Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas (herein just referred to as Vegas) is the latest addition in the Rainbow Six series. Developed and published by Ubisoft, Vegas has versions for the Xbox 360, PC, and PSP. The PSP version is not a port but was built from the ground up as a smaller side story to compliment the main story line found in the Xbox 360 and PC versions. As a first person shooter fan I was looking forward to the Tom Clancy series making its way to the portable market. Yet due to the limited length of the single player story mode, and the simplistic detail of the gaming environments, I was left disappointed and wondering why Ubisoft had released this game at all.
The Rainbow Six collection of games is part of the larger Tom Clancy family of tactical games that also include Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon. Each line of games is based on their own storyline. Rainbow Six games are based on the "Rainbow Six" counter-terrorist group made up of leading agents from around the world. Rainbow Six is known for their high-tech gear and are called in as a last resort to destroy threats when negotiations are no longer an option. In this latest round two members of Rainbow Six have been kidnapped by a terror group. You control a team that has been dispatched to Las Vegas to hunt down and kill the terrorists, as well as save your fellow Rainbow Six brethren.
Vegas follows suit with previous Tom Clancy games with first-person and third-person gameplay views. Most of the game is in first-person as you run around engaging terrorists with your long or short range firearm, and flash or explosive grenades. You can put your back to walls or other surfaces for cover which turns the screen into third-person view. From your covered position you can peak around corners to check for danger or shoot at exposed enemies. The Rainbow Six group always has state of the art gizmo's and in Vegas you're equipped with a snake cam that can see through doors before they're opened or around corners when you've taken cover. Your snake cam and helmet come complete with night-vision and the ability to lock onto enemies to track their movements after making a visual on them. The game is setup in a mission style with multiple levels per mission. As you move from one level to the next you will normally switch between members of your group with one member on the inside of a building and a sniper member on the outside.
The single player experience has three modes: Story, Mission, and Terrorist Hunt. The story mode isn't very long although the movies along the way are slick and keep the storyline fresh. The mission mode allows you to replay previously completed missions in an attempt to improve on your story mode stats. Terrorist hunt allows you to go around the same environments of mission and story mode running around pegging off terrorists as your only objective.
The gameplay in Vegas is an uninspired shooting duck-and-cover routine. Even for a first person shooter (my favourite genre of game) I found it monotonous going from one surface cover to another tracking the repetitive movements of enemy combatants. Until an enemy is alerted to your presence they follow the same predictable walking pattern (which makes it easy to pick them off with head shots from afar). Top notch first person shooters (even those that rely mostly on reconnaissance missions and sniping) will generally still have sequences of high action where you're shooting away and hoping to survive. The only adrenaline charged sections of Vegas are when you are playing as the sniper and need to pick off a bunch of guys to ensure the safety of your teammate. Although it raises the heart rate, it's not really fun because the challenge isn't in the carnage it's in navigating the finicky controls of the sniper rifle.
The sprite graphics in Vegas are effective and realistic. The gun during first-person view reacts to the difference in lighting conditions within the environment. During third-person view the sprite is clearly detailed and lit appropriately given environmental conditions. The movements as you move left or right while taking cover behind a surface are natural and smooth. The night-vision is a nice option to have even though I rarely used it. There is a very small variety of terrorist models with many of them looking like a skinny primped version of Sub Zero you'd expect to see at your local leather bar or discotheque. The environments include various furnished rooms and outdoor vignettes that look bland and lack texture. The layout of each level wasn't a problem so much as the textured environments (or lack thereof) being those you would expect from a budget title and not from a Tom Clancy game. The movie clips in the game are pretty sweet and exactly what I'd expect from Ubisoft, unlike the disappointing gameplay environments.
The in-game interface is nothing new but I have no complaints. The onscreen layout gives you information as to whether you are standing or kneeling, updates on your objectives, your currently armed weapon and ammo remaining, a timer if necessary, and the current actions available with the directional pad. Everything is spaced out perfectly for the PSP's wide screen, and it provides any and all information I'd want during a level.
The sound in Vegas is excellent with decent voice work, amazing environmental sound effects, and music. The nature noises (from the sound of water droplets falling to crickets humming) almost make up for the visual problems in Vegas. The little details like the buzzing noise when your night vision is on or the noise of the snake cam being toggled are nice touches. The voice production has a great combat communication effect to it and while the voice of Joanna Torres (who gives you a run down of your objectives before each level) can be a little annoying, it wasn't so bad that I would skip her briefing. The opening music sounds like it's right out of a summer blockbuster soundtrack, and although there isn't much gameplay music, this is actually a positive due to the quality of the environmental sound effects already employed.
The controls in Vegas are laid out as best as can be expected but still add to the frustration of the game. The analog stick is used to walk or run depending on how far you move the nub. The directional pad is used to activate various actions from hacking computers to crouching or standing. The in-game layout will tell you what actions are available with the directional pad at any given position. This works out most of the time but there are many instances where you will attempt to open a door (up on the D-pad) and then use your telescopic gun sight to pick off enemies (also up with the D-pad). So instead of whipping the door open and pegging off a terrorist in the head you end up doing a square dance with the door and your gun sight that isn't very becoming of any anti-terror soldier.
The multiplayer is standard Survival or Team Survival. You can set the length for a round by number of kills or a specific amount of time. The multiplayer is fun (although I tend to get shot up left and right) but with a maximum of only four players per round the novelty wears off pretty quickly.
In the graveyard of first-person shooters for the PSP, Rainbow Six Vegas is just one more for the crap-heap. It's disappointments like this that lead me and legions of PSP fans back into the waiting room for the shooter we all want. We want Hell; we want Mars; we want DOOM.