"We know that special-ops missions must often be unromantic, behind-the-scenes dirty work, but the developers must have forgotten that Vegas is a game. Because nothing is so disappointing about it as the fact that it never feels like we’re in Vegas."
There is something inherently cool about navigating a hushed corridor, peeking around the corner, and sniping a couple of patrolling terrorists who never see it coming. The thrill that a competent special-ops game elicits is undeniable. Rainbow Six: Vegas provides this rush for the duration of its short five-level life, which is the very best thing which can be said about it; it’s a decent romp, nothing more.
This is extremely regrettable, because Vegas fails to cash in on easy opportunities to really shine and be special. For starters, though the adventure ostensibly takes place in Las Vegas, don’t expect to rush the roulette tables guns blazing. Instead, “TEAM ARMSTRONG” (comprised of Brian Armstrong and Shawn Rivers) faces the far less exciting prospect of freedom fighting at generic and bland locales with names like “Water Filtration Plant’ and “The Dam.” We know that special-ops missions must often be unromantic, behind-the-scenes dirty work, but the developers must have forgotten that Vegas is a game. Because nothing is so disappointing about it as the fact that it never feels like we’re in Vegas.
If we can look past the forgettable locations in which you must do battle, the actual play mechanics are sometimes inspiring. The game’s shining moments occur when you make use of cover. Crouching and creeping towards a cluster of crates, peering out over top of them, pressing your back against them, peeking around them, lining up your crosshairs for the precise moment when you will pop up and fire a single headshot before dropping back down to reclaim invisibility. This is Vegas at its very best, and it’s exciting. It’s the stuff of cowboys and Indians games that boys play and never really seem to want to stop playing.
While all of this is going on, an appropriately The Rock (the movie, not the wrestler) inspired soundtrack weighs in on the importance of your skillful actions. Unfortunately, immediately after you drink in that first kill and its pompous song, several problems emerge. The terrorist who you didn’t just gun down, may freak out and go into “alert mode” – or, disappointingly, he may just walk by his fallen comrade and ignore him completely. This is made easier by the fact that fallen foes vanish into thin air very shortly after buying it.
The AI troubles don’t stop there: if you make noise while entering a room, a nearby terrorist will probably go into alert mode. If you’re unlucky, he’ll catch a glimpse of you and open fire. Following his barrage, he will more than likely ask “Is that you Bob?” And what if it was? What would follow? “Shit, Bob. My bad.”
Murdering Bob and his friends is achieved with the usual guns and grenades. The sniper rifle seems like good fun at first because it allows for long distance headshot kills – with only a single bullet. But the excitement takes a serious hit when you realize that you can one-shot kill enemies with shots to the knee, shoulder, crotch – you name it.
You’ll confirm this by accident and you’ll instantly feel less elite and more “don’t look at me, anything seems to work here…” Anything, that is, except for your grenades, which usually miss their intended target (I’ve had them hit door frames and fall back at my feet) and when they don’t, the damage they inflict is decidedly underwhelming (except when you blow yourself up – then they’re VERY effective).
As it turns out, the best way to play Vegas is actually to run around doling out semi-automatic bursts, using the lock-on function to help ensure success. This is Brian’s world. Sadly, for the sections where the game forces you to take control of Shawn, you’ll have much less fun with the plodding pace that aiming with his sniper rifle demands.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll wonder what the hell Shawn is doing when Brian inevitably gets in a jam (Brian is beset by broken elevators and power outages on the regular) and team leader Joanna yells (and I mean YELLS) at Shawn to lend a hand. We always find Shawn ready and willing to assist, because he’s usually just sitting around doing nothing at all (plus he's a videogame Brit). At least Shawn is voiced well, which is more than can be said for the deadpan Brian and the irritating, shrieky Joanna, who together do much to turn top secret spiel into a thing of kitsch. Ultimately, when the ‘twists’ come (when you lose contact with one group member or the other), you’ll be too busy laughing at them to care.
What’s also funny is how during timed “HELP BRIAN” missions that Shawn must struggle to complete, we can often see Brian succumb to terrorists without even trying to defend himself. Indeed, these sequences are the only real challenge Vegas provides – sometimes it’s hard to see just who is pinning down your useless comrade, and exactly where, until it’s too late. Aside from that, plentiful ammo and closely spaced checkpoints make this experience a short and mostly painless one. Which is perfect, because with all of its flaws, you wouldn’t want Vegas to last any longer.
You’ll also not want to replay Vegas, despite unlocking “Terro Hunt” (essentially the same boring locales with terrorists randomly dropped in), and a stage select mode after beating the game. There are some nice cloak-and-dagger touches like using a ‘snake-cam’ to see through doors and mark enemy positions – but they sound a lot more helpful and cutting edge than they really are. All told, Rainbow Six: Vegas is flawed but sufficiently exciting FPS special-ops action, and it’s a viable option for shoot-em-up carousing on a roadtrip. Disappointingly, you can see where it promised to be more, to be something greater, and failed to deliver.
Staff review by Marc Golding (August 26, 2008)
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