My take on Rainbow Six: Vegas

— 11:23 AM on December 29, 2006

I still find this hard to believe, as you can imagine, but one part of my job is to spend time with the latest games and get to know them, to see whether they're good candidates for use in testing and how we might want to test them. Sometimes that process is fluid and fun, especially when I'm in my one of my favorite genres like FPS games. Sometimes it's a little challenging but even more fun, like when I'm running around in Oblivion. Sometimes it threatens to suck me in and steal months of my life away, like Guild Wars. And sometimes it's actually annoying, as it is when I have to take on a tactical shooter with a too-enthusiastic dose of "realism."

So it was when I tried out Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, an obvious candidate for testing new hardware due to its use of PhysX effects, gorgeous graphics with HDR lighting, and AAA-title status. I've never been able to get too deeply into tactical shooters, but I've always told myself that was because I hadn't dedicated enough time to learning one and getting good at the controls, strategy, etc. I told myself going in that I would learn GRAW and try to really enjoy it, and I set aside a day just for playing it.

After making my way through the training missions and getting fairly deep into the game, I came to the conclusion that regardless of everything it had going for it, I didn't enjoy this game. Well, that's not true; parts of it are extremely engaging and fun. I really like working out the tactics for an assault and executing a plan well. That can be very rewarding—much more so than blasting your way through a bunch of baddies in a more action-oriented FPS.

But GRAW can be intensely frustrating due to some game-design decisions made for the sake of "realism" or being "challenging." There aren't enough save points, and the ones in the game are too far apart. Worse, the "realistic" enemy AI is comprised of a race of mutant Mexican super-soldiers who have instant, omniscient knowledge of everything possibly in their field of vision and who can act on this knowledge within a split second to deliver the perfect kill shot every time. I'm all for sneaking around and using the right tactics in such games, but having to fight a major battle over again 12 times because some thug pulled off an impossible head shot from 300 yards after the fact is not enjoyable. This frustration led to further consternation over the complexity of the controls in GRAW and fostered the creeping feeling that I wasn't playing the game right—that one had to be a total tactical shooter geek not just in order to play this game well, but to enjoy it at all.

Eventually, GRAW forced me to give up on it, despite how much I enjoyed it when it worked well.

With this experience in my back pocket, I wasn't looking forward to playing through Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas when I picked it up from the store yesterday. Again, its credentials for hardware testing were impeccable: based on the Unreal Engine 3 with support for SM3.0 and even four-way multiprocessing. But I bought one of the early Rainbow Six games for my brother since he enjoyed the books, and I recall it being very heavily oriented toward tactics, planning, and realistically impossible levels of difficulty. I expected more of the same from this game.

I decided to give RS:V a go, though, and started a game without even cracking the manual, just to see how it looked. I played through the training mission on the normal difficulty level with growing surprise at my ability to navigate the challenges without dying constantly. My sense of needing to study the manual before continuing melted away as the game introduced new tools bit by bit. I kept waiting for the game to ratchet up the difficulty and complexity to the point where it was no longer fun, as GRAW had done. Instead, a creeping realization finally dawned on me: that wasn't going to happen. RS:V is more like Far Cry with squads than like GRAW. In other words, it's really, really good, with all of the challenge and reward of a tactical shooter, but without causing extreme frustration. You can't ignore tactics and fare well in this game, but classic FPS skills do count for something, and the save points aren't so far apart that getting killed is extreme punishment.

Clearly, I'm going to have to play through more of this game in order to full assess it for our testing purposes. Just to be sure, you know, about the HDR lighting and such.

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