Genre: Tactical Shooter
Release Date: August 5, 2004
Buy 'RAINBOW SIX 3: Black Arrow': Xbox
On rare occasions, a game comes along that bridges that vast gap between reality and video games, sporting visceral visuals, gut-wrenching animations, and sounds that can literally make you feel like you just experienced a drive-by. Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow is very much one of those games, and it might even be a touch too realistic for some people.
For those who have played first-person shooters but are inexperienced with Rainbow Six, let me get you into the right mind frame. STEP 1: Give paintball guns for four of your friends and have them stand in your yard. STEP 2: Request that they shoot you as much as possible the moment they see you. STEP 3: Grab a squirt gun and prepare yourself. STEP 4: Go running headfirst into your yard, screaming like a lunatic, just as you would in most FPS games. STEP 5: Curl up on the ground in a fetal position, screaming for them to stop firing at you while praying they are more empathetic than the terrorists in RS3: BA. The intent of this little exercise is to illustrate the difference between real life and most first person shooters, while also explaining how you have to play Black Arrow. (As an added bonus, if you actually went through with it, I am sure your friends had a blast.)
In Rainbow Six, you have to play with real life physics, pain, guns, death and strategy in mind; it's like the difference between Rambo and Bob the security guard. Instead of running headlong into a room with no potential cover and enemies flanking in elevated positions, you have to use strategy, toss a smoke grenade for cover and make a break for the next hallway. There are a couple of things that make such tactics a necessity. For instance, you have a realistic amount of health with hit locations; a shot to the head, and it's over. It is also difficult to fire accurately while running, which brings about the need for taking cover in a secure position and firing from there. Thankfully, you do not have to go at it alone, as you have a dedicated team that follows you and follows your orders. They help to even the numbers and play an integral part in strategic planning. These elements are what make the game so very frustrating and rewarding all at once because there is nothing quite as gratifying as forming a strategic plan involving flash grenades and multiple points of entry, following through with flawless execution and clearing out the room of the terrorists. On the other hand, there is nothing quite as frustrating as doing it almost flawlessly and still getting shot in the head by a stray bullet and going down like a sack of potatoes.
In order to execute your strategic plans, you are given a few tools of command with which to control your troops. You have the option of using an in-game menu to give them direct orders, which covers a variety of tasks from blasting open doors and clearing out any terrorists to covering a specific area with suppressive fire. In order to augment these orders, you have something called Zulu commands, where your troops will wait until you trigger the order with a specific button. Those orders provide options like having them cover the front entrance, wait for your command before opening the door, tossing in a flash grenade and firing upon any inhabitants while you enter from the backdoor and kill the opposing forces. You also can issue these commands via a headset if you like using the game's built-in speech recognition. Personally, I had a hard time getting into talking to my TV, but some of my friends seemed to think it was the most entertaining thing since the He-Man Christmas Special, where Skeletor learns the meaning of Christmas (it's real, I swear!).
The maps in single player mode are all fairly realistic. For example, the hotel stage was complete with a kitchen that provided numerous stoves and sinks for the terrorists to use for cover, a beautiful lobby with numerous entrances and even a laundry room. The placement of paper stands, Coke machines, chairs, doorways and other miscellaneous items seems innocuous while at the same time fitting into the layout in a very well designed, strategically sound manner. A situation might seem hopeless, but upon closer inspection, there is always at least one way to go about it with a little planning. The stages were well designed and well-suited to the nature of the game, but like all things, there were drawbacks. The stages are linear, and you and your teammates are unable to jump onto, climb or knock over obstacles. This drives me nuts in a game so focused on realism because this is as unrealistic as can be. Forcing linear movement through tiny little obstacles that a three year old could climb over is just a pet peeve of mine. Outside of the linear design, I really thought the stages did their part in creating the proper atmosphere and strategic layout that this game requires.
