What a mixed bag. On one hand, the Rainbow Six series finally gets a visual and control overhaul. On the other, the A.I. teammates seem to be competing for medals in the Special Olympics.
Things start out okay. Despite the rendered intro movies looking something like the CG cutscenes in PSone’s Syphon Filter, they move well, convey a sense of urgency, and sport some decent voice acting. The front end and mission setup screens look better and have been streamlined a bit more than in Rogue Spear, cutting planning stages down to three steps. Even playing as an observer is kind of interesting, taking a hands-off approach to the execution of the plan. Even though the game has made some improvements – such as more in-mission control of squad commands – it still hasn’t fixed some things, forcing players to control teams at key moments since there’s no way to say ahead of time, “Scan those windows for snipers before running out into the open.” As it is, you can merely have them stop at that area and hopefully they’ll see something before it sees (and shoots) them. Tom Clancy’s own Ghost Recon corrected this by allowing players to not only issue new waypoints during a mission, but also to indicate which way the A.I. squads will face when they reach their waypoints. It’s a gamble either way with Rainbow Six 3, a gamble the enemies often win.
You really are paired up with morons in some cases. While they have their moments of miraculous brilliance, spotting and killing a terrorist from a mile away, they get in your way more often than not, run into your line of fire, or ignore the chatter and rampant gunfire coming from right down the hall, waiting for a bullet sandwich before so much as looking in that direction. The character models and animations are great. Too bad they didn’t put any brains inside those beautiful bodies.
To compensate somewhat for the limited pre-mission planning options, now players can point at a door or a spot on the floor and bring up a context-sensitive menu that issues commands to the rest of the squad to open a door, open and clear, open-grenade-clear, or simply move to the point indicated. Seven times out of ten, this works. However, I watched the same thing done two very different ways by the same NPC. The command was open-bang-clear (open door, use flashbang, clear room). One time, he stood outside the doorway, opened the door without exposing himself to anyone in the room, tossed in the grenade, then moved in for the kill afterwards. Hooray! The next time I tried that, he stood right in the doorway, grenade in hand, and when the door swung open, he got blasted, dropped the grenade at his dead feet, and blinded and deafened our whole team, leaving us open to be slaughtered, too. You never know when they’re going to be smart or moronic about it! It keeps things exciting, but also forces the player to do most of the work. The command menu is a welcomed addition; now we just need smarter NPCs to execute those commands.
As stated, the visuals got a much-needed update from the days of Rogue Spear, though still largely blocky and unimpressive when compared to the Serious, Unreal, and LithTech engines. At max detail levels, the game gets pretty sharp, but you’ll need some serious hardware (forget what the box lists as minimum requirements) to even budge it with those kinds of visuals.
Weapon models are nicely drawn and textured. Their gunshot effects are also nicely executed, reflecting the unique sound of each model. In the mission setup screens, nearly every gun can have a silencer added now, even to something as seemingly ludicrous as a 50-caliber Desert Eagle and the M821A Barrett sniper rifle. It has great stopping power, but even with all the flash and sound suppression in the world, there’s no way an enemy won’t hear those weapons a mile away. Realism used to be the hallmark of this series. There are also some heavy support weapons that really don’t fit into this game at all and will likely never be used, except perhaps in multiplayer, a facet largely handled and elaborated on only by the after-market mod community. Odds are, for the bulk of the time, you’ll pick a standard load out and stick with it. The silenced Steyr Aug and Desert Eagle and the heartbeat sensor, as well as the different kinds of grenades (smoke, tear, frag, flash) each character is equipped with left my options open for every situation, and I saw no reason to deviate. Snipers can optionally add a thermal scope to their rifles – though it’s an illogical either/or option with the silencer; both can’t be equipped – but without being able to shoot through walls, it’s kind of a moot point.
Multiplayer is surprisingly vanilla and even worse than past incarnations, offering only one pre-defined equipment load out. Actual modes are limited to cooperative and adversarial, with Man-vs-Man, Save the Hostage, and Terrorist Hunt variations. This is pretty much what you’d expect and nothing more.
The expansion pack, Athena Sword, adds another campaign, but in the end the action consists of mostly just going in, killing all the bad guys, and saving the hostages. The occasional mission with no one to save is nice, letting you blow away anyone you stumble across. Still, character movement can be needlessly clunky, and constantly getting hung up on doors and teammates makes it seem like the terrorists are the least of your problems.
The auto-aim feature returns, perhaps making the game a little too easy, but then again, it has a lot of stupidity to compensate for. Missing, however, is the third-person camera view from every previous R6 title. With this view, it was easy to pretend you were using a fiber optic camera to peek around corners – something the characters actually use in Clancy’s Rainbow Six novel! – and it made things much more bearable.
The new squad commands make Rainbow Six 3 a more plan-as-you-go game than previous iterations, and the new visual polish is nice, if not exemplary. But in the end, the execution falls a little flat, making me curse the stupidity of my squad more often than not. By the time it was all over, I almost wanted to play as a bad guy instead. At least they had their act together.
Having played through Rainbow Six 3, Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, and Ghost Recon 2, and finding them to be less than worthy successors to their established thrones (SC : PT multiplayer notwithstanding), one has to wonder if the Clancy-verse is succumbing to the lowest common denominator and leaving the original fans wanting.