Genre : Action
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Release Date: June 15, 2004
As the current generation of game consoles drags on, we catch onto more and more quirks and patterns that have held true throughout the generation; the things each console will become notorious for in retrospect. Things like the success of Halo and the subsequent lack of success of many other Xbox releases. Sony’s unfriendliness towards 2d games. Rainbow Six 3 follows the path of two of these eccentricities that have plagued the console upon which it has released in what is probably its final form after releases on three other consoles: it is a late Gamecube port, and it lacks online functionality. Too many developers have opted to release their multi-platform games on Nintendo’s console much later than PS2, Xbox, and even Gameboy Advance versions, Rainbow Six 3 included. These late ports tend to flop in sales quickly, as they leave the already fickle Gamecube market cold with their late arrivals and often inferior features. The developers use these figures to prove that the Gamecube market is not receptive to their games, and often pull all support from the console. So what happens when one of these late ports was a critically acclaimed game such as Rainbow Six 3? Is it still as good as it was six months ago on the other platforms? The answers are yes and no. The core game is still as awe-inspiring as ever, but it is encased in a terrible port, one lacking so many features and adding so many problems that it makes a once amazing game sometimes feel like a cheap budget release.
Rainbow Six 3 is a different kind of first-person shooter. It has a strong emphasis on realism, placing gamers in a world where running and gunning is not the name of the game. Single well-placed shots can mean the end for either you or your enemies. There are no health or armor pickups, no sixty-foot high rocket jumps, just barebones realism that feels like no other game series before it. While the Rainbow Six games have never been known for their graphical prowess, they more than make up for this in how the gameplay affects the human senses. When each step you take could easily be the end, it makes for an enlightening experience. Sure, you had the same sense of risk in old sidescrollers like Contra and even Super Mario Brothers, but something changes once you’re placed in a real-world setting – especially when the subject matters in place fall so close to home; Tom Clancy’s settings range from simple hostage situations to large-scale threats involving U.S./foreign oil relations.
The gameplay is strictly realistic, with even the most minute movements mimicking human actions. The “glide” feel and quick sidestepping of Quake III: Arena is nowhere to be found here. Walking and running are slow but agile; strafing is cumbersome. Any action besides crouching and holding dead still causes gunfire to lose at least a small amount of accuracy, so simply training your firing reticule on an enemy will not necessarily lead to an instant kill. Reload times and firing rates are realistic, so charging into a room with the intentions of killing all enemies in sight will likely leave you with an empty clip and a four-second reload time. All of these rules of play must be kept at the forefront of your mind, as a minute misstep can easily spell your doom. Some players may find this to be overwhelming, as the difficulty level in the single player missions is daunting even on the easiest settings. Still, I’m sure most gamers will adjust to the ways of the Tom Clancy shooter after a few hours, and come to fully enjoy their unique brand of excitement. Believe me, if you’ve never played one of these games before, you’re in for a sense of excitation you’ve never received from a video game before.
The controls are simple, but definitely unintuitive, so you’ll need a bit of practice to get a hang of them before getting too far into the game. R fires the selected weapon, which you reload with X and switch with L. Y toggles between night and thermal vision, both of which are extremely useful and imperative to completing many missions. The D-Pad handles the crouch/stand toggle, leaning left or right (called “peeking”, an important move when attempting to fire down particularly dangerous hallways or open areas), and using the zoom feature on your weapon. Unlike many complex games that make it over to the Gamecube, Ubisoft Shanghai managed to get everything up and running – comfortably! – on the controller.
The single player mode is the best part of the game for Gamecube owners. An impressive story is communicated through mission briefings and slightly ugly FMV sequences. But before I go any further into the details, I must mention the first major blunder you will run into in your quest to get to the single player mode: load times. Upon booting up the game, you are greeted with a few splash screens… then a loading screen. A long loading screen. With not a single nod toward exaggeration, I will tell you that this loading screen is long enough that you can walk over to your kitchen, grab a snack, maybe even pour yourself a drink, come back… and it’s still not done loading. And what is this loading for? The menu screen. A menu that doesn’t even run correctly, as it takes a moment to give you an on-screen to your button presses, a button-lag that is not present on any other screens in the game. Now that we’re past that little (gigantic programming) blunder, we can get into the single player experience.
The game casts you into the role of Ding Chavez, a Rainbow Six veteran, and close friend of Tom Clancy hero John Clark (from the books Clear and Present Danger and Rainbow Six, among others). You’ll lead a team of up to three Rainbow team members. Unlike the older Rainbow Six PC games, there aren’t as many selectable team members. This console version is optimized for console owners, and doesn’t have the wealth of features and details found in the PC games. But don’t take this the wrong way; the game is all the better for it, as instead of simply being dumbed down, the console versions are rebuilt to present an experience that isn’t as brainy, but just as fun, if in a different way. A few other features have been nixed, such as the pre-mission planning (which would have been impossible to translate fluidly to any console), but the one missing feature that I rue the absence of is the adjustable firing rates on automatic weapons. Originally, players could toggle their weapons between three useful settings: single shot, burst fire, and fully automatic. Each of these was important for applicable situations, and I found myself leaning towards the accurate-but-powerful burst fire setting, which was not only a bit part of the game experience for me, but it was also the most commonly used firing rate used in the Rainbow Six novel! Besides, the Ghost Recon games still contain the setting, so why not the newest Rainbow Six? But alas, the gameplay is still amazing with or without the feature, and new players won’t notice the difference.
