What happens in Vegas will make international headlines in the upcoming fifth installment of Tom Clancy's popular tactical shooter series Rainbow Six, slated to hit next-gen platforms in November. The stripped-down, back-to-basics game is currently in the final stages of development at Ubisoft's Montreal studio, and it will see you leading the crack operatives of Team Rainbow against a well-equipped terrorist force that has barricaded itself and some high-profile hostages inside a series of (fictional) Las Vegas casinos. It's important to note that no real-life casinos will be harmed during the playing of this game--but after getting a solid look at Rainbow Six Vegas' single-player component, we can say that won't be from a lack of heavy action and general mayhem, which you can see for yourself in a pile of new high-def gameplay movies.
At the core of the development team's efforts to revise Rainbow Six is a smaller and more efficient R6 crew composed of entirely new faces. This time out, you'll take control of a three-man team led by your character, all-around tough guy Logan Keller. Demolitions tech Mike Walter and recon expert Jung Park will round out the trio, and you'll be supported by your eye-in-the-sky information officer Joanna Torres, who's hovering in a chopper over Las Vegas as you carry out your mission on the ground. Longtime Rainbow Six fans wondering about the absence of original protagonist Ding Chavez will also be heartened to know that he's climbed the ladder and is now in charge of the entire Team Rainbow operation.
The team in Montreal desired to make Vegas the most immediately engaging, accessible Rainbow Six game yet--no small task, since this has traditionally been one of the more densely tactical and realistic shooters on the market. One of the new ways the game will grab you is through a streamlined narrative technique whereby the storyline and contextual information will all be embedded within the action of each mission. No more stuffy, text-based mission briefings or incongruous CG sequences between missions--this time, the storyline will play out entirely before your eyes, theoretically making it easier to absorb.
In place of those antiquated plot devices, the game will use more modern methods of moving the story along. The designers have taken a cue from one of their primary inspirations, the TV series 24, with a new picture-in-picture video display that will pop up at key moments in your mission. At times you'll receive briefings from Joanna Torres in this video window, while at other times you'll get a television news feed relaying the current events of the crisis as the world is viewing them.
You'll also find more scripted dramatic sequences within missions than in past games. At the end of our demo, we found a group of terrorists with a video camera, threatening to kill a hostage live on the air. We pulled off the ol' breach-and-clear with characteristic efficiency, preventing the hostage's death. But in the midst of conversing with her, a frantic message came in from Torres warning us that a large number of enemies were inbound...right before they all started descending from the skylight in a haze of gunfire, ending our demo.
In another nod to 24, all of Vegas will take place during the course of a single day. Past Rainbow Six games have given you one disjointed, self-contained mission after another, each taking place in a different location--but Vegas will present a more logical, cohesive mission progression based on the events of the storyline. That means you'll move naturally from one environment to the next based on the events that are happening to you at the moment, receiving updated instructions and objectives as the situation develops. The developers also claim you won't just be shooting through one row of slot machines after another. While much of the action will take place within the casinos themselves, you'll also fight through back rooms, kitchens, and other behind-the-scenes areas of the Vegas locale.
Once you're on the ground in Las Vegas, you'll find this installment plays a lot like its predecessors--at least, at first glance. As per the series' unflinching focus on tactical realism over run-and-gun bravado, you'll have to stick behind cover and carefully plan out your team's next moves before jumping into a firefight. As usual, one wayward shot to the head and you'll be reloading the last checkpoint. But the designers have added some new features to aid and streamline your strategizing, while simultaneously giving Vegas a more immediate, action-oriented feel that should appeal to those who were previously squeamish about Rainbow Six's realistic nature.
Past games in the series had you locked to a first-person perspective, which made it a bit awkward to peek around corners and pop off potshots at enemies who are themselves using cover. But in Vegas, taking cover has become more automated and subsequently easier to perform under pressure. You can walk up to any wall or barrier and hold the L trigger, which will immediately make you back up against the wall while the camera pulls out to a third-person perspective. Then you can move in the appropriate direction to lean around or over top of the cover to aim shots. Or, you can simply blindly fire around the corner, which keeps you more protected but is naturally far less accurate. We got used to this new feature very quickly and found it gave the firefights we played a quicker pace and a more movielike quality, in addition to making it easier to take out the bad guys from relative safety.
The designers will also let you get all Sam Fisher in Vegas with a "snake-cam" that's basically identical to the optical, under-the-door camera seen in Splinter Cell. This comes in handy for spying on the tangos that await you in the next room, especially when used in conjunction with Vegas' new enemy-tagging system. When you've got a view of unsuspecting foes in the next area, you can tag up to two of them to give Walter and Park an attack order of priority. Flag one tango as target one and another as target two, and when you give the open-and-clear order, your team will focus on those targets first. More than once in the single-player demo we played, our squad was so efficient that they took out not only the two tagged targets but also all the other enemies in the room before we had a chance to properly attack, ourselves.
As if Sam Fisher weren't enough, you can also emulate Spider-Man to an extent with the new rappelling feature, which will let you hook a rope to the appropriate harness and descend slowly downward to spy and eventually gain entry through an outside window. You can even flip yourself upside down for a measure of extra cover and a less-obstructed shot at any enemies who may be hiding inside. You can imagine the possibilities for using these new tools in tandem. At one point, we used the inverted rappel maneuver to descend the side of a building and spot three tangos on a lower floor. We then tagged two of the enemies and gave the breach order to our team at the exact same time that we squeezed a round into the back of the middle terrorist's head. By the time we swung ourselves in through the broken window, Walter and Park had cleanly dealt with the other two tangos, letting us proceed unhindered.
Though we only got to play firsthand a segment of one mission from the final game, Vegas' designers promise that you'll see a logical progression in the skill and threat of the terrorists who've overtaken the Strip. Enemies at the outset will be merely grunt level, but later you'll find better-outfitted and more-skilled troops, culminating in a set of enemies who (almost) rival the skill of Team Rainbow itself. As mentioned, this chaos will play out against a series of fictionalized Vegas backdrops, including Mayan- and Asian-themed casinos, not to mention Fremont Street (OK, so they're not all made up). The mission we played was set in an unfinished, hellish structure called Dante's Casino, so we had lots of firefights amidst scaffolding and construction areas to deal with here.
As one of the first games to ship based on the third-generation Unreal Engine, Vegas is naturally looking pretty fab. The character models and environments are as detailed as you'd expect--you'll see Keller giving hand signals or voice commands when you perform them in third-person, for instance, and the nighttime view of the Strip from a helicopter is breathtaking--and you've got all manner of reflections, smoke and particle effects, full-screen filters, and more to accentuate the action. We only saw the Xbox 360 version, which sported the expected high visual fidelity, but it was a little choppy in places--though the developers have a good couple of months to optimize the current version. Development on the PlayStation 3 game is said to also be on track for a November release, if not day and date with the 360 game.
So far, we're way into the direction Vegas is going under the auspices of its 150-person-strong development team--the core of which, it's worth noting, is the same team that made Rainbow Six 3 so popular. The new tactical abilities gave the battles we played a faster, more visceral feel, and we were never a big fan of those verbose mission briefings anyway. But how about the Rainbow Six series' vaunted multiplayer? That's back in force, too--and we'll have a multiplayer-specific report on Vegas in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, don't forget to check out our single-player videos for a taste of the story mode.