This is not your father's Rainbow Six. Not to be confused with the previously released PC edition Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, the Xbox edition of Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3 has been significantly reworked into a game that not only feels almost nothing like the previous games in the series, but is stylishly distinct from any other first-person shooter.
If Ghost Recon could be described as a streamlined Rainbow Six, Rainbow Six 3 (RS3) takes the process up a notch again. RS3 is distinguished from the PC versions as much by what it takes away as what it adds. Players control only a single team instead of two, and control the same character (Domingo "Ding" Chavez) throughout the game. In the PC version, if the active character is killed, players just switch to another squad member; in RS3, getting killed means the mission is over. The pre-mission planning is essentially gone as well. Instead of fumbling through a veritable library of armor, weapons, and gear, players are given four equipment slots: primary and secondary weapons, and two explosives slots; the remaining members of the team are automatically assigned their equipment. All other planning—mapping routes, etc.—is also gone.
But RS3 doesn't just subtract. The backdrop of a single team is accented with a more fully developed plot (told through CGI cutscenes) that, while not exactly epic or gripping, serves as a suitable backdrop to give the characters a distinct identity. But more significantly, the gameplay has received a major overhaul. The levels ported from the PC version have been redone to suit the single-squad design. Gameplay is significantly faster—violent, sporadic gunfights erupt with tension-mounting frequency. Instead of one-shot kills, Ding Chavez has four-slot health meter, meaning that depending on where he's shot and what he's shot with, he can usually take a few hits before going down.
But easily the most notable addition to the game is that of a real-time squad command system. Through a simple, logical interface, players can give their commandos orders such as "move to," "open, flash, and clear," and "breach and clear." The option of a "zulu" order allows players to use multiple entry points by getting their team ready to breach or flash a room, then send them in on command. For an added dose of immersion, the entire command system can be activated via the Xbox Live communicator headset using nearly flawless voice recognition.
While all these changes and additions are significant, the attention to detail that lends an air of realism to the series is still present. All of the real-life weapons in the game are modeled with remarkable attention to detail, and each one has a different feel and report—each weapon even creates different vibrations in the controller. Enemies behave with a respectable, though not groundbreaking, level of intelligence, often acting panicked or confused (though occasionally they will behave in odd, ignorant or clearly buggy ways). When they die—and die they will—their bodies collapse to the floor using realistic rag-doll physics. Depending on their caliber, bullets can penetrate doors and do varying amounts of damage. And while Ding Chavez can usually take a few hits, the occasional close-up blast or a high-velocity shot from a sniper rifle will put him down in a flash. Perhaps the only noticeable weakness is the seemingly selective interactivity within the environments. Barrels explode, pots shatter and fire hydrants hiss, but lights cannot be shot out and barriers can't be destroyed by grenades. I would have liked to see interactivity more akin to Splinter Cell (particularly since both games use the Unreal engine) in which the lighting could be manipulated to turn the tables on my adversaries. The somewhat static feel of the environments is generally not an issue, but it does occasionally detract from the game.
As a single-player game, RS3 is worth the price of admission. The 14 levels in the campaign mode feature a good deal of scripted events mixed with just enough randomness to keep things interesting on a replay. The only real drawback is that the levels, though well-done, often lack a certain something to feel really special or unique. All the typical Rainbow Six locales—airports, high rises, warehouses, etc.—are present, with only the occasional level, such as the truly superlative Alcatraz level, really evoking a sense of wonder. Also available to solitary players is a "terrorist hunt" mode in which maps unlocked in the campaign can be traversed without the scripted events (terrorists are randomly scattered throughout the level) and without the additions of disarming bombs and/or rescuing hostages.
But a great deal of the game's appeal is its fantastic online play via Xbox Live. There is unfortunately no split-screen multiplayer (let us hope it does not become obsolete), but the impressive array of online options coupled with deep gameplay make the online aspect a significant feature of the game. In fact, many of the items in the game—such as sniper rifles, claymore mines, remote charges, and flashbangs—see virtually all of their use in the multiplayer maps. This is a game that lends itself beautifully to the voice communicator and can become a very social, cooperation-dependent game.
All the dramatic changes to the game may alienate purists, but I imagine that most of them are already content with the PC version. This is simply a faster, tenser, more action-oriented Rainbow Six. In other words, it's better. It has none of the tedium of the PC games and more suspense and drama to keep players on the edge of their seats. The graphics, which are just shy of being remarkable, and the sound, which is remarkable, bring the whole package together and make it a very gripping experience. Rainbow Six 3's reworked design feels perfectly at home on the Xbox. Although not quite past the cusp of excellence, it's one of the finest shooters on any platform and a welcome addition to the series' lineage.