Multiplayer, while showcasing the same mechanics, was a slightly different story. The same things that made the single player mode so charming to me made the multiplayer a dreadful experience. It's so important to be on a team of people who communicate and work well together, or else the game turns into a quick killing fragfest where the person who sees the other first wins. This can sound fun to some people, but in my opinion, it really doesn’t match up well with this game. Mind you, in my online experience, I am not part of any Rainbow Six squads and in fact did not even have my headset plugged in most of the time. I spent most of my time getting shot once and dying or shooting other people once and watching them die. It just didn’t play as well as I would have liked. On the upside, the multiplayer maps seem to be much less linear than the single player maps (no surprise there really). Perhaps it’s the control freak in me, but the best time I had was commanding my squad, which I could not do online. As for the multiplayer modes, expect some good gameplay, but don't expect anything revolutionary. You have your survivor and team survivor modes, as well as two new additions, total conquest and retrieval. In total conquest, your goal is to maintain control of three satellite transmission stations for X amount of time, and in retrieval, your goal is to snatch a “flag” which is actually a canister of hazardous materials and bring it back to your base. These new additions definitely help to flesh out an already robust multiplayer facet (assuming you have a skilled squadron to play with). There is another important aspect to look at in the multiplayer realm of the game, and that is co-op, where one can play split screen with a friend against the terrorists. This is another new feature in Black Arrow, and it does make it a touch more enjoyable.
The developers' attention to detail and realistic focus on authenticity is present in nearly every aspect of the game, especially the guns. You have something like 30 or more weapons to pick from, and the list ranges from handguns to assault rifles to shotguns. Each gun has its own unique stats and applications, which should make for some nice variety as far as weapon choice is concerned, at least in theory, but it seems to be a common problem that plagues today’s first-person shooters. To illustrate, there is a single hand gun that has the highest single shot damage output, semiautomatic fire, moderate accuracy and a decent sized clip. There is only one other sidearm that has higher accuracy, which has much lower damage and close to the same size of a clip. It begs the question, "Why use the second pistol if the first is so much better?" Other categories have even worse comparisons such as the choice between a fully automatic shotgun and a pump action shotgun where they have the same stats otherwise. If you are going to the trouble of modeling and programming for so many different weapons, shouldn’t you also go out of your way to ensure that the weapons are worth choosing? Weapon balance aside I think they did a great job; the weapons look flawless and feel very authentic, complete with muzzle flash and enough kick that you don’t want to try and just hold the trigger unless it’s just to provide cover fire.
Graphically, the game looks very much like its predecessor and I believe that is likely because it uses the same graphics engine, weapon and character models and effects. What does that ultimately mean? When Rainbow Six 3 first came out, it had beautiful graphics that were at times awe-inspiring. This game has those same incredible graphics, models and images, like the visual effects of the blinding light caused by a flash grenade and the blurred confusion caused by tear gas. I personally found a great deal of pleasure in the way they handled the rag-doll physics; placing a well-timed shot into the brain casing of a terrorist as he somersaults in front of you is a thing of beauty, as you get to watch him slump over with a renovated head.
Much like the graphics, audio is also top notch and very realistic. The voice actors played their parts well, and thankfully, I never got tired of them talking. The music was unique, driving and faded into the background while you play. The sounds effects were spot on and extremely realistic, from the report of the gun to the sounds of bullets smashing into the cover you are hoping will protect you. More than once, I turned a corner to have a rocket speed past my head and detonate just behind me, making such a loud and sudden sound that I jumped (of course the sound is augmented wonderfully by the vibration in the controller, which I think is what I am going to blame the jumpiness on in order to save face).
The extremely realistic style of first-person shooter may not be for everyone, and prior to this game, I had not thought it would have been for me, but I was wrong. I found the single player mode of this game to very exciting and enticing, and I enjoyed the realism, strategy and cinematic moments that occurred during actual game play. To me, this game is worth every penny, as it will provide more than ample entertainment with its 10 stages and multiplayer options. Tom Clancy games just keep getting better and better; I just wish I could say the same about all of my favorite games’ sequels.
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