Game design is an incestuous field. For instance, Konami's stealth game sequel to Metal Gear, Metal Gear Solid, inspired Ubisoft's Rainbow Six. In turn, Gameloft's Rainbow Six: Raven Shield takes inspiration from the original Metal Gear, released on the 8-bit Nintendo in 1987. This was a wise decision, as the best cell games hark back to Nintendo's classic system, not to next-generation systems.
You play as a counterterrorist agent assigned to shut down threats around the globe. Each mission is composed of several connected screens. The controls are kept simple. Key 5 fires your weapon, while the remaining keys 1 through 9 move the agent. The * key switches weapons, while the # key lets you look beyond the current screen to see terrorists lurking around the corner.
The three missions require planning and forethought. The first assignment, in a Venezuelan oil refinery, has you saving hostages. The next mission puts you into an airport and requires hostage recovery as well as bomb dismantling. The final airplane sequence tests all the skills gained in the previous missions.
Raven Shield isn't really for those with little patience, as jumping into situations will end your game quick. You're outnumbered on each screen, usually five to one, and running into a gunfight will just get you jumped. Furthermore, guards have a range of sight--about half the width of the game screen--and will alert other guards if they spot you. Finding a hiding spot and waiting for a few seconds can get the guards off your tail. Expect to be sneaking behind guards, memorizing walking patterns, and running between shadows.
Gameloft takes a refreshingly minimalist approach to design, making the gameplay clean. Characters are small relative to comparable games, but this allows you to look at the big picture and strategize. It also allows more onscreen chaos--trying to defuse a bomb and save a hostage while being chased by guards isn't rare.
Raven Shield is a pretty long play, even though there are only three missions. The first mission takes about five minutes, while the second takes at least 10 or 15 minutes, and the third takes even longer. Also, three different difficulty levels allow you to play through in tougher environments.
Regardless of the skill level you choose, the game successfully creates a very real sense of danger. For instance, on mission two, guards will activate 10-second bombs if they see you. It takes five seconds to defuse a bomb, meaning that you have five seconds to subdue the guard(s) and grab the bomb. Your first bomb encounter will have you freaking out--guaranteed.
Raven Shield has a few notable deficiencies. The sound effects are solid, but the gunfire sounds more like lasers than bullets, which diminishes the game's realism. Secondly, the main character can sometimes "stick" to an object corner because its hard to see that he's still behind the object. This glitch is rare, but it's quite frustrating when you're being chased by armed guards.
Overall, Raven Shield is a welcome addition to the slim stealth gaming category on wireless. The gameplay is smart and focused and provides a nice rush into the bargain. I'm looking forward to the next installment.