Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 Review (Xbox 360, PS3)

Slipping the G36C’s ACOG sight up to my eye, I whisper ever-so-calmly into my headset mic, “OK, this time, let our two AI guys frag and clear the door…OK?” And sure as the sun shines on Sunday, [XBR3]ClanXXXEl373LeetxxX pops open the door and runs in with guns blazing…and leaves yet another bloody [XBR3]ClanXXXEl373LeetxxX-shaped pulp on the floor. After I’ve swept the room with my AI squadmates, my less-than-useful real-world squadmate returns to the co-op mission, and I ask, “Seriously? Why can’t you just let the AI handle those rooms, or slow down to let me help?” After a string of profanities focused mostly on my mother’s sexual habits when the Fleet is in town, I make out some gibberish about “Need the points for kills, don’t get it for AI pansy fighting…” This is my welcome to Rainbow Six 3 Vegas 2’s online co-op, and I decide to immediately drop out of cooperative campaign and jump back to the single-player AI-only game. Frankly, I quickly find I don’t miss my ‘leet little friend, because with R6V2, UbiSoft finally tweaked and tuned their AI to near-perfection, and that includes the enemy AI.

While 2007 was an incredibly strong year for shooters, Ubisoft’s 2008 entry into the shooter world is showing ’08 could be an even better year. While some might argue it’s just a bunch of missions the first Vegas missed, Vegas 2 fells like much more than that. With its robust online features (yes, including the online cooperative play) and an interesting storyline (unlike pretty much all its predecessors), Vegas 2 is the cheese on the original’s pizza. Wow…that was a lame metaphor, but hey, the game’s good!

While the last game featured custom character creation for multiplayer, this time around, you can create a mirror world copy of yourself for the single-player game. Got an Xbox 360 Vision Cam? Put it to good use by showing the world a character created with your stunning visage. Or, if you look like me, stick with the stock faces and just mod ’em up a bit. Much like the beloved Call of Duty 4, Vegas 2 now features a persistent experience point and leveling system, so you can earn points for all those awesome headshots and close-up kills, then use those points to unlock new weapons and content. It’s a great incentive system, but may take a bit too long for the casual shooter fans who hit “Prestige” in CoD4 after two weeks. It sometimes feels like it takes far too long to unlock a simple gun, but the game is so pleasurable to play, you really won’t complain much.

The artificial intelligence in this game is much improved over previous versions, and is (as my online co-op experiences quickly proved) almost as good as having a human team. Sure the computer-controlled squadmates aren’t going to just run up to doors and clear rooms of their own volition, nor will they even throw a grenade without a cue from you, but they play well enough to easily substitute for any of those run-and-gun real players you’ll have to deal with online. It’s really at the point that the friendly and enemy intelligence is about as good as it needs to be, without making the game either ridiculously easy (friendly AI) or obscenely hard (enemy AI). To test the game’s intelligence, I jumped into plenty of online Terrorist Hunts and was stunned when the AI truly seemed to think about what it was doing. Rather than just walking into obvious crossfires or stalking the same path repeatedly, it’s clever enough to climb through windows to get to you and sneak around rooms to hunt its prey. It’s nothing like the original Rainbow Six 3 titles on Xbox; there are no more obviously scripted terrorist hunts.

While the single-player game is where I had the most fun, there are plenty of new modes and features to keep online fanatics busy for months. As mentioned, there’s the cooperative two-player campaign, where the system assigns two computer-controlled squadmates to your two real players. It’s a great way to take on a great story with a friend, but unfortunately, as is the case with many online games these days, a lot of the guys you meet “in the wild” are not people you’ll want to play with, and it’s likely worth it to see if you can finish the campaign by yourself.

There’s something I just really like about the pacing in Rainbow Six Vegas 2 compared to other recent shooters. Sure, the others have that “Oh, God, I’m gonna die on the battlefield” feel, but Vegas 2 just feels better. The sense of stalking the corridors and picking off enemies one by one may appeal more to the cerebral shooter fans (is that an oxymoron?) out there. To play Vegas 2 in a team game is to plot and scheme your ways through levels and missions with plenty of “ready, aim, fire, move” styled play, instead of the usual “run around and try not to get a shotgun round to the face” style of play in other games.

I suppose it’s not a full review without mentioning the game’s production values -” which are, of course, rock solid. The player and enemy character models are very realistic, though the environments sometimes feel a little flat and lacking in textures. The audio quality is respectable, with weapons sounding much like their real-world counterparts, and chatter between terrorists adding a nice bit of spice to the otherwise long quiet sessions of stalking corridors.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is a solid game that should prove enjoyable to fans of single-player and online shooting fun. We highly recommend Ubisoft’s latest outing in 2008.

– Craig Falstaff

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