Genre: Tactical Shooter
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: March 18, 2008
Rainbow Six: Vegas was a game that almost seemed doomed from the beginning. It was released on November 12, 2006, just a scant few days after the juggernaut that was Gears of War. Despite going up against Epic Games' monster title, though, Rainbow Six: Vegas' solid team-based concept and excellent online gameplay managed to attract the attention of gamers who had already finished Gears or had no interest in Marcus Fenix's adventure. It succeeded so well that in 2007, it was the fourth most-played title on Xbox Live, beaten only by the unstoppable trio of Call of Duty 4, Gears of War and Halo 3. It should come as no surprise that a game like that earned a sequel, and Ubisoft was not one to let down its fan base. Nearly a year and a half after the original's cliffhanger ending, Ubisoft finally brings relief with Rainbow Six: Vegas 2.
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 picks up where the first title left off, although players are no longer put in control of Logan Keller, the protagonist of the original title. Instead, the game stars a retired operative code-named "Bishop," who's been called in to handle cleanup after the disastrous events at the end of the original R6:V. Bishop has no gender, race or features; he or she is entirely created by the player, using a modified version of the Create-A-Soldier feature from the prior title. The plot isn't as strong as it would be for a Tom Clancy novel, but it's certainly more fleshed out and interesting than it was in the previous offering. Perhaps the only real problem is that there is no refresher course or event summary for the first R6:V, so if you don't remember what happened or didn't play the game, be prepared to be quite lost during some of the major events.
Vegas 2's big addition to the franchise is Advanced Combat Enhancement Specialization (A.C.E.S.), which is basically a fancy saying for RPG-like leveling up. For every objective you complete and enemy you kill, you'll earn experience points, and once you earn enough, Bishop gains a rank. With each rank comes new equipment, armor and coloring that can be further used to customize your abilities.
In addition to regular experience points are A.C.E.S. points, which come in three types: Assault, Close Quarters and Marksman. When you perform certain actions, you'll earn points in that respective type. For example, sniping an enemy's head or shooting him from a distance earns you Marksman points, while shooting an enemy at close range or from behind earns you Close Quarters points. Earn enough A.C.E.S. points, and that respective type levels up, earning you a bonus that ranges from exclusive weapons to huge doses of experience points.
It's a fairly neat system, especially since A.C.E.S. are universal. Earn points in single-player mode, and they transfer over to the game's online play, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, the A.C.E.S. system is also quite easy to exploit for that same reason. By finding a simple level, you can easily max out all three A.C.E.S. in a few hours of dedicated effort by repeatedly loading and reloading against specific weak and easy-to-defeat enemies.
This is "balanced" by the fact that experience points take a ridiculous amount of time to earn. In order to achieve high rankings and good weapons, you're either going to have to play an insane amount of Vegas 2 or, far more likely, grind and grind for experience points. It's not a very satisfying thing to do in a first-person shooter.
Aside from the A.C.E.S. system, the gameplay in Vegas 2 is virtually unchanged from the original. The only real addition is the inclusion of a much-needed "sprint" button, which allows your characters to dash forward or sideways. It's a true godsend, especially in the game's larger areas, and it helps keep the action flowing at a much faster pace. Beyond that, though, nothing has really changed. Ubisoft has adhered to the "If it isn't broke, don't fix it" principle almost to a fault, and it is both Vegas 2's greatest strength and largest weakness. It's a strength because it keeps the same gameplay that people enjoy, but a weakness because it causes the game to feel old. Playing Vegas 2 doesn't feel like playing a sequel so much as it does an expansion pack. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially with such a well-received title, but one can't help but feel like they've played the game before, new missions or no.
Once again, co-op play is available in the single-player mode. Inexplicably, however, Vegas 2 only allows two-player co-op instead of the four-player experience that was found in the original title. Vegas 2 thrusts the second player into the shoes of "Knight," Bishop's partner, and leaves the rest of the team remaining as AI partners. It's an unsatisfying addition to the team-based experience that made Rainbow Six so unique. Knight doesn't feel like a member of the team or an additional squad mate; he just feels like a random hired gun who sits around, never interacts with the story, and occasionally shoots guys. Knight can't even command the AI squad members, as that is left up to Bishop, leaving Knight as nothing more then an additional gun.
