Most PC gamers have likely recovered from the shock of Rainbow Six: Vegas' drastic departure from the more hardcore tactical planning of the series' past. In case you missed out, the R6 titles bearing the Vegas moniker are more about action, far more forgiving of mistakes, and mix in only very light tactical elements. Though it's certainly quite a bit different from what the PC-faithful may remember playing years ago, it still proved to be an entertaining formula when Vegas was released in late 2006. With Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, Ubisoft delivers what's nearly a carbon copy of what we saw in its predecessor. Though little attention has been paid to alleviating issues with the single-player content, the online modes can be a lot of fun.
The gameplay here, like before, is heavy on action and light on tactics. As a leader of Bravo Squad, a counter-terrorist team, you proceed through casinos, the Las Vegas Convention Center, a monorail station, and other locales in pursuit of generic terrorists harboring bombs and chemical weapons. The limited tactical elements are derived from your ability to command your team of two to move around the zone of battle and post up behind cover to draw enemy fire, open up flanking opportunities, and wipe out enemies.
Your squad can perform special maneuvers as well, such as rappelling down the sides of buildings and smashing through windows, blowing open doors with explosive charges, and lobbing smoke and flashbangs to spots designated by your aiming cursor. Fighting arenas range from large parking lots, storage yards, and convention halls to tight corridors and claustrophobic rooms packed with electronics. They're not the most interesting locations, especially when compared to the glitzier, glamorous battle zones in the first Vegas, but I really enjoyed blasting through the LVCC's show floor, which seemed to be in a state of partial readiness for a Consumer Electronics Show-style event. If you've never been to CES then you won't care, but those who've attended have to envy the speed with which your squad is able to traverse the cavernous spaces, especially considering they have to take cover while under fire.
To help survey the zones of battles you've got access to an overhead map capable of displaying enemy positions and the ability to periodically perform thermal sweeps of the area. Along with all your other fancy tools like thermal and night-vision goggles, a snake camera to peek under doors, and a variety of grenades types, not to mention the bevy of firearms at your disposal, you prove to be quite the prepared counter-terrorist agent. The problem with the single-player is there just isn't all that much reason to use any of them, since it's ultimately such a superficial tactical experience.
Take, for example, your ability to command your squad to post up next to a door. You can use the snake cam to paint targets in the adjoining room for priority kills, instruct the squad to silently walk in and start blasting, and have them blow the door (which is now limited use) or lob in a grenade. Though each method of assault has definite side effects (blowing open the door stuns the enemies, for instance), there's not all that much need to use careful consideration in selecting methods, as your squad is quite powerful. If you give them a few seconds to engage the enemy, you just have to pop in the ever-present second entrance to the room and pick off any stragglers. Should your team get knocked down, you can just order them to revive each other with magical hypos or do it yourself. You will have to be somewhat cautious, however, as downed squadmates can eventually bleed out once knocked down, forcing you to reload from a checkpoint.
Bumping up the difficulty will of course add to the challenge, and for me made the game more entertaining as it elevates the tactical elements above arbitrary levels, except for in one particular stage. Later on in the single-player campaign there's an extensive sequence where Ubisoft completely removes the squad from your control, like was done for a bit in the first Vegas. Not only is this frustrating as you're denied the ability to effectively flank and can be killed after only a few shots, but it moves against the foundation of the franchise. That being said, it's Ubisoft's game and they're free to twist it however they feel fit. If they're trying to turn Rainbow Six into something like Halo or F.E.A.R. with a cover system, that's their prerogative. It's just disappointing to see such a development, something presumably borne of market forces and a willingness to appeal to a wider range of gamers, mostly because that particular section plays so poorly.
There's a fragmented story as well, filled with characters that randomly chirp up on your com system to give you excuses to advance to checkpoints, disarm bombs, and rescue hostages. It's not particularly well written, filled with personages barely given enough strength of character to be considered stereotypical, sloppily presented, and unworthy of your attention.
