The first Rainbow Six: Vegas was a smash hit for Ubisoft in late 2006, winning over the critics and topping the chart with relative ease. While it paired a fantastic single-player mode with rewarding multiplayer action, it was the spectacular location that really caught the imagination. With so many fans still playing the game over a year later, a sequel was a sure thing; thus, Ubisoft Montreal is readying it for release on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 in March 2008. While that doesn't seem far off, the publisher has remained completely tight-lipped about the game--until now. With that in mind, we were at the front of the queue when Ubisoft offered journalists a first chance to see the developers and get a first look at the game in action.
Rainbow Six Vegas left players with a cliffhanger finale, and we have been eagerly waiting to find out how the story will progress. Although Vegas 2 will follow directly on from the events of the first game, it will also fill in some of the gaps in the original storyline, covering events both before and during it. From a story point of view, it's almost as if it's a sequel, a prequel, and a director's cut all rolled into one. And despite the success of the original's cliffhanger ending, the developers promise Vegas 2 will offer an "explosive finale" that will end this story for good.
Aside from bringing the story arc of Rainbow Six: Vegas to completion, there are a number of other things that Ubisoft Montreal wants to do with the sequel. The big idea is that you'll always be improving your character, whether you're playing through the single-player campaign or some of the brand new multiplayer modes. It's all determined by the Advanced Combat and Specialisation (ACES) system, which dynamically assesses how you're performing based on assault, marksmanship, and close combat ratings.
These rewards will be linked to your style of play, so if you prefer to blow through doors and use grenades, you're going to be given more explosives with which to play around. If you hang around and take people out from afar, you're likely to be given a shiny new sniper rifle instead. However you play, the more you engage in the world, the more you'll be able to add to your arsenal. Of the 11 new weapons, Ubisoft dropped in mentions of the M468 rifle and the SR-25 sniper rifle--the latter being a reward for good marksmanship.
With all this customisation going on, it would be a shame to have to give your new toys to a run-of-the-mill main character. The Persistent Elite Creation system allows you to change every aspect of your avatar's appearance and gives you the opportunity to create a black, Hispanic, or female character for the first time. The only restriction is that your main character is called Bishop, and you're the leader of the Rainbow Six squad. You won't be spending too much time looking at your main character in the game, though, because Ubisoft's aim is to make the game as interactive and seamless as possible.
While all these new features will definitely be a draw for fans, one of the main attractions will be visiting the Vegas strip one more time. Sin City will be replicated using an upgraded version of Unreal Engine 3.0, but more interesting than the technology is Ubisoft's stated intention to recreate "Vegas and beyond." This means new locales, such as streets and back alleys, industrial areas and oil refineries, and even the city's famous monorail stations and strip clubs. Playing as elite government soldiers, you won't be knocking on front doors wearing a cheeky smile though--you'll still be rappelling down the side of buildings, smashing through huge windows, and using whatever slot machine, dustbin, or stripper you can find for cover.
The combat in the original Vegas had a superb cover-and-fire mechanic, and technological improvements should twist this gameplay dynamic on its head for the sequel. You can no longer stand behind fragile objects safe in the knowledge that you're hidden because wood and barrels will break apart under gunfire. This has a substantial effect on your artificial intelligence teammates, whose routines have also been rewritten to react more realistically to the situations in which they find themselves. The development team demonstrated this by showing how previous AI would run on straight lines to get to whatever target you sent them, but in the sequel, they head to a point in a fire-and-move pattern, alternately stopping to cover teammates and running themselves.
In addition to offering new Vegas locales to explore, Vegas 2 clearly aims to reclaim the series' position as the thinking-person's shooter. It will still include such elements as rappelling and the snake cam. You'll also have to order your men to take corners and break through certain doors. Additionally, there'll be picture-in-picture overlays on the tactical map so that you can easily see things from your teammates' points of view, as well as your own. Your squad is also much chattier than before, feeding you intel and status reports over the radio as you move around. The idea is that you'll be able to make more informed decisions and react accordingly; perhaps ordering your team to suppress a zone that it has told you houses a number of enemies.
The single-player campaign is shaping up to offer another 10 to 12 hours of gameplay, but it's the multiplayer that really promises the long-term challenge. Housed on the disc will be 13 maps that mix brand new designs with Rainbow Six classics. The team says that it has tried to improve the layout of the maps for this outing with better choke points to encourage bouts of intense action. The improved graphics engine will offer the same benefit online as offline, so you can expect the same level of detail when you play locally or look further afield for a challenge. The standard multiplayer modes on offer will be assassination and conquest, although that's at the expense of the capture-the-flag-style mode. Ubisoft is also promising two new multiplayer modes, although at this stage, they're strictly under wraps. We expect more information before release, but for now, we're being kept in the dark.
On the other hand, Ubisoft was only too eager to reveal that the entire career mode will be playable cooperatively, with the second player joining in as a character called Knight (chess references abound). While Bishop will play lead and order the AI teammates around, the second player can jump in and out seamlessly, allowing him or her to play for short bouts or the entire game if he or she wishes. The much-loved terrorist hunt mode is also making a return, and you'll be shooting down a line of respawning bad guys in either single or multiplayer. Up to four players can engage in a group hunt online or one player can go it alone with two AI teammates.
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 looks set to capitalise on the popularity of the first game with a sequel that offers a proper end to the story and new gameplay elements. While it does appear very similar to its predecessor at first glance, the new locales and the character upgrade system look like they'll be a good enough reason visit the gambling capital once again. We're pleased to hear that the main campaign will playable cooperatively and the many multiplayer modes on offer should provide a good deal of longevity post-release. With a March release for all three platforms already tantalisingly close, expect more information on the game shortly.