The improved Terrorist Hunt mode does offer four-player co-op, but it just can't compare to a well-designed single-player mission. Terrorist Hunt just devolves into exploring maps and shooting generic and plotless terrorists with a few other guys. It's difficult to justify something that dull when you could be playing against other humans online or the better-designed single-player campaign instead.
One of Vegas 2's biggest problems comes from character AI. When it works, the character AI, especially of your squad members, is surprisingly excellent — sometimes too good. On any difficulty setting lower than Realistic, my squad members would prove devastatingly effective against all but the most difficult situations, instantly slaughtering everything in the way while Bishop hung back and built up his Marksman rating with a few well-placed headshots. Even if they fell, reviving them was as easy as pressing the A button.
Other times, however, my squad members would act brain-dead. They'd get stuck on boxes, fire at the wall, or just sit there until sniper bullets flew through their heads. There was no in-between; either they were unstoppable killing machines or worthless slobs, and they seemed to switch from one to the other at the worst possible times. The enemies and civilians don't fare much better, as they would also suffer from periodic bouts of stupidity, suddenly stopping in the middle of firefight to stare at a wall. More than once, Bishop met an untimely fate because a civilian stopped in my line of fire, making it impossible to shoot the terrorists hiding behind him unless I dove out, putting myself in the enemy's line of fire and getting a sniper bullet through the head for my troubles.
Of course, for most gamers, Rainbow Six's single-player mode is going to be a quaint afterthought to the online mode. Naturally, Vegas 2's online mode has the same addictive and fun online gameplay that made the original offering so popular. There are a few new game modes to liven things up; in Team Leader mode, the sides are assigned a leader who allows his squad members to respawn as long as he is alive, and in Demolition mode, a Counter-Strike-inspired game type, one side attempts to plant a bomb while the other side stops them.
The addition of the A.C.E.S. system is a nice touch, although a bit poorly integrated. Most of the objectives in online modes don't earn experience or A.C.E.S. points, which come from kills. It doesn't encourage players to rescue hostages or capture satellite transmitters; it encourages them to shoot each other, which really takes away from the importance of Vegas 2's objective-based teamwork.
Vegas 2 is generally not a bad-looking game. In most ways, it is identical to the original title, for all the good and bad that comes with it. It's not a terrible-looking game by any means, although compared to many recent titles like Call of Duty 4, it isn't that impressive, either. There are a few improvements, and a lot of the minor effects have received a noticeable upgrade, but for the most part, it is a tried-and-true remix of what you've already played.
That isn't to say that Vegas 2 doesn't have new issues, because it most certainly does. There is a very noticeable frame rate drag during many of the big scenes; basically, the more things onscreen at once, the more likely it will be that the game will lag. There are also some very noticeable cases of textures taking a while to pop in or ending up blurred, particularly in the multiplayer modes. They're minor issues at best, although the frame rate drop during major battles is incredibly aggravating, and it's difficult to understand why such an average-looking title has such a hard time maintaining a consistent frame rate. There is also the honest fact that the environments are less interesting. Most of your time in Vegas 2 is spent not in the neon and glitz of the Vegas limelight, but in boring factories, identical hallways, and absolutely nothing that would set apart Rainbow Six: Vegas from Rainbow Six: Anywhere Else.
Like the graphics, the sound in Vegas 2 is a slight improvement over the first title. A few of the numerous sound errors from the original game have been fixed or at least softened here, but they're far from gone. There were a number of times when the single-player character's voice acting would cut out or go blank for a few moments, leaving me unsure of what was said, a phenomenon that's not helped at all by the game's complete lack of subtitles. Weapon sounds would occasionally skip, play the wrong sound effect, or cut out completely. It feels sloppy at best, and while the sound problems are not quite as bad as they were in the original, they're more than enough to rip gamers out of the experience.
Rainbow Six: Vegas was a good game, and Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 is more of the same. The only problem here is that "more of the same" includes glitches, but not very much original or innovative gameplay. Ubisoft chose to play it safe, with the only major addition being a Call of Duty 4-style leveling system, which in and of itself isn't particularly great. Rainbow Six: Vegas was a good game, but we played it a year and a half ago, and Vegas 2 doesn't really bring anything to the table to justify moving away from more customizable or larger games like Call of Duty 4 or Halo 3. Vegas 2 is a title for die-hard Rainbow Six fans or those who are absolutely desperate for a new shooter. Everyone else will want to wait for a price drop or the inevitable next Rainbow Six title.
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