Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield

8_1Another round of downing tangos.

UbiSoft passed the creative torch from Red Storm to its developers in Montreal, which could be a cause for concern. What do a bunch of Canadians know about paramilitary operations? Quite a lot, it seems. One of the most pleasant surprises about Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield is how fitting a follow-up it is to Red Storm’s old series. From the moment you hear that distinctive warble when you press a button in the shell screen, you know you’re in a Rainbow Six game.

Using the Unreal engine’s considerable power to convincingly create real-world locations, the dozen or so maps offer plenty of changes in scenery, although most of them feel like variations of the same design. There’s nothing memorable like the space shuttle gantries or cruise ships from the previous games. There are elaborate character models and animations, but they collapse like sacks of jello courtesy of ragdoll physics. When people get shot in Raven Shield, it appears as if their skeletons have been knocked right out the their bodies. Even so, there’s no denying this is great looking game.

Locked and Loaded

13_1The new weapon models do a wonderful job of finally breathing life into your arsenal, which used to be a bunch of invisible stats behind a reticule. At last the guns are very visual and very visceral, as well as numerous and customizable (with silencers, scopes and whatnot). Both you and your enemies can pack an insane amount of firepower from every category – pistols, SMGs, rifles, machineguns, sniper rifles and shotguns – and they all frightfully simulate the real thing, which is to say they’re very deadly.

But while the guns are impressive as a whole, their sheer number feels superfolous (shoot one sniper rifle and you’ve shot them all). It also eliminates any sense of progression by handing you the entire armory from mission 1, where it could have given a more basic load-out for the humdrum terrorists, then the heavier artillery for more serious threats later in the game. Still, the weapons are at least nicely categorized with stats to tell them apart – you won’t have to guess what differentiates an AK-47 from an AK-74, or which one is better suited for your mission.

There are new less omniscient heartbeat sensors, useless night vision goggles, and useful flashbangs, smoke, and gas grenades. With the fluid movement options, you can lean as an analog movement and open doors in increments. This allows for careful peeking and gratifying tricks like cracking open a door just wide enough to roll in a flashbang grenade.

No Planning in the War Room

When it comes down to the actual planning, Rainbow Six tends to err on the side of simplicity. Some of the waypoint orders from Rogue Spear are gone. Without precise control over the details of our plan, there’s a lot of “pray and playâ€: there’s little you can do but hope the friendly AI gets the drop on the enemy AI. The annoyingly precise AI aiming, a trademark of the series, means you’ll rarely get into extended firefights. Instead, team members can die instantly.

7_1But as a partial solution, it’s now much more viable to play the levels on the fly. As in SWAT 3, there are context sensitive commands based on where you point your cursor. There are only a handful of orders basically restricted to running and gunning, but this lets you command your men as you go. It doesn’t work very well if you’re trying to switch between more than one team and the friendly AI will still do some bewilderingly dumb things. But it’s one of those “about damn time!†features, because it lets you enjoy Raven Shield as a team game without planning through it.

In the end it’s a testament to its core gameplay that Raven Shield can succeed. Firefights are still deadly, the weapons hyper-realistic, and really the game is a good mix of old and new features. And after introducing so many of us to the MP5 with the first Rainbow Six game, it’s about damn time we finally see the thing.

System Requirements: P III 800 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB Video, Win98

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