In its extraordinary Tom Clancy series, Red Storm and Ubisoft have generally made moderate incremental steps to improve each title, sticking with a firm simulation- and realistic style approach. While loading up gamers with a healthy arsenal of powerful weapons and tools and incorporating a unique online growth system for Xbox players, the team's approach to the gameplay in Rainbow Six Lockdown is a mixed effort that feels forced, awkward, and edgeless, while retaining only some of the game's best qualities.
Ubisoft's attempt to broaden or make more arcadey the tightly balanced gameplay is occasionally successful, but oftentimes it feels like a forced marriage of gameplay styles. Unfortunately, this tactic is neither likely to woo gamers on the fence of buying, nor is it likely to appeal to long-time players or hardcore fans.
Anyone who's played the Rainbow Six series knows the online game has always been its biggest asset. Getting a four-on-four online session and pouring over map after map in Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow proved great fun because the game was based on knowledge of a map, good communicative teamwork, and skill at a particular weapon. There was always a healthy balance that proved skill was king above all else. The game wasn't perfect, but it kept moving in the right direction. The single-player game was the one major aspect requiring the most work. Ubisoft has addressed the single-player game's issues with the desire to make the game more approachable and in more arcade-like in nature, which appears at odds with the game's realistic, sim-like design.
The most obvious addition is the introduction of sniper missions. In the game's dozen missions, players find themselves switching from the team leader Ding Chavez to its designated sniper, Dieter Weber. While as Weber, you'll observe a scenario from afar and use your sniper skills to pick off enemies while your team inserts itself deeper into enemy territory. Arcade games such as Namco's Silent Scope series and even Time Crisis (which isn't even a sniper game) handle these situations with far more aplomb and deftness than Ubisoft has here.
You'll find enemies showing up from all angles with little warning, and RPGs appearing from area you might not see the first, second, or third time you play a mission. The result is that the trial-and-error nature of the levels feels more amateurish and forced than the rest of the game, not quite balancing in with the rest of the gameplay. Enemies are forced to take obvious positions that are too easy to get to, while the back and forth fire-fighting between the Rainbow ground team and the enemy reveals that both sides are extraordinarily horrible shots. It's a great idea, poorly implemented. Only a few of the missions actually work adequately (the mid-game mission in which players take over a boat, sniping from a helicopter is one of the better ones).
New Ways to Fight
While the sniper missions are a bit of a bust, Ubisoft has implemented some good new ideas to add breadth to the often repetitive motions of clearing room after room after room. Your team is a little more adept this time around. You can call it to follow, stay, or scout, which lends a better mobility to the team. Your AI unit now usually adapts better to a situation on the fly than before. It's more aggressive when in firefight situations, though the team AI still is in need of more tuning when it comes to setting up to prevent itself from getting hurt. Naturally, your skill comes in handily here, but the team doesn't always set up in small, protected areas, often instead setting up in a formation that leaves itself wide open to attack, even if the place I put them was initially well conceived and protected. In fact, it seems as if the team AI has taken a few steps back on this note.
The addition of room breaching tactics makes things potentially more fun, too. Battering ram tactics and shotgun attacks through doors provide more variety, though the game rarely forces or compels you to use such attacks. Thus, while nice, the additions end up being superfluous rather than necessary. Ubisoft's careful addition of enemy trip wires and well placed snipers, however, does compel gamers to use the various vision modes (heat sensors and night vision) to remain more alert on both the ground and in a vertical sense in a way that's more thorough and well-ingrained in design than in previous games.
Since the enemy AI has grown so good with planting mines and snipers, it's also become more accustomed to being aggressive. While there is still a good amount of enemy AI doing stupid things like hearing an obvious noise like reloading a gun and saying, "Who's there? I heard someone say something
" and then walking away, there is an equal amount of enemy AI mixing up attacks. They throw grenades, they run from your grenades, they occasionally flank, and they charge, instead of just shooting from afar. The regular AI gaffs nullify the slighter smarter AI improvements; so nothing has really earned the single-player enemy AI much applause either way.
The best new addition, which perhaps makes things a little too easy but is nonetheless cool, is the newly implemented motion tracker. A short term sensor that recharges itself in less than a minute, the motion tracker peers through almost any material and momentarily identifies the location of human heartbeats. Thus, you can get a head count on enemies in an upcoming room, giving you a more precise tactical approach. Enemies can move after the sensor has passed by, so it's not perfect, but it removes a little bit of the realistic edge and makes things easier as the game goes on. I'm mixed about it. On the one hand, it clearly makes approaching rooms less spontaneous and easier. On the other hand, when you're down to that last bit of health and only a few bullets near the end of a level, the motion tracker is a legitimately helpful tool.
