All I've ever asked is for First Person Shooters to be more realistic. By the release of Duke Nukem 3D I was sick and tired of the conventions of the genre. Shooting people dozens of times without incurring a single flinch, apocalyptic explosions that left my enemies unmarked and with full faculties until a single shot from a tiny pistol did that critical last hit point of damage and they exploded in the distinctive, gruesome, and incredibly familiar shower of guts marked the end of their lives. Running over boxes of ammunition to reload without taking a break from firing, stepping on a plate of food to patch up bullet wounds… these couldn't die off quickly enough for me. I was understandably pleased when the Rainbow Six series appeared, offering one-hit kills, realistic weapons, locations and ammunition limitations, and yet I never really loved the series as much as I felt I should have. Until now, that is.
As Mike Doolittle so fully covered in his review of Rainbow Six 3, this new series of Rainbow Sixes for the Xbox are fundamentally different from the PC versions. The planning phase has been removed, as have and the multiple teams. Things have also been made a little easier with the addition of mid-level saves and slightly improved body armour. This is especially good news for me, as I never had much patience for the planning phase of the PC versions, and had a tendency to just play them as the world's most difficult first-person shooters (FPS), rather than the detailed special forces sims they were presented as.
Everything about this game is just as polished and well-designed as its predecessor, with the team controls being the real standout feature. With a just a single button press I can assign my team to move to any location within sight, secure an area, or form up. A few more button presses and they'll break down doors and clear rooms in one of four different ways, each useful for a different situation. Team AI is also good enough that I wasn't forced to constantly monitor their actions to keep them alive. Every member of the Rainbow team is actually a really good shot, and it's only because of my FPS-trained habit of running far in front of them that I was able to keep my kills ahead of theirs. While I never actually tried it, I'm sure that it would be possible to complete an entire level just using team order commands, without ever firing a shot myself.
This being a Tom Clancy game whose title doesn't begin with splinter and end with cell, the arsenal available to players is also characteristically robust. There are almost too many guns to choose from—at times I felt daunted by the selection, as if I just wasn't aware enough of the pros and cons of the different weapons to see how one was better for a given situation than another. I ended up just finding one armament combination that I was comfortable with (the M16 and the MK23), and playing through the whole game with them. All of the guns look great and sound incredible, though, and it's kind of nice to be able to identify just which gun was shooting at me just by the sound of its report. Then there are the distinctive metallic clicks and clacks that cued me in whenever an assailant had run out of bullets, allowing me the opportunity to rush them.
As much as I loved playing the game, there were a few drawbacks that forced me to lower the score. First and foremost was the level design. I understand that this is an action series now, and not a simulation, so more linear levels are to be expected, but at times the levels actually seemed to videogame-y for the setting, mostly in the way villains seem to just pop up in the most unusual of places, at clearly triggered times. It would be nice if the game could make it feel like a guard or mercenary had heard the team coming and moved to a window to check things out, rather than that my team had just crossed some invisible tripwire that caused a bad guy to appear behind a door, then open it a second later. I know that this is a limitation placed on the game by the lack of system resources, but it's just a little too apparent. And like the corpses that disappear moments after hitting the ground and the doors to the next part of the level that remain magically blocked until mission objectives have been completed, the fact that the enemies didn't actually exist until I arrived at a certain part of the level was just a little too apparent.
The biggest problem, though, is just how short the game is. In the world of PC games, it's completely acceptable to release an expansion pack for a game, with a few new levels, multiplayer game types and weapons tacked on for a reasonable price. If this were an expansion pack, I wouldn't question its value for a second. As a standalone game though, it just feels a little shallow, with only ten short levels. The problem with the levels is understandable, I suppose, since the levels are similar in size to classic Rainbow Six levels, but the relatively small size of those was acceptable because there were any number of tactics on could use to approach them, and the enemy locations would usually be randomized to an extent. Making levels like that work can be incredibly difficult, and it's understandable that Rainbow Six games have relatively few levels for FPSs. Here though, the levels are completely linear, and all of the enemy locations are locked in, so there's really no excuse that the levels are as small in both number and size as they are.
This is mitigated somewhat by the extra game modes, like Lone Rush and Terrorist Hunt, which do randomize the enemies somewhat, and make playing the levels again a fun diversion. This isn't a substitute for making it a longer game, though, especially since it's a full price one.
I'd always wanted FPSs to be more realistic, and then they were, and I wasn't satisfied. I'd always hated controlling FPSs without a mouse, and then came a control scheme so good I was left without anything to complain about. Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow manages to find a nice middle ground—the realism I want with the action I crave, accessible enough to jump right into, but complex enough that it's worth going back to more than once. It's strange, but I really feel like the promise of FPSs is starting to be realized, in the last place I ever would have expected.