Genre: Tactical FPS
Developer: Red Storm Entertainment
Release Date: September 6, 2005
The history of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six on the Xbox has been a distinguished one. Rainbow Six 3 and its followup, Black Arrow, were demanding shooters in which survival depended upon a rigorous tactical approach to every room full of terrorists. If you didn't fight with forethought and make the most of your arsenal, you died, and the terrorist menace prevailed.
Team leader Ding Chavez returns in Rainbow Six: Lockdown to face a new slew of enemies of freedom. Whereas previous iterations held Ding's feet to the fire, Lockdown holds his hand. As you assume the role of Ding and command the Rainbow squad through a 14-mission campaign, you feel not so much like the leader of an elite antiterrorist unit as you do an earnest recruit who's got it a little too easy.
With a daisies-in-a-meadow difficulty compared to Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow, Lockdown introduces new gadgets and includes optional assistive features that obviate the need for most serious planning. The Xbox Live experience, sure to account for an even greater portion of the game's overall appeal this time around, is nevertheless marred by the addition of a character-building system that encourages obsessive play maybe not for the wrong reasons, but perhaps not for the best ones either.
There's Something About Viruses
For newcomers, Rainbow Six is a series of tactical first-person shooters that eschews run-and-gun gameplay for more measured, goal-based action that turns on your ability to plan and execute. Deliberately paced with terrorists ("tangos" in Rainbow-speak) ducking behind desks and snipers perched in unseen windows, Rainbow Six games don't dabble in alien zealots or portals to hell. Dealing death to earthly haters of freedom is the name of the game.
And where would freedom-haters be without viruses? Lockdown's bad guys, the Global Liberation Front (GLF), don't try to fix what ain't broken as far as implements of terror go. They set about unleashing Legion, a nanotech-engineered hemorrhagic fever, to achieve their terrorist ends.
Ding and company globetrot from mission to mission to bring the fight to the enemy and shut them down before blood starts pouring from the orifices of innocents. You lead a bigger roster of operatives now, though still only a few at a time. Loiselle, Weber and Price are back, and Weber's been promoted from lead-eating extra to full-on supporting actor. You wield his rifle several times to cover the rest of your squad in some sniping additions to the core FPS gameplay.
All the sniping, while in keeping with the Rainbow Six ethos, amounts in practice to a great deal of picking hapless tangos out of the scenery before they launch a rocket-propelled grenade. Many of them graciously shuffle into your sights, requiring more patience than precision. If you use the optional enhanced targeting that displays big, bright parentheses around enemies, sniping becomes an even easier proposition.
Once you get on the ground, the first thing you notice is that the terrorists of the near future don't seem to have it all quite together. They stroll around corners without a hint of wariness, oblivious to whatever counter-terror strike force may be waiting on the other side. Some squat politely while you line up a clean headshot. Others stand in the open down long corridors, as if the mere distance between you and them will keep them safe.
It's not just simpleton terrorists that make your job easier. You've also got some new gear that takes much of the sport out of making the world a safer place. Night and thermal vision return, but the handiest – and cheapest – piece of vision enhancement is the new heartbeat sensor that lights up tangos through solid walls.
Ding's stylish new visor is equipped with this Cylon-ish, red monitor that identifies pumping hearts and displays a graphical representations of the tangos attached to them. This new toy lets you stand outside a room, scan for tangos, line up your shot, open the door and spray lead. If you spy a larger group of heartbeats, you know it's time to position your team to breach the door while you either approach from another entrance or wait for them to absorb most of the enemy fire and then move in to mop up. In other words, Lockdown has sold out the much-lauded Clancy realism for some X-ray vision. At least it's not bullet time.
Alongside the more specialized gear in your arsenal are the many assault rifles, sub-machine guns and grenades you select before each mission. A few novel items, like the stun grenade and breaching hammer, beef up your choices, but do little to add new depth to the approach-breach-clear cycle you follow through most missions. It's not an unsatisfying pattern, just a familiar one, and despite the minor additions, using the good old smoke grenade-thermal vision combination continues to be one of the most effective ways of taking care of business without taking too many hits.
In previous Rainbow Six games, it was always prudent and advisable to keep your team alive until a mission's climactic confrontation. Lockdown's decreased difficulty, however, increases your team's expendability, and you may catch yourself ordering them around more recklessly than Black Arrow would've allowed. On the other hand, you may end up keeping them healthy almost by default, as sometimes it's just faster – given their questionable marksmanship – to just move in and clear a room on your own.