Then there's the enemy AI, which ranges from seemingly smart to idiotic. At times you'll battle foes who regularly pop in and out of cover, toss grenades, or walk around behind your position. Other times you'll find enemies stop and shoot while out in the open or run the wrong way down hallways. It's one thing to blast an opponent in the back while he's distracted by your squad or to engage in heated cover-to-cover battles in hallways or gaudy, noisy casino halls, but it's not exactly satisfying to fight against terrorists so unaware of the situation that they have no problem standing perfectly still as they absorb bullets into their exposed extremities.
Anyway, what I'm trying to say with all this nonsense is that while the single-player isn't all that great, it's solidly constructed. All the controls for snapping to cover, ordering your squad, sprinting and shooting work fine, but I found the experience much less entertaining than the first Vegas' campaign, which is probably because it's basically the same thing with a few minor tweaks.
Whatever the case, thank goodness for the online modes. Playing this game against humans who can move, hide, and attack intelligently makes for a markedly improved experience. No longer can you plan your moments to pop out of cover in accordance with the predictable burst fire and reload patterns of an AI, but instead have to deal with humanity's unpredictable nature. Yes, there could be a guy who's been hiding behind that box at the end of the train yard for an entire match. Yes, that sniper really is dramatically altering his firing position after every kill. Yes, those team members are in communication with each other and planning genuine tactical strategies to assault the facility the other team is defending.
Online, where your implementation of battlefield tactics is only limited by your own willingness to work with other players, the various gameplay elements Vegas 2 brings to the table become all the more significant, and prove to be far more entertaining than the stale offline play. Several team-based modes require some degree of cooperation for success like defending items, rescuing hostages, capturing and guarding satellite transmitters, and VIP protection. And while those can be fun, especially with an organized team, even the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch are a blast to play thanks to the cover system and wide assortment of nicely modeled weapons that give Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 a totally unique feel compared to other, more generic shooters out there. So whether you're looking for a group online who'll get serious about battle planning or just looking for a well implemented, more casual style of deathmatch, Vegas 2 has it. Or at least it will, hopefully, if the online community manages to grow beyond where it is right now.
In addition, the game gives you the chance to play co-operatively with others in terrorist hunt or single-player modes. The campaign co-op is blighted a bit by way of it only allowing two players to join up at a time. One is given control of an AI squad of two, like while playing solo, while the other is sort of left to their own devices, but at least it's better than slogging through on your own. The terrorist hunt mode challenges larger groups of players to wipe out a set number of AI enemies on a map, and features some particularly atrocious AI behaviors. Enemies frequently display a surprising amount of obliviousness to what's happening, including walking the wrong way and failing to return fire. But, in general, that's all for the better, as terrorist hunt on the hardest difficulty can be pretty challenging without super-intelligent baddies, so the few you can take down because they're acting like idiots feel more like freebies than flaws.
Another welcome feature of Vegas 2 is the fact that its unlock system is woven into the entire game. Regardless of what mode you're in, single-player or online, points are awarded based on how you killed your opponent (with explosives, through cover, in the face, at close range) and advance your overall rank along with close-quarters combat, marksman, and assault categories. By leveling everything up you gain access to new weapons, armor, and clothing types, along with point bonuses to speed along your progression. Not only does this allow you to alter your character's online appearance (always appreciated), but lets you eventually pick from an awesome assortment of weapons. It's not as deep or satisfying a system as Call of Duty 4's, but the fact that the unlocks across each mode count toward the same progression bar is a nice feature.
As for performance and stability, we didn't experience near as many issues as Dan Adams did when he played through the PC version of the first Vegas, particularly while online. After spending some time searching for and hopping between servers, everything seemed to be working relatively well. The only real issue we noticed was a strange sound bug, which would cause weapon fire to occasionally get jammed up and repeat over again. This wouldn't happen all the time, but seemed to be an issue in several servers we visited.
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