Like other recent Rainbow Six games for consoles, Critical Hour has you in the role of Ding Chavez, commander of a four-man team of elite commandoes tasked with taking down terrorists in highly sensitive missions. The brief, seven-mission campaign draws upon missions from some of the original Rainbow Six games on the PC and takes you across the world performing tasks that range from infiltrating a domestic bioweapons lab in Idaho, to rescuing a hostage on a container ship just off the coast of England. You also undertake the usual tasks of eliminating terrorists, defusing bombs, and protecting civilians. The campaign doesn't last long, and experienced Rainbow players can blow through it in just a few hours.
The interface in the game seems to have been drawn directly from the last original Rainbow game on consoles, Lockdown. You have indicators for your health and the health of your teammates, as well as an ammo and grenade counter. You can also issue simple orders to your team--such as to move forward, to follow, and to open a door--by using context-sensitive button commands or by using voice commands with a mic. The voice commands work well enough, but for some reason, the options available to you through either method are more limited than in previous games, which gives the game a more simplified feel.
There isn't much tactical preparation to the missions. Before starting a level, you can choose the loadout for your operatives and for yourself from a rather limited list of primary weapons, sidearms, and secondary gear types. Once you're in the mission, the movement and weapon feel give Critical Hour an arcadelike flavor, exacerbated by a tactical map that shows you the position and movement of all enemies in neighboring rooms. Aside from the enemies that occasionally burst into your area to attack you, there are never any surprises in store for you behind closed doors. The gameplay is compromised even further by flash grenades that are often ineffectual--it seems as though flashbangs don't stun enemies unless you can toss them close to your enemies' position. Considering how limp the explosions look, it's not surprising that grenades don't have much effect on enemies. The low-quality presentation extends beyond grenade explosions to the texture quality and character model detail, or lack thereof. There aren't even any cutscenes in between or before the missions to set the scene. Everything in the game looks fuzzy and indistinct, and while the voice quality and quantity are about on par with recent Rainbow Six games, the gun sounds are totally underwhelming.
Once you're done with the single-player campaign, you can replay the missions lone-wolf style or as a standard terrorist hunt without objectives; you can play some split-screen co-op; or you can get online and play multiplayer over Xbox Live with up to 16 players. The adversarial modes available online include typical modes like team survival, which is basically deathmatch; retrieval, which is like one-flag capture the flag; and total conquest, which is a race to control certain areas of the map. There are also free-for-all modes and an assassin mode where each team must try to take out a specific player on the other team. The persistent elite creation mode from the Xbox version of Lockdown also makes an appearance here in Critical Hour. The PEC mode adds a role-playing element to the game where you can earn credits and experience from participating in online matches. These credits can be used to unlock new abilities and weapons to enhance your chosen class from a menu of four: commando, spec-op, engineer, and medic. Each class has unique strengths, weaknesses, and weaponry. The idea of a persistent identity for an online shooter is an interesting one, but unfortunately there's a known exploit in Critical Hour's PEC mode that lets you quickly max out your level. As it stands, it's tough to find a legitimate game, and you'll often end up stuck playing against other players who've already maxed out their level. This glitch is currently sucking out what little life there was in playing Critical Hour online.
It's a shame that the reputation of a once top-flight franchise is being sullied by budget-style treatment. Between the short and poorly executed single-player game, and the bugs in the online multiplayer, there isn't much reason for anyone to play Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Critical Hour.