Developer: Ubi Soft
Release Date: March 9, 2004
Buy 'RAINBOW SIX 3: Athena Sword': PC
I think Tom Clancy can afford to buy himself a nuclear-powered submarine by now. From “The Hunt for Red October” for the Amiga, to the monochrome green-screen graphics of the ancient PC title “Red Storm Rising” to state-of-the-art tactical shooters like the Rainbow franchise, the ex-insurance-salesman-turned-bestselling novelist has proved his financial acumen for licensing his properties. Even a crappy game like “The Sum of All Fears” (from the crappy movie of the same name from the excellent book of the same name) can make Clancy enough cash to stay in Cuban cigars until the next turn of the century.
Before turning all of their attention to the upcoming Far Cry, their flagship title for 2004, Ubisoft put a new coat of polish on the latest in the Rainbow Six series. Athena Sword picks up right where Raven Shield left off. RAINBOW, an elite multinational counter-terrorist force has saved the world by stopping Weapons of Mass Destruction (I refuse to use the new politically correct acronym, “WMD’s”) in Rio de Janeiro.
Gutierrez’s fascist regime has been defeated, and he is behind bars. But since when did a criminal mastermind need to be free to cause trouble? It is 2007, and while the nuclear horror is behind us, a potentially more lethal threat lay upon the horizon. Gutierrez is pulling the strings from his prison cell and bad things are afoot.
Whenever a game is as mind-bogglingly successful as the Rainbow Six franchise, you know there will always be either a sequel, or an expansion pack. And in reviewing an expansion, I usually look to a few key areas. First, have the developers done anything to really improve gameplay, or are they just packaging some new maps and skins? Second, has the storyline progressed, or does it feel like a “forced” addition? And most importantly, is it worth the price the developers ask us to shell out?
The answers, in the case of Athena Sword, are mostly positive. Red Storm Entertainment and Ubisoft have provided us with a package that adds the following new features: All-new, eight-mission campaign in locations including Italy, Croatia, and Greece, eight new Multiplayer levels, five new multiplayer game modes, three “classic” missions, seven additional real-world weapons (for a whopping total of 64), weapon sound effects from the team that worked on the blockbuster film The Matrix, an improved AI that challenges even the most experienced player
The new campaign is exactly what we have come to expect. You and your counter-terrorist squad take on tons of bad guys, rescue tons of hostages, and save the planet from bio-chemical annihilation. And believe me; some of these maps are HUGE! The attention to detail is incredible! Crisscrossing power lines dot the skyscape, refuse litters the streets, billboards and other posters are all over the place. In the first mission, you are basically storming a castle. Upon entering your insertion zone, you find yourself staring up at the battlements of an ancient castle, and our gun-toting fascists are inside, ripe for the pickings. The AI opponents are quick on the trigger and have managed to find better hiding places than in previous incarnations. More often than before, you’ll find yourself shot in the back of the head with no idea where the killing shot came from until you go back and try again. Shot selection also plays a key role in Athena Sword. The hostages are, in many cases, so bunched in with the terrorists, that one stray bullet can mean the end of the mission.
One of the key advantages that the Rainbow franchise has had over its competitors is the meticulous detail in planning your missions. I have, on occasion, spent more time planning attacks than actually executing them. Setting waypoints, directing your fire teams, coordinating a room-clearing strike from multiple entrances, then calling out the go-codes to launch those attacks lends a more cerebral element to what could otherwise have been just another FPS set in an alternate history, or possible future.
The multiplayer maps (also available as single-player custom missions) are very diverse. You can opt to shoot it out in prisons, constructions sites, libraries, universities, all the way to an outpost in the frozen Siberian wastelands. The tried-and-true formula of terror vs. counter-terror comes alive with every multiplayer mission. This is not necessarily the frenzied pace of Counter-Strike, but more of a thinking man’s shooter. Stealth is more important than massive firepower. Knowing your way around the map is more vital than just running in like Rambo without a jockstrap, and making the right choice at an intersection is more important than fragging a whole city block.
Don’t get me wrong, though, when the bullets do start flying Athena Sword is every bit as frenetic as some of its contemporaries. Pick your shots right, aim true, and who knows, maybe you won’t die bleeding in some third-world alley.
Four new Multiplayer modes kick the action up a notch as well. In the “Adversarial Terrorist Hunt” players split into two teams and try for either the total elimination of the other side, or a majority of kills before time runs out. The “Scattered Hunt” is exactly the same, but your respawn points are scattered throughout the map.
“Capture The Enemy” is a non-lethal version of the normal team game, but when shot, enemies will become incapacitated for 10 seconds, and will have to be handcuffed just like a surrendered terrorist. Just because he’s cuffed behind you, don’t think that he can’t be rescued by his comrades.
But by far, the most intriguing new Multiplayer Mode is “Kamikaze”. In a slightly sadistic twist, one of the Green team members is randomly selected by the computer to be a human bomb. He is strapped with explosives, and just waiting to go Boom! His team must find the defusing kit to save him, before the Red team can find the detonator and blow him to Kingdom Come.
New game server options allow the server to set the number of AI terrorists and in the Scattered and Adversarial hunt modes, the level of difficulty of the match.
The new “Countdown Mode” in the Custom Missions section turns the tension screws even more, incorporating a timed element that makes camping out and sniping a virtual impossibility. A list of objectives is presented, you outfit your squad, and the clock starts ticking.
The “classic” maps included in this package are from the earlier days of Rainbow Six, but have been re-tooled to look as stunning as the rest of this game.
The new weapons are modeled accurately from real-world armaments. A new machine pistol, the 93R, is ideal for battles in close quarters, but if you need to take someone out from a block away, the new SL8-2 semi-automatic sniper rifle is just the thing. Tactical shotguns, machineguns, and sub machineguns add a variety of blood-spilling options.
Much was made over the fact that the same FX crew that worked with the Wachowski brothers’ on the ground-breaking Matrix saga did the weapon sound effects. Don’t get me wrong, the sound in this game is as stellar as the graphics and playability, but how many of us REALLY know what a M240G machinegun sounds like when fired in a high-class hotel? I’m sure someone knows, but to make such a fuss over who made the “bang-bang” sounds seems to me to be just a clever way to put the words “The Matrix” on the box for marketing reasons.
Speaking of marketing, (Wasn’t that a clever segue?) we now come to the crux of the matter, as it were. When brand new, total, complete games are retailing for 40 to 50 bucks US, can a mere expansion pack be worth the MSRP of about 30 bucks? I think the answer is going to be very different from each person you ask. With the online MOD-ding community as expansive as it is, these maps and models would have probably surfaced on their own eventually. As for me, I think I’d be more inclined to purchase this title if it were dropped down to a $19.95 price tag.
I think the maps are beautifully rendered, with tons of detail, the weapon models are accurate, the player skins look great, the menu music is sufficiently stirring, the storyline is mature and believable, the voice talent is above par and the sound effects are realistic. The new modes are a lot of fun, especially Kamikaze, and it’s really nice to see new renderings of old favorite battlefields from the past. But all in all, I think the sticker’s just a little too high.
That being said, I still highly recommend this expansion to current owners of Raven Shield, but for the rest of you, you may want to save a few bucks and wait until the “Deluxe Edition” comes out. (Like they always do.)
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