing to enter a room pressing "A" while pointing at a door will bring up the door action menu.  Then a simple press of the D-pad in one of four directions will tell the team to perform the action selected.  It’s a quick and intuitive process.  The X button handles weapons functions; when held it brings up the weapons menu for easy swapping of weapons.  The L button will automatically swap between the player’s two “main” weapons, while the R button fires.  The Y button activates night vision, while the B button activates thermal vision.  The black button is used for the team hold, the white button is used for Zulu commands, and the select button handles the map.  The analog sticks, with the standard FPS setup of the left stick controlling movement and the right stick looking, handle all movement.

My only real complaint with the controls is the somewhat stiff aiming sensitivity, which can make it difficult to target enemies effectively without ducking behind cover and re-positioning.  Clancy fans should be used to this from Ghost Recon & Island Thunder, but it’s a little more troublesome in a faster paced game like this.  You’ll adjust to it, but it’ll probably take a couple missions to do so.  This is offset somewhat by other control enhancements, most notably the ability to fluidly open doors (a little bit at a time) to use them as cover while systematically clearing a room before entering.

Perhaps the greatest control improvement lies not on the controller, but rather in the included voice command support.  Utilizing the Communicator, the player can issue “over 89” voice commands to his or her teammates.  Rather than choosing “Open, Flash, & Clear” from the on-screen menu, the player can instead merely point towards the door and speak the words.  In most instances the teammates will recognize the words (and repeat them to confirm that they heard properly), although for me personally it didn’t work quite as often as I’d like it to.  In particular, my team had a lot of trouble understanding me when I spoke the word “Zulu”.  Teammates also speak back to the player directly using only the Communicator (when it’s attached), adding to the feeling of actually being part of the team.

Just like Ghost Recon before it, Rainbow Six 3 may just be at its best on Xbox Live.  Co-op modes include Mission (play single-player missions with friends) and Terrorist Hunt (no pesky hostages getting in the way, just terrorists), while Adversarial modes include Survival (last standing wins), Team Survival, and Sharpshooter (most kills wins).  Most importantly, this is the type of game that just lends itself to online play perfectly.  The game also supports downloadable content, and is Live aware so players can easily issue invites and track friends online.

While the sneaking missions were a touch of Splinter Cell that didn’t work out, the graphical boost using a number of tricks from that game most definitely did.  The game now sports most of the nifty lighting effects found in Splinter Cell, including soft shadows and true light sourcing.  The thermal & night vision has also been improved, and curtains, blinds, etc. now sway and morph realistically to player movements.  Environments are littered with objects in realistic fashion, and the range of architecture from mission to mission makes each feel unique.  Killed enemies fall on top of desks, slump to the ground after dropping their weapon, and get blown backwards from a crouched position.  On the downside, some texture work isn’t up to current Xbox standards and most levels are really linear in nature.  On the whole though, Rainbow Six 3 is one of the best-looking Xbox games yet. 

Sound is used just like in previous Clancy games, which means a lot of realistic sound effects and sparse orchestrated music used to add tension at critical moments.  Music is also used to ambient effect in particular areas, whether it be the distant din of a parade or light classical music in a mansion.  Teammate chatter is useful; as it’ll provide clues as to the whereabouts of an enemy and confirm that the team is performing the action the player wants them to (which is almost always the proper one).  Surround sound is used well, whether it’s tracking the footsteps of an enemy or determining which direction gunfire is coming from.  This is another Clancy game where sound is integral to the gameplay experience, thus making gameplay while using the mute button not an option. 

Highs:

  • The graphics have been given that Splinter Cell gloss, making the Xbox version look better than previous PC Rainbow Six games.  This includes excellent thermal vision, night vision, shadows, “ragdoll physics”, and much more.
  • Sound is integral to the gameplay experience, including excellent use of positional audio and team chatter (through the Communicator no less!) that actually matters.
  • The control scheme has been simplified without being dumbed down.
  • The cumbersome planning of the PC version is gone, which will be a welcome change for most people.
  • The storyline is actually pretty good.
  • The ability to speak commands to your teammates via the Communicator adds considerably to the experience, after you get past the initial awkwardness (and puzzled looks from loved ones) of it.
  • Xbox Live support is fantastic, including plenty of co-op missions, head-to-head modes, and downloadable content.

Lows:

  • The sneaking mission is out of place and frustrating, and mission variety in general is limited.
  • Aiming isn’t as fluid as it should be.

Final Verdict: 

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3 continues the excellent string of Clancy games on Xbox, and this is arguably the best one yet.  As I mentioned before, the two primary problems with previous console versions in the series are the control scheme and lack of online play.  This game takes care of both of those problems, and does so without compromising what Rainbow Six is really all about.  Excellent job.

Overall Score: 9.5

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