As usual, the arsenal of weapons and gadgets rock. The bigger, modernized list of primary and secondary weapons and projectiles generously provides players with their own personalized means of approaching each level. Additions such as the MTAR-21 micro-assault rifle, combined with the point-based currency system, makes weapon obtaining more exploratory and, in a geeky gun-loving kind of way, rewarding.
What other weapons are ready for your desire? Primaries include the AS9, G36C, M2249SPW, SR4-CQB, M73E, Mag 7, MP5/10, MP7-50, O12W, P90TR, RP-90M1, SA58, SPAS 15, Super 90, UI00MK3, UMP-9, and the USAS-12. Secondaries include 92FS, 5-7, GC69A, and the MEV (SOC) 45. You'll also get a hold of various grenades from smoke to frag to stun, as well as Claymores, Hammers, and more.
Ubisoft has tried to add more personality into each character, meaning they should be more interesting or at least slightly funny to listen to. Gong. Unfortunately, the characters are suffer from a distinct lack of personality, each issuing quips that aren't funny or all that interesting, even if you're sympathetic to the cause.
Adding to the frustration, to create tension and a sense of "team," neglected squad mates remind us they're still there by saying things like, "awaiting orders
" in deep sighs of impatience. If anything, this makes the team members more annoying than before. I just wanted to turn their voices off altogether.
When it comes to the online component, Rainbow Six Lockdown should shine. The newly implemented Persistent Elite Creation (PEC) mode for the Xbox creates a great opportunity to build up their players using an RPG-like point system for both skills and the addition of super powerful weapons. PEC mode is a terrific idea and in our online sessions we were soon obsessed with tinkering without character's equipments and spending points after every match. The beauty of a persistent character is that players are rewarded for participation which somewhat alleviates the problem of rank whores dropping matches simply because they are going to lose.
In the online test runs we've been part of the system seems to work well enough, but the proof is in the pudding. Meaning, that only after several weeks of playing the game online and with a love community will we know for sure how it turns out. What I can say now is that the game still runs at least as well as Rainbow Six: Black Arrow online, and for fans of the series the new wheelbarrow of online maps should roust your old online fervor.
Gameplay wise, the multiplayer feels like it has strayed a little from its roots. With increased amounts of tracer fire, charcters that take more damage and the spectator mode that kicks in after death this game feels a whole lot more like an arcade shooter than a tactical squad based experience. Hopefully the next Rainbow Six installment will keep PEC Mode but return to the gameplay we enjoyed in previous installments.
On the PS2, players receive a different set of online features instead of the PEC mode. The new Rivalry Mode enables players to fight against mercenaries in team-based, objective-driven scenarios. The modes provide as good as experience as can be had on PS2 online using Ubisoft's online system. If your connections are good, there is at least a good few hours of online play to justify the experience. We can't help but feel that the game has gone from an extremely addictive squad shooter that took up hours of our life to a retread that fails to surpass its predecessors.
If Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow took the series on Xbox to the game's graphic heights, Lockdown is a step down in graphic appeal, from animations to character movement. The Rainbow team does look different. There is more detail on your outfits, and the characters show more distinct facial appearances. And you get a brand new interface on the menus and weapon screens, all topped off with a neat Metroid Prime-style visor that cracks and shatters as your health is whittled away. But when you see the team run across the floor, you have to wonder who OK'ed the motion capture for these characters? You have to wonder who stuck the extra heavy bricks in their boots to make them run like cleft-foot idiots? Who said it was OK to half-skate, half stutter across a flat, non-icy concrete surface?
If the character movement isn't clunky enough for you, the accompanying animations will hammer the point home without giving you a chance to catch your breath. At least the ragdoll physics don't disappoint. They work well to show off how dead people flail, flop, and tumble when blown across a level and hammered into a brick wall. Again, it seems for every interesting new implementation, there is at least one or more basic graphic elements that step backward. Overall, the graphics are disappointing.
So, I'll skip over the point I already made about the Rainbow AI team sounding more annoying than they should be and comment on the non-voice sound effects. The long laundry list of effective sounds used in Rainbow Six Lockdown to create tension, fear, and anxiety does the job that sound effects should do. Creaky wooden planks in one missions, an abundance of flies in a weird farm room in another level, the simple ticking of a clock, all these effects break up the silence to distract and surprise gamers who are already on pins and needles.
You won't hear music for most of the levels, but atmospheric music does rise when you reach certain breaks in the action, whether it's finishing off a level, nearing strangely bloody rooms, or enter a new location.
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