VIDEO: The trailer for Rainbow Six: Vegas
Xbox 360 owners can be forgiven for overlooking Rainbow Six: Vegas last Christmas. At the time, the publicity onslaught for Gears of War had the gaming community in a state of shock and awe. Faced with such a blitzkrieg, who cared about another Rainbow Six game? Been there, done that.
Although Gears turned out to be uncommonly gripping and atmospheric, in its own way Vegas was every bit as skillfully executed. Six months later, Vegas has made its way to the PlayStation 3 — and PS3 owners have no excuse for missing it.
The broad strokes are similar to what past Rainbow Six games have given us. You control a small team of counterterrorist commandos charged with eliminating a hostile force — in this case, a highly trained group of mercenaries whose training and abilities are equal to your own. What makes Vegas such a blast to play is the smart new cover mechanic, plus team-based tactics that really work.
It takes only one well-placed bullet to put your character down for good, so ducking behind cover is of paramount importance. Pressing the left trigger will cause your character to snuggle up against the nearest wall or slot machine; releasing the trigger drops you out of cover. It’s a simple but robust solution that results in your character’s always performing the precise action you call for.
The other major component of single-player action is directing your squad, which consists of two computer-controlled commandos. Your teammates are competent enough, but the system isn’t perfect: though it’s easy enough to direct them to go somewhere in your line of sight, Vegas is unlike the recent Ghost Recon title in that you use the overhead map to direct them anywhere you’d like. Where your squad really shines is in clearing rooms. At several points, you’ll find yourself reconnoitering enclosed areas with multiple entrances before directing your mates to clear the room. These set pieces are swift and brutal — I often found myself afterward catching my breath.
Rarely does a game nail both single-player and multi-player; Vegas, however, doubles down. Free-for-all battles give you what you’d expect, but a cooperative mode called “Terrorist Hunt” combines the thrills of single-player with the honest-to-God intelligence of a live teammate. Everybody knows Vegas is more fun with your friends; that’s also true of video games set there.
Given the promise of the Sin City setting, it’s a bit disappointing to find the game starting in the dusty Mexican countryside and looking like any other generic, brown-and-gray shooter. But the mundane intro merely delays the gratification of choppering into the Las Vegas Strip and encountering utter bedlam. As you battle through fictional casinos and restaurants all the way to the Hoover Dam, the environments are chillingly authentic. A more brazen shooting game might have made the setting seem cheap, but the cerebral action of Rainbow Six complements the Vegas bombast.
That said, I’m still waiting for the Tom Clancy games to grow up a bit. Rainbow Six: Vegas is as fine an example of tactical action as you’ll find anywhere. What’s missing is a frank look at what a terrorist situation in a place like Las Vegas might entail. The cat-and-mouse shootouts are so tense that at first you might not notice that the casinos are otherwise empty. In the world of Rainbow Six, there are hardly any victims. Wouldn’t a real-life attack on Las Vegas leave thousands dead? Wouldn’t counterterrorist units have to contend with numerous civilians in the line of fire? Wouldn’t that make for a more thought-provoking game than the one we have now?