The level designs at least provide a variety of ways to approach each campaign mission. Often operating on multiple floors with terrorists above or below, you have to be mindful of several planes at all times. Portions of some levels get too frustratingly maze-like, but even those offer a measure of much-needed complexity – no matter how contrived – in a world that is otherwise a bit too straightforward for its own good.
Basic movement and combat controls are easy enough to pick up and learn. Ordering your squad has changed somewhat, both in terms of how you issue orders and what you can make them do. You can now order them to quiet down and enter a recon mode rather than assuming a constant assault posture. The command menu also has been tweaked. It's now broken into levels that separate how you want your team to open a door, say, and what you want them to do once they're in (frag and clear, flash and clear, and so on). This gives the appearance of more options, but in practice the command mechanisms work more or less like they did in the previous Xbox Rainbow Six games.
The (Expressionless) Face of Terror
Most missions unfold in a graphical world that looks more like a decent first try than what you'd expect the third appearance of Rainbow Six on the Xbox to look like. The drabness is by design, to a certain extent, as much of the action takes place in electrical rooms, basement lairs and other such environments dominated by grays and somber greens. Still, even the non-industrial levels – a parliament building in Scotland, a brandy distillery in France – lack the visual flare you might expect in such potentially ornate locations. Whatever you do, don't look too closely at the bricks.
Character models bear a similar dullness. Tangos have a sweatshirt-and-jeans uniformity about them. Your team fares somewhat better in the fashion department, decked out as they are in camo garb, armor and headgear. Their flat faces, however, while more distinctive than the tangos, do too good of a job disguising the killer instinct lurking behind the facade.
Perhaps more of a pet peeve than a fatal flaw, the goofy icons indicating team placement (glowing blue circle) and checkpoints (bright yellow arrow) nevertheless distract from the otherwise sober visual aspect of the game. Lockdown doesn't suffer this plague alone. The Medal of Honor and Brothers in Arms series also have battlefields littered with awkward, candy-colored elements. They have obvious practical utility, but they intrude hideously on the gameplay and cheapen the overall presentation, undercutting further still the traditional Clancy look and feel.
A repetitive soundtrack built around a chunky guitar riff is the most memorable element of the sound design, even though you'll hear it more when you're setting up your Live matches than any other time. Your squad mouths off when you wait too long between orders, and the voice work in the pre-deployment briefings occasionally lapses into a curious, almost mocking tone. Grenade and other explosive effects sound much as they did before.
Persistent? Elite? Creation?
The Xbox Live online action has long been the backbone of the Rainbow Six appeal. That holds true for Lockdown, though one significant addition risks changing the essence of the online experience for the worse. The new Persistent Elite Creation (PEC) mode lets you choose a character of a certain class – medic, engineer, commando or spec-op – and build your unique skills over time. As you gain levels and earn skill points, you can enhance your toughness, become more proficient with heavy weapons and make your armor more effective, while also earning experience points you can use to buy grenades and balaclavas.
Engaging PEC mode is optional, but PEC-enabled games are by far the most prevalent among games available online. It's understandable that, given the option, online players want their time investment to count toward acquiring concrete rewards, but should the online Rainbow Six experience really be about this sort of literal leveling up?
Well, no. Let the time-honed skills be reflected in the number of kills on the tote board after each round. Don't cheapen it by making it about object acquisition and maxing out character stats, but bravo to the marketers behind the name Persistent Elite Creation!
Beyond PEC mode, most everything else in online multiplayer will be familiar to Rainbow Six vets. Sharpshooter matches usually outnumber retrieval, survival and other modes by a wide margin. Squad and recruitment support is in place, of course. Plenty of level-35 commandos, who work very well together to dominate your spawn point, are waiting for you.
Most maps offer many tactical possibilities, but not in such a way as to encourage players to take advantage of them. The Clinic, a favorite map among Team Sharpshooter players, is one example. Even with plenty of outdoor sniping positions and many balconies with tempting windows, most players burn up the corridors that link the red and green spawn rooms and only rarely venture into more interesting territory.
Rainbow Six: Lockdown shares so much with its predecessors that ranking it significantly lower than those accomplished titles should seem out of the question. Lockdown's new elements, however, emphasize gadgetry over planning, and a softer gameplay style over the more exacting tactical demands of Black Arrow and Rainbow Six 3. Online, Lockdown delivers several excellent new maps, but the character-building PEC mode plays out more as a distracting curiosity than a serious evolution in the Rainbow Six multiplayer experience. Lockdown offers some reasonably fun, familiar action, but in a package that's too friendly and ultimately disappointing as the final Rainbow Six of the current Xbox generation.