As soon as Red Storm announced that it was working on a new entry in its Rainbow Six series, the Internet was abuzz with speculation. Could the game's title possibly be longer than the one used for Red Storm's last product, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear Mission Pack: Urban Operations? Sadly, the answer is no. Compared to that game, Red Storm's newest product, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Covert Ops Essentials, is downright tongue-tied. Unfortunately, it has more serious problems than its title. Essentials is a stand-alone Rainbow Six product that's half Rogue Spear mission pack and half civil service test simulator.
In case you think you misread the last part of that last sentence, here it is again: one half of Essentials is a simulation of taking a civil service test. If you're the type of person who wants his Rainbow Six performance tests to take the form of shooting Tangos and not actually, say, taking a test, feel free to skip down a few paragraphs. For all the rest, it seems like kind of a waste to review this part of the game. If you're aching for the heartbreak and triumph of participating in a civil service exam but lack the courage to actually take one, you don't have a whole lot of other choices. In fact, you don't have any other choices. You should run - in a snake pattern - to your local software store and buy Covert Ops Essentials.
But read this first. Essentials includes a CD full of information about the history of counterterrorist agencies, operations, and equipment. After studying it all, you can play the role of any of the Rainbow Six agents and take a series of fictional multiple-choice Rainbow Six entry exams. In some sense, it's not a horrible idea. There's a lot of information included, and most of it is well written. The problem is that Red Storm decided to create its own interface for the project. What it came up with looks like a "futuristic" interface as envisioned by a Hollywood special effects person in 1980. It includes plenty of arcane, unlabeled icons, menus shaped like rotating spheres, and lots and lots of scrolling green text on a black background - just the way people who have never actually used a computer often imagine computer interfaces will someday look like. It's neither attractive nor functional.
Interface enhancements that exist in the real world are simply ignored in the informational segment of Covert Ops Essentials. For instance, even though there's a huge amount of information to wade through, the developers neglected to include any kind of hyperlink feature. If you see a topic that you'd like to read more about, or if you remember seeing something you want to get back to, you'll have tough luck finding it. While there is a search feature, it's useless to the point of being absurd. Every article appears to have only a handful of keywords associated with it, and the multimedia clips don't have any. For example, the disc includes footage of a 1970 airline hijacking in Amman, Jordan, but neither "Amman" nor "Jordan" will jog the program's memory enough to make it cough up a link to the clip. It should also be mentioned that the escape key, kind of the cornerstone of modern interface design, does absolutely nothing in Essentials. Add in some periodic crashes, and you end up with some potentially interesting information organized and presented so poorly that it's rendered useless.
That leaves the second disc, which, according to the box, includes nine new missions. This is only technically true. What's actually included are three new single-player missions and six very small training missions. The three single-player missions are all of high quality. The first one takes place in a jungle. It is the hardest of the three and is made harder by the fact that camouflage hides the terrorists but grants you no reciprocal benefit - they can pick you off as if you're wearing neon-orange hunting gear. The next two missions take place in an Arctic research station and a missile silo in North Dakota. Both are also well done, though much easier than the jungle level.
No new weapons are included, the enemy artificial intelligence has not been improved, and the Rogue Spear graphics engine has not been enhanced. The only feature carried over from the Urban Operations mission pack is the excellent defend mode, but it's available on only three of the nine maps.
Red Storm announced recently that it would finally release the Rogue Spear map-making tools this November. This means that in the coming months, the active Rogue Spear mod community will start distributing custom maps free of charge, thereby significantly lessening the value of new, officially released Rogue Spear levels. Red Storm's newest Rainbow Six game is a full-priced product, but it contains little more than three decent maps and a mess of unusable information. Therefore, Essentials is anything but.