I have a love/hate relationship with Tom Clancy. I certainly respect the realism and hard work that goes into crafting an intensely realistic approximation of counter-terrorism, urban warfare, or covert operations. However, many of his games tend to eschew fun in favour or challenge and realism. However, I'm happy to announce that with the Rainbow Six Vegas series, Ubisoft has managed to find the perfect balance between realism and fun that has been lacking the series for a while now.
My biggest problem with most Tom Clancy games is the convoluted control schemes that never become comfortable from beginning to end. While casual gamers may still have trouble wrapping their heads around the complicated control schemes here, it's much more streamlined and intuitive in the Vegas than in previous Rainbow Six or Splinter Cell games.
Rather than depending on a strictly first person perspective, the Vegas series utilizes a first person/third person hybrid engine that stays in first person while walking around, but shifts to third person when the L1/LB button is pressed near cover. Your agent will then snap to the cover in third person, allowing you to fire aim properly while getting a glimpse at what you're up against. The system is a bit similar to the ones you'll find in Uncharted or Gears of War, but with a more tactical slant.
When you approach a closed door in Vegas, you're given several options. You can just rush in while opening the door yourself, but this is guaranteed to result in your death nine times out of ten. Usually, you'll instruct your team to get ready by the door by simply pressing the X/A button. Then you can observe the other side by with a snake camera under the door. You can then instruct your team which terrorists are the priority to take out first. Depending on whether you have your squad set to sneaking or assault mode, you have a variety or options about how to proceed. You can simply breach and clear, use grenades, use smoke to cover your entrance, use flash bangs, or a few other options. Every door you come to is a different experience and surprisingly keeps the game fresh and exciting.
You have a good level of control over your squad. You can tell them to follow, hold, or direct them to any area in sight. Your squad mates are crack shots, and their AI is excellent. They'll never cross into your line of sight, refuse to follow orders, or do any of the idiotic things you've seen AI compatriots do in countless other games.
Directly connected to your excellent squadmates are fantastic level designs that allow for a surprising amount of options in how to carry out your tactics. As an example, in a level taking place in a library, you can instruct your squadmates to wait at the door while you run to the roof and prepare to rappel down through the ceiling. So while your squadmates breach in with smoke or a flash and distract your enemies, you'll jump down through the glass ceiling and take out all the enemies who never even knew you were there. It's thrilling scenarios like these that make the game so much fun to play.
If you get tired of playing the game by yourself, Vegas 2 offers a full compliment of multiplayer suites that stretch across several modes. Either through splitscreen or online, you can play through the entire campaign, go on terrorist hunts, or play an extensive laundry list or multiplayer modes in both deathmatch and team based modes. My personal favourite is Follow the Leader, a mode where one team must escort "the leader" to an extraction point while the other team tries to eliminate him. Online performance is uniformly excellent on both the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions. I only encountered minimal lag on while playing online, and servers are nicely populated across all the game modes.
Across both single and multiplayer modes, you'll gain experience points that allow you to unlock lots of goodies like new weapons, armour, clothing, and special features. You have an overall experience bar that tells you what level you are currently at, and then you'll also have experience points funnelled into three separate categories: Assault, Marksman, and CQB. Assault points are given for killing terrorists with explosives or through cover. Marksman points are given for headshots and long range kills. CQB points are gained through close range kills. Depending on which area you level up, you'll unlock items related to that area. Levelling up in CQB will unlock shotguns for example. The system is absolutely fantastic, and provides great incentive to vary your tactics throughout the game.
You can also customize your character in such a way to make him uniquely yours. It's not a wholly extensive system, but it's still pretty neat to be able to map your face onto your counter-terrorist. Lots of options for clothing, weapons, and armour only add to the fine customization options.
In case you haven't noticed, I haven't mentioned the storyline yet. This is because it's a completely disposable storyline that's only in place to give you terrorists to shoot in locations such as casinos, gaming conventions, and Las Vegas streets. Once in a while you'll encounter moments that seem like the storyline will progress into something interesting, but it simply never happens. It's completely unmemorable and disappointing. Also disappointing is the game's length, which clocks in at around six hours. Still, the plethora of multiplayer modes will likely also keep you busy long after the credits roll.
In what is becoming a disappointing trend, the PlayStation version comes with a lengthy install process that took nearly half hour before the first level was loaded and playable. First, I needed to download an update for my console, then the game needed to make an installation on the hard drive, then I needed to download an update for the game itself. Curiously, this entire process didn't make the load times any better than those found on the X360 version.
If you're hoping for one system's graphics or another, don't worry about it. Both versions run at a speedy frame rate and look fantastic. Some of the level designs are a little bland visually, and occasionally you'll stumble across a blurry texture, but these situations are few and far between. Character models in particular look and animate spectacularly, and there's nary a jagged edge in sight when playing in HD. If you've played the original Vegas, you'll notice a few little enhancements here and there, but certainly nothing to write home about.
The audio is also very good, despite some average voice acting. The orchestral soundtrack is intensely stirring, and the weapons and sound effects are punchy and powerful. I particularly appreciated the workout my subwoofer got with this particular game.
No matter which version you choose, you can be assured of a fantastic tour of the violent side of Las Vegas that only Team Rainbow could guide you through. Vegas 2 is easily the best in the long line of Rainbow Six games, and comes very highly recommended for any first person shooter fan looking for a challenge.