It's no secret that the PlayStation 3 is a bit starved for shooters, but the situation will improve later this month, when Ubisoft ships Rainbow Six Vegas for the platform. After all, Vegas was one of the very best games on the Xbox 360 last year, and its addictive multiplayer suite has kept the game among the most played on Xbox Live since its debut last November. What will the PlayStation 3 version bring to the table? We found out recently by playing a work-in-progress version of the game. For now, we've got the single-player impressions; multiplayer impressions will come later this month.
If you played the Rainbow Six games for the PlayStation 2, Vegas is going to surprise you. As the first Rainbow game for the "next-gen" systems, Ubisoft Montreal not only bumped up the graphics, but also overhauled the gameplay, putting the emphasis on making you feel like a rough-and-tumble commando saving the world once again. You play as Logan Keller, a commander in NATO's elite Rainbow counterterrorist team. After an op goes bad in Mexico, Keller is pulled out and rushed to Las Vegas when terrorists strike there. You'll control Keller and his two squadmates as they battle in and amid glittering (fictional) Las Vegas casinos.
What elevates the tactical shooting action in Vegas over its predecessors is the way that the game seamlessly blends first-person and third-person combat to make for the realistic use of cover. When you're just running around shooting terrorists, you're in first-person, with your weapon elevated in front of you. However, sidle up to a wall, car, or slot machine and hold down the L1 button on the controller and the perspective will switch to third-person, where you'll see Keller "hugging" the cover effectively. Then, while you're still in third-person, you can have him swing up or out of cover to unload a burst in a terrorist then drop back into cover before the bad guys can react. Vegas also borrows some of the moves from its sister Tom Clancy franchise, Splinter Cell, in that you can now do all sorts of cool things, such as fast-rope out of helicopters, rappel down lines, and crash through windows to breach into a building.
From what we saw of the opening levels, the PS3 version of Vegas is pretty much identical to the Xbox 360 version, not just in gameplay but in visuals as well. Then again, Ubisoft wisely has decided not to fix what was clearly not broken. The modified Unreal Engine 3 graphics engine that powers the game looks unchanged, though the frame rate does seem to struggle a bit more during some of the more intensive scenes. On the plus side, the PS3 version seems to have a bit more physics interactions built into it, as we saw more objects react to explosions and gunfire.
The default control scheme feels a bit clumsy on the Sixaxis controller, particularly in how L1 is used for cover and R1 is used to fire weapons. After all, L2 and R2 feel much more natural as triggers, and since you use cover and fire weapons throughout the game, it makes more sense to use the triggers for those actions. Thankfully, there is an alternate control scheme in the options that let you remap the controls so that they mirror those of the Xbox 360 version. Vegas also makes use of the Sixaxis' motion controls when you use the snake camera. Basically, you can come up to any door in the game and snake a miniature, flexible camera under the door, letting you see what's on the other side without alerting the enemy. The motion controls are used to maneuver the camera around, though this needs a bit of work, as it's a bit too easy to suddenly send the camera staring at the ground or the ceiling. It's a good idea in theory, but its execution needs a bit more development.
Control of your assault team is pretty simple, thanks to the context-sensitive controls. Point at a door and press the X button and your teammates will get in position to breach the door. Point at a spot on the ground and hit X, and they'll move to that position. Use the down button on the directional pad to have them regroup on you or hold in place. With a little practice, you'll have your three-man squad maneuvering smartly from cover to cover. Thankfully, you can practice these tactics in an early Vegas mission that has you battling down the Las Vegas Strip.
While the single-player campaign looks as solid as it did in the Xbox 360 version, the PS3 version will have exclusive multiplayer maps and game modes not seen in the 360 or PC versions of the game--but we'll cover those in our upcoming multiplayer preview. Rainbow Six Vegas will ship for the PS3 later this month.