On a cold winter’s night, there’s nothing more cozy and comforting than dragging your favorite old, moth eaten sweater from the dark nether regions of the closet and snuggling down for a quiet evening by the fire. It’s oddly reassuring to be enwrapped by the thick, luscious and faithful woolen fabric that you know so well; it’s almost like a seasonal visit from an extra member of the family. Forging through Ubi Soft and Red Storm’s latest installment of Rainbow Six 3 is as close as video games can ever get to that sensation of winter wool and crackling open hearths. Perhaps instead of Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow, the game would have more aptly titled as Rainbow Security Sweater 3: Black Sloppy Joe.
Soft Is Hard To Beat
For those unfamiliar with the Ubi Soft/Tom Clancy gaming experience, Black Arrow is the latest in a constantly expanding repertoire of top quality first-person shooters and team-based military action titles. Though it perhaps lacks the exquisite light sourcing, ambience and attention to detail so prevalent in Ubi Soft’s hugely successful Splinter Cell series (also Tom Clancy inspired), it still oozes ample amounts of superior production value. This serves as a testament to developers Red Storm and their continuing dedication to the craft, which easily elevates Black Arrow to heights that other, lesser games can only ever hope to reach.
Unlike the previous Rainbow Six 3, this installment is much less of a story driven episode; in fact, its plot (for want of a better word) feels somewhat fragmented and shoehorned in order to justify a game that’s little more than an expansion pack. The missions don’t truly fit together through a tight story arc that gradually unfolds before the audience, and there’s also a noticeable absence of FMV sequences to lend credibility to the motivation behind the action. But, that said, if you’re already accustomed to the Tom Clancy universe, then you won’t really care about the lack of story depth; you’ll be more actively concerned with how the game plays, yes? Rest easy, because whatever Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow lacks in textured plot and story involvement, it more than makes up for through consistently tense and immersive level scenarios.
Covert Air Miles
Black Arrow is an international affair in every sense of the word; Team Rainbow finds itself jetting around the world a great deal this time around. The level designs, though beautifully rendered, are fairly restrictive and linear, but there is a definite feel that specifically differing atmosphere has been implemented to provide a varied experience. And Black Arrow succeeds admirably in that regard. Through the tight enclosures of London’s tube system, to the sprawling, sunset drenched ruins of Tunisia, and the claustrophobic back streets and open-air markets of Athens, every mission evolves in gameplay characteristics. This evolution further imposes its individual sensation on the player the more you progress; whether it is via frustratingly well-hidden snipers, overpowering odds, or being caught in successive cross-fires – each environment and scenario demands a new tactical approach.
Follow The Leader
The three Rainbow squad members at your command (you play the team leader, and fourth member of the squad, Domingo ?Ding’ Chavez) respond to orders unfailingly in none combat situations and will also fend for themselves most adequately when fired upon. Issuing orders is intuitive and easy to execute regardless of on-screen events, but you are severely limited to the type of commands at your disposal. Opening doors and securing hostages is about as flexible as your squad members get – there’s no suppressing fire or bounding from corner to corner here (ala Full Spectrum Warrior). As the team leader, you generally take point anyway, and the rest of the squad obediently follows behind you as cover, which for the most part, is perfectly fine. However, certain rooms, or areas, will have more than one entrance or exit; this is the game ?subtly’ indicating that perhaps you should consider having your squad use a breaching charge on one door as you hurl a blinding flashbang grenade through the other. Apart from that, though, your squad trails after you like lemmings with a cannon fodder obsession.
Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow has been put through the graphical polishing machine during its development time, and each ensuing mission is resplendent with crisp, clear and precise visuals. There appears to be no relevant or reoccurring pop-up issues or jagging, either; nothing graphically damaging that ever breaks the covert illusion that so immerses you as Ding and his dutiful team creep inexorably toward their goal. The team’s inventory of weapons is largely unchanged from the last edition of the Rainbow series, and unfortunately the computer still stringently selects the weaponry for everyone outside of Chavez. An annoyingly restrictive detail – especially considering Black Arrow’s opening FMV movie highlights the specific individual weapon traits of your team, but they oddly never seem to be carrying their choice piece of hardware. The arsenal of weapons open to Chavez is vast, but a great many of the handguns, submachine guns and light assault rifles will probably not discharge a single round onscreen. Why? Simply because the G3A3 (7.62mm) rifle is once more included and, coupled with the M203 40mm variable round grenade launcher, there’s really not much the game can throw at you that you can’t neutralize.
Aren’t Terrorists Supposed To Have Bad Eyesight?
But, all hope of solid resistance is not yet lost. The opposition AI in Black Arrow has received some intricate refinement, which sees terrorists behave much more?um?terrorist-like. For example, when Ding and his men attempt to infiltrate a room where a hostage is being held, the oppositional occupants won’t merely return fire. If the team isn’t quick enough in its ?clearing’ of the room, then a hostage will be used as a human shield by the nearest terrorist. Subsequently, this makes for some nerve tingling sharp shooting as Ding zeros in for an extremely tight headshot. Of course, the terrorists aren’t always quite so inventive. Failing to clear a room swiftly will sometimes lead to the reactionary execution of the hostage within?and an instant mission fail for Ding. General firefights and open encounters are typically frenetic in nature, and often a delayed response from any of your team results in almost assured failure. These particular bad guys did not attend the Star Wars: Stormtrooper Academy of Weapons Targeting. Be warned: each member of your team only has a paltry four pips of health; when the crack of enemy gunfire shatters the cloying silence, you’d better react quickly. This is no Medal of Honor: Frontline – walking away unscathed after a nearby fragmentation grenade explosion simply isn’t going to happen!
Save Your Frustration
Using the game’s limited saves wisely is an absolute must, and it’s here where gamers will get complete replay satisfaction from Black Arrow. The single-player campaign has three difficulty settings (recruit, veteran and elite) and each one has lessening amounts of save opportunities for the player (recruit 3 saves, veteran 2, and elite 1). Now, this review is based on playing through the game on the elite setting?and I would heartily recommend that anyone who’s prepared to invest time in Black Arrow should do exactly the same. The missions gradually become more elaborate and objective heavy, and they quickly grow insanely difficult and taxing on your concentration levels. Having only 1 save opportunity amid missions containing three lesser objectives keeps the old heart pumping throughout Black Arrow’s 10 level single-player mode. To further compound the frustration and controller-chewing tension that are experienced while attempting to conquer the elite setting, Black Arrow also boasts semi-random terrorist spawning. I find it hard to describe the conflicting mixture of absolute fury and pleasant surprise that you’ll undoubtedly feel as you burst headlong into a corridor that was empty the last time you loaded your save point. The joyous sensation of surprise soon gives way to the fury, though, as you discover the corridor is now home to grinning terrorists and waves of unforgiving hot lead. Death follows?and a reload?but this time you’re more vigilant and mindful as you tread cautiously into the corridor, only to find it empty again. It’s not a random feature, and some terrorists do appear in the same places repetitively, but it certainly helps to keep you attentive through every courtyard, every reception lobby, every machine room, every sewer system?and every adjoining corridor.
Black Arrow: Another String To The Bow
Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow is a polished but shallow trip down familiar paths of Ubi Soft glory. It provides no gargantuan gameplay departures from its Xbox predecessor, but instead hones its faults and deepens its player interaction through improved AI, intuitive spawning and a wonderfully difficult elite setting. Black Arrow’s thinly veiled expansion pack physique is undercut by its reduced price tag, but that should only further motivate you to throw yourself at Ubi Soft’s feet and thank them profusely for yet another thoroughly high-end title.