Genre: Tactical Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: March 18, 2008
The bleeding edge of gaming criticism likes to bemoan the industry's reliance on sequels and franchises, and there is one type of sequel that is the worst of all: the "expansion pack" sequel, which is little more than a reiteration last year's big hit with slightly updated visuals and new features they couldn't quite fit in the first time. While the gaming elite hate this sort of sequel, it's more or less exactly what the average fan wants, just a version of their favorite game with new features and new content. Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a pure expansion pack sequel, intended to give everyone who loved Rainbow Six an updated version of the game that might lure them away from Halo 3 or Team Fortress 2 for awhile. If you can't stand expansion pack sequels, you can just stop reading now. If a bigger and better Rainbow Six Vegas is exactly what you want to play, then read on.
The most dramatic improvements to Vegas are going to be in the multiplayer content, which unfortunately this preview can't cover. Since so much of Rainbow Six Vegas's longevity came down to its excellent multiplayer, a quick rundown of the multiplayer features Ubisoft is promising is appropriate. Persistent Elite Creation from the original Vegas is set to be replaced by a true experience point-dependent rank-up system, where players unlock new weapons and other options as their character participates in online matches. Players of the original Vegas are set to be able to start Vegas 2 multi with XP and rank boosts, but won't be able to transfer characters. Intriguingly, Ubisoft is promising that players are going to unlock weapons and other options in a way consistent with their gameplay style, presumably to encourage players to specialize. Multi is bringing back all of the original Vegas multi weapons along with eleven new additions (such as the sound suppressed SR25 sniper rifle and M468) as well as two new game modes. Thirteen new maps in all are available for play, and many maps are set to return both from Vegas and the Raven Shield title. Networking functions are supposed to be improved, making it easier to find matches online (check skill level, ping, geographical location etc.) and possible to join games already in progress.
Now, what of the single-player game itself? Well… it's Rainbow Six Vegas, but better. Your teammates are a bit smarter, you get to design your own protagonist, and actually have the option of selecting a male or female character. You also have more tactical options for handling the enemy. All of the previous game's weapons are back along with some new options, but the overall feel of the gameplay is remarkably similar. It even covers portions of the same plot, since Rainbow Six Vegas 2 covers a time period five years prior, and then concurrent, with the events of the first game. In some ways this is disappointing, since doing an entirely new and different Vegas story seems like it would've allowed for more exploration of the wild environments Vegas has to offer up for shoot-outs. Granted, if you what you really want out of Vegas 2 is Vegas but more so, you'll be right at home.
The controls are nearly identical to the original Vegas set-up. Right trigger shoots and left trigger is your contextual cover button. Left bumper lets you "tag" a terrorist, and sprint if you hold it down. Similarly, the right bumper brings up vision mode and lets you access the vision menu when held down. The back button brings up your objectives when tapped, and the tactical menu when held down. Start pauses, the left stick handles movement and lets you crouch when it's pressed down, and the right stick lets you control the camera and zoom. The D-pad lets you access the tactical menu to command your squad, with different commands mapped to each direction. The four face buttons handle weapon switching (Y), reloading (X), throwing grenades (B), and contextual interactions (A). All told, a typical 360 FPS control scheme with no surprises, and nothing at all different to remember or use.
The simple controls are matched by a robust selection of ways to play Vegas. For multiplayer, both Live and System Link are options. For the game's story mode, players can opt to run through it as a single player, to online co-op via system link or Live, or to even run through the game in split-screen mode. The story is the same in all modes, but obviously playing with a human partner allows for more sophisticated tactics against the AI.
That said, playing with the AI buddies provided you in single player isn't a bad experience at all, they have been made “human” and react better to situations. Unlike the original your team members will not only use the grenades to breach doors, but also toss them around during actual combat. Your squad will also make us of the leapfrogging technique, which means when one AI moves, the others will provide cover, and so forth. Overall the AI has been tweaked to make you feel like you are really part of a team and make use of the gadgets that are provided/unlocked, and not the usual nuisance of walking into the line of fire, act as cannon fodder or being useless in general.
Vegas 2 begins with a lengthy prologue segment that takes place in the French Pyrenees, in a communications tower that's been seized by terrorists. This immediately places you in an environment that is, well, not very much like Vegas. It's all pristine snow-capped mountains and then a fairly nondescript military-industrial interior, with a few office areas. The graphics are largely identical to Rainbow Six's, with some improved textures and more details on the human models. Vegas 2 doesn't look drastically better than its predecessor, but you can see effort went into improving the little details on clothing and certain background areas.
You begin the mission with orders to set up a trap for the terrorists with another Rainbow team while a negotiator buys you time. You're leading a team of new recruits, one of which fails to hold his fire when ordered. This makes everything go wrong, and sets up much of the action of the original Rainbow Six: Vegas. The entire scene acts sort of like a tutorial, but far more interesting and action-packed. The game is immediately forcing you to use all of your options, setting up situations where you must charge through doors with flash grenades instead of a blind charge, and forcing you through dark areas where your infrared goggles are the only way to see. There are even several firefights where using the goggles is far more essential to victory than it was in the original game. You also get to play with the new rappelling action, which is fun but can be very bad for your health if you burst through a window without carefully orchestrating your entrance.
There are also now waystations in levels that let you completely change your character's equipment options on the fly. The level-up system that applies to multiplayer also seems to apply to the single-player, with acquired XP from kills applying to the "role" you play in combat. Apart from increasing your XP, you can also improve your “Rank” by completing objectives, while playing tactically will boost your ACES rating, which is split in three categories. I primarily rely on commands given to my teammates and sniping enemies from a distance, so I promptly began leveling up in CQS and Marksman. I'm not sure how exactly this makes my character distinct from one that's leveling up in Assault, but it probably plays a major difference in what equipment unlocks become available, and varying equipment types have immediately noticeable performance differences.
As in the original Rainbow Six Vegas, Vegas 2 features very little in the way of music. Long stretches of gameplay are absolutely silent except for the tons of character dialogue and realistic sound effects. Some dramatic action-thriller style music cues up for intense firefights that usually mark the climax of part of a mission, and sometimes "tense" music plays to enhance the eeriness of charging into areas that appear utterly deserted. Most all of your objectives and the storyline is conveyed in dialogue, and ambient dialogue is generally a very useful way of determining whether or not you're about to enter an empty room. Bishop is a pleasantly talkative character, with complete lines recorded for both male and female versions. The conversations with the trainees and terse exchanges with superiors manage to give him (or her) a surprising amount of personality for a character that easily could've just been designed as a cipher. Although you still end up wading through a lot of mini-menus and text, the emphasis on dialogue does offer an enhanced sense of immersion.
My time playing Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is enjoyable, and does a lot to remind me of what I enjoyed so much about the first game's multiplayer campaign. Thus far Vegas 2 is, if anything, a more tense and fast-paced experience, which lets you go from checkpoint to checkpoint more quickly while also giving you more variety in what you do. It's hard to argue that this is an exciting title just from a pure gameplay standpoint; the new features aside, it's quite nearly identical to Vegas, which was by itself a solid if not massively innovative shooter. Whether or not you like Vegas 2 is going to depend in large part on how much you liked Vegas and, generally, how much you like tactical shooters. If this is the kind of game you ordinarily enjoy to a great degree, then it's definitely going to be worth your time if you've been itching for something new to play. If not, well, you can probably take a pass until Ubisoft decides that it's time for the Rainbow Six franchise to take its next great leap forward.
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