When is a Rainbow Six game not a Rainbow Six game?

I never played the original Rainbow Six Vegas title, simply because when it came out, I was too busy playing another Rainbow Six game (might've been Rogue Spear, if I remember correctly) with some friends in a friendly competition of who-can-shoot-the-most-badguys. Let me tell you, those bad guys were tough; none of this cover and regenerating health nonsense you whippersnappers get nowadays. If they saw you and you didn't shoot them, you were dead. Hostages too, more than likely, so you had to get it just right or you were down.

When I heard Rainbow Six Vegas was as appreciated by critics as it was, I decided to give Vegas 2 a shot and see how well it played. But let me get it out right now: if you're expecting another R6 game of the days of yore, you will be thrown for quite the loop. If, however, you were expecting another Vegas game, you will be satisfied by what the sequel has to offer you.

The gameplay consists of much of the same: run through terrorist-filled areas, cleaning them out like they are mice and you are the exterminator - equipped with military-grade weaponry, of course. You and your two team members will make your way through a variety of locations, taking on waves of enemies in combat that holds a lot more action than it does tactics. It's all about taking cover during the many firefights; trying to run up to the enemies is a quick way to lose.

But guns and cover are not all you'll have at your disposal, though arguably they are the most useful. The Rainbow team comes equipped with a variety of grenades, night- and thermal-vision, snake cams, breaching charges, and the ability to pull some simple tactical moves. Despite this being a Rainbow Six game, they are very simple. Generally, most rooms that have any terrorists in them have two points of entry that you can use: having your team enter through one means you can use the other to take down stragglers. With the snake cam, you can even prioritize targets for your two team members so that you know exactly who is going down first.

This is really the extent of the tactics in the game, which is somewhat disappointing. It wouldn't be so bad if they actually meant something, but there really is no reason for tactics at all. Even on the hardest difficulty setting, your team is competent enough that sending them into the room unplanned means that three-quarters of the time, they're going to do the job on their own without any assistance. This isn't helped by the regenerating health aspect of the game or the fact that you can just pump a needle into their chest to revive them, if they're taken down.

The problem also arises that these 'rooms' feel like set pieces, and not natural parts of the map. There's a very clear distinction between the rooms where terrorists just spawn and start shooting you, and the rooms where they just seem to loiter around, waiting for someone to burst in and end their wicked ways, and it makes everything feel unnatural. Sometimes it just feels like the game degenerates into a gun-filled round of whack-a-mole, where you're merely waiting for each enemy to pop his head out so that you can 'bop' him in the head with your high-calibre assault rifle. The checkpoint location can be quite frustrating too, often forcing you to repeat a long pointless walk, listen to a conversation, or just go through a long repetitive battle of the afore-mentioned whack-a-mole.

That's not even getting into the 'spawning' nature of the enemies, which seems to contradict the Rainbow Six series as a whole. Nothing feels weirder than sending your team forward into a quiet room, only to take a few steps in to find that a bad guy has suddenly appeared right behind an obstacle your team is standing next to. In one case, while a teammate disabled a bomb, I walked around to where I had entered the room, only to see enemies popping into existence literally right in front of my eyes as they headed to stop my team from preventing the explosion. Then they shot me, which I found to be quite irritating.

The AI for the terrorists themselves is usually pretty good, and as difficulty scales up they get more aggressive and forward, tossing grenades, advancing, that kind of thing. Still, there are times when the digital neurons just don't line up, and you'll see them backing up towards you, standing still in the middle of a firefight, and in general acting like they're not the sharpest hammer in the terrorist toolbox.

There's a story mode in the game, where your team has to go and save freedom by taking down some bad guys with chemical weapons, but that's really just filler, more like a tutorial for everything else. There's also something called 'Terrorist Hunt', in which you and your team must enter an area and take down all the bad guys. Because these areas aren't made to be followed linearly like the single player levels, they actually require a decent amount of skill and thought (unless your AI team takes everyone down, which happens fairly often). Both of these modes can be played in co-op, up to two players in story mode and up to four in terrorist hunt, which makes them much, much more enjoyable.

The real fun of the game comes from its multiplayer modes, which pit two teams against each other in a variety of ways. Whether it's a new twist on protecting a VIP, disabling bombs, or a frantic match of point control, it makes for some interesting combat, especially given the non-run-and-gun nature of the title.

What really shines in the game, however, is the inclusion of the A.C.E.S. (Advanced Combat Enhanced Specialization) system. This is an RPG-lite system that essentially gives you experience for making kills in certain ways. Depending on how you take out a target, you'll get experience in Marksman, Close Quarters, and Assault, and as you level these up you'll gain rewards ranging from new weaponry to a burst of experience for your character. Your character, which still uses the P.E.C. (Persistent Elite Creation) system from the previous game, can be used in every mode of the game, single- or multi-player. The wide array of customization options offered, from simple aesthetic choices to what armour and weapons you use, really allow you to make your character your own.

As for the graphics, they are quite impressive. The PC version is privy to greater resolution and effects than its console counterparts, but of course, only if you've got the rig. Still, things look good with only minor drops in frame rate. Sin City has never quite looked so shiny. Audio isn't quite up to par with some generic music and voice acting, but it doesn't come up that often so it's not too much of a problem.

If you're expecting a good Rainbow Six game, you're just going to be disappointed. As it is, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a poor attempt at an R6 game, but as a plain tactical shooter (emphasis on the shooting), it does a pretty good job. Decent team AI, effective controls, the ACES system, and the enjoyable multiplayer make is a pretty good game to play, but there are a lot of other things, like enemy AI, the nature of some of the levels, and the lack of tactics that bring it down, and hard. If you liked the previous Vegas game, there's a pretty strong chance that you'll like this one too. If you're looking for a good shooter mixed with heavy elements of tactics, well, it's back to the classics for you.