After almost a decade on the PC and consoles, the Rainbow Six franchise has finally arrived on the PlayStation Portable with Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas. When the Xbox 360 version of Vegas arrived last year, it reinvigorated the franchise with thrilling gameplay and cutting-edge graphics. However, Ubisoft wisely realized it would be impossible to port that experience to the PSP. Instead, Ubisoft Quebec crafted an entirely new Rainbow Six Vegas custom-made for the platform. The result is an interesting, though short, tactical action game.
In Rainbow Six Vegas, terrorists have kidnapped a couple of Rainbow operatives and launched an assault on the city of Las Vegas itself. The kidnapping plot actually ties into the story of the Xbox 360 and upcoming PlayStation 3 game, but you'll play as a backup, two-man Rainbow team assisting the main team featured in those versions. As a two-man team, you'll alternate between controlling Brian Armstrong, the assault expert, and Shawn Rivers, the sniper. For instance, you might begin a mission as Brian and come under heavy fire or find a security gate that you can't open, at which point, the game will automatically switch you to Shawn, so you can help Brian.
Like the Xbox 360 game, Vegas on the PSP uses the same blend of first-person action with third-person cover mechanics. If you walk up to a wall or a crate, your character will automatically "hug" it for cover. You can then peek around or over the cover to target and shoot at enemies. The cover mechanic is a bit too sensitive at times because it's far too easy to get into cover mode when you don't want to, but it does add a good sense of being and acting like an elite commando. Another cool thing that you can do includes walking up to a door and snaking a flexible camera under the sill to use it to spy in the adjacent room, allowing you to detect enemies before you storm into it. However, that's about it for abilities because the PSP version lacks some of the cool rappelling maneuvers seen in the other versions of the game. The controls are a bit clumsy because the game relies on a lot of context-sensitive controls. For instance, if you try to open a door and misjudge the distance, you'll switch to your weapon's iron sight or scope instead. Still, after some practice, you'll get used to the control scheme. The analog nub is used for movement while the face buttons actually control aiming; the D pad controls night vision, crouching, camera snaking, and more.
Though the game is set in Las Vegas, you don't really feel like you're in Sin City because you're generally running around in water filtration plants or airports. The visuals are decent though somewhat bland, and the audio is serviceable though there's an annoying pause that occurs quite often when you kill someone because the game has to load the audio from the disc. Speaking of which, load times are reasonable, so you won't spend too much time twiddling your thumbs while waiting.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the single-player campaign is that it's only five levels long, and though each level is divided into sublevels, it takes just three to five hours to blitz through the game. It takes perhaps three to five hours at the most. There are also a few sequences that are a bit frustrating because if you have to rush to the aid of the other team member, you really can't afford to make any mistakes or else you fail the mission. If you fail the mission then you have to reload to the last checkpoint, but generally, there's not much of a challenge or a lot of variety. The PSP version also lacks the resupply crates seen in the Xbox 360 game, which means you can't heal, you can't stock up on bullets, and you can't pick up weapons from fallen enemies. Sure, this creates tension, but it also means you can find yourself in a bad situation near the end of a level when you realize you barely have any health left and are nearly out of ammo. In that case, you'll probably have to restart the entire level.
After you're done with the single-player campaign, you can replay any mission in mission mode or in terro hunt, which is short for terrorist hunt. Terro hunt basically dumps you in a level with randomly placed bad guys. Then, there are Vegas' multiplayer modes. The game supports both ad hoc and online play. There are six maps based on classic Rainbow Six levels, such as Siberian Base. However, there are only two modes: survival, which is basically deathmatch, and team survival, which is team deathmatch. But because the game only supports four players, you're looking at two-on-two at the most, which isn't much of a team.
It almost seems fitting that you basically play as the junior varsity team in the PSP version of Rainbow Six Vegas because the game feels like a stripped-down version of the Xbox 360 game. Of course, that's to be expected, and to its credit, Vegas for the PSP does a good job of capturing the tactical action gameplay found in its bigger, more full-featured cousin. However, the short campaign and limited multiplayer detract from what is otherwise a solid PSP shooter.