So lets get into the meat of the game. You listen to the briefing, you customize your weapons, and you’re ready to go – but wait! Another loading screen, and it’s longer, too. But the weird thing is, it’s not that much longer than the menu loading screen, making that one seem even more unnecessary and, simply put, in bad taste. But once you get through this, you’ll be greeted with the experience you’ve been waiting for. The graphics are pleasant, especially for a Tom Clancy shooter. Your weapon appears on-screen, unlike previous games or in the multiplayer mode. The single player mode is a wholly different experience from the rest of the game, as it is based around commanding your computer-controlled squad and keeping them alive. The team commands are astoundingly well-made, with a simple point and click interface that will be described in and out during the first mission. The intelligence of your teammates will always be questionable, but usually things go smoothly and the missions are based more on your skill as opposed to worrying about your teammates’ ineptitude. While these missions are hard, you’ll be storming in and securing hostages like a pro in no time.
The single player mode has much better graphics and overall appearance than the multiplayer sections, but still isn’t perfect. The Gamecube version is plagued with slowdown and a noticeably fluctuating framerate. I know the console could handle these graphics with no trouble at all, so I blame these problems completely in the staff of Ubisoft Shanghai.
The offline multiplayer mode, not found in the Xbox version, is where I’m sure most Gamecube players will be spending their time with this game. Sadly, it is the least optimized portion of Rainbow Six 3. Framerates drop inexplicably all over the place, much more so than in the single player mode. This sometimes gets bad enough that certain missions are completely unplayable, most notably the Alpine Village stage, which runs so slowly that its impossible to accurately control anything. I must rub my fingers in shame at Ubisoft Shanghai for this massive misstep, as this problematic stage is also the first available mission for multiplayer. That’s right, if you haven’t unlocked any other stages by playing through them in the single player mode, then all you’ve got to show off to you friends is a mess of a stage that they won’t be able to visually comprehend. I can see hordes of kids renting this game for a sleepover and promptly returning it for “a game that works”. Most of the other levels are actually playable, and some run really well, but such a terrible first impression is inexcusable. Shame on you, Ubisoft Shanghai. Shame on you.
Only two modes round up the multiplayer options: Mission and Terrorist Hunt. These are probably the two you’d play the most anyway, but the glaring lack of any deathmatch modes is fairly irritating, especially since these would have been the easiest to get up and running on the Gamecube. Some of you may remember the first two Rainbow Six games on the Dreamcast were actually released with offline deathmatch being the only multiplayer mode available “due to hardware constraints”, so no deathmatch on the Gamecube is, as with many things in this port, inexcusable. The difficulty is also a bit messed up in the offline multiplayer. Even on the most difficult settings, the terrorist hunts were terribly easy, even when playing with R-6 virgins. The missions are harder, but its clear that they weren’t remixed for multiplayer. I’m not a Rainbow Six master by any means, so a series vet might not enjoy the offline multiplayer at all. Of course, I’m sure a series vet wouldn’t be buying this inferior Gamecube release, either.
And the biggest mishap on Ubisoft’s part: the lack of online multiplayer. Contrary to popular belief, online multiplayer is possible on the Gamecube. I know this because I play Phantasy Star Online with my jet black cube and dark gray 56k modem quite often. Actually, thanks to available drivers that support Gamecube online such as Sega Snap, getting a Gamecube game online is almost as easy (if not just as easy) as getting a Playstation 2 game online. And while the online market is definitely miniscule on a console that has received so little support, looking at the sales of the Phantasy Star Online games shows that a sizable market is there, just waiting to be exploited. This could have been a cross-platform experience with Gamecube to Playstation 2 play, but Ubisoft let the chance slip through their fingers, and now we’ve got one of the most important features of the original game completely missing from this version. Online play really is what this series is about, and I know most Cubies out there aren’t buying games for the online play, but neither are most Playstation 2 or even Xbox gamers. Leaving out such an important portion of the game is, (yet) again, inexcusable.
Surprisingly, Ubisoft did include extra options for you audio/videophiles out there – progressive scan and Dolby Pro Logic II support are in. But please, a/v fiends out there, please don’t hate me for this one: I would rather have had just one of the many flaws in the game, like the menu loading times, completely repaired, than have these decidedly non-integral features shipped with the game.
Rainbow Six 3 for the Gamecube was a hard game to review. It’s odd that a series I regard so highly would be repackaged into a huge mess of a port. It’s a shame that the game arrived to Nintendo’s platform in such poor form; had I been able to review a better version of the game, this writing would be filled with almost nothing but glowing praise. As a journalist, believe it or not, it can be disheartening (not fun, as most people seem to believe) to have to tear people’s work apart again and again. But this game could have been something… and it just isn’t.
Just for the sake of noting this, the Xbox version would have received an easy 9/10 from me.
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