Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3 Preview

Ding Chavez and crew are bringing the good fight to the PlayStation 2 next month.

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The third installment in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six series has gone through a surprising number of permutations since its first appearance on the PC almost one year ago. Subtitled Raven Shield, the PC version of Rainbow Six 3 gave series fans more of the squad-based, intensely tactics-focused military action they'd seen in previous games in the series. When the game was announced for the Xbox later last year, everyone expected a direct port of the original PC version with only minor modifications. Ubisoft did console gamers one better, though, by completely reworking the game to suit the Xbox hardware and the tastes of its target audience (and losing the Raven Shield name in the process). Now, just four months later, the PlayStation 2 is receiving a port of this remade Xbox version that will give players everything that game did and some nice exclusive material as well.

Ding Chavez and crew are back for another round on the PlayStation 2 in March.
Ding Chavez and crew are back for another round on the PlayStation 2 in March.

The Xbox version of Rainbow Six 3 set itself apart from the lineage of its PC namesake by trimming off some of the inaccessible strategic elements of the previous games, becoming a more streamlined action game but still retaining the basic realism and squad tactics that define the Rainbow Six series. As you'd expect, the PS2 version is set up in the same way. Again it casts you as Domingo "Ding" Chavez, a key agent on the crack team of military specialists known as Team Rainbow. When the situation is critical, these are the guys you send in to cut straight through the enemy perimeter and get the job done with no muss or fuss. In the game, Ding and his equally badass international compatriots--Eddie Price, Louis Loiselle, and Dieter Weber--are sent on a series of missions that will see them infiltrating everything from a sleepy, snowy village to a humid tropical estate to even the prison on Alcatraz Island. In each mission, Team Rainbow will be tasked with objectives such as hostage rescue or bomb disablement, and they'll have to deal with any hostile forces that get in the way (and there are a lot of those).

If you've only played the PC Rainbow Six games, you know that each mission is preceded by a lengthy and (from a certain point of view) rather tedious setup process in which you select equipment and tactics for you and your squad. Catering to a pick-up-and-play style of gameplay, the console version of Rainbow Six 3 dispenses with all of this complexity and makes it much easier to simply get into a mission and get shooting. In the single-player missions, which can be played in a linear campaign format or individually with a custom mission option (once you've unlocked the maps), jumping into a mission is literally as simple as picking "start" from the menu, since defaults for your equipment loadout are already provided for each level. You can customize your equipment options yourself if you want, but it's nice that the game doesn't force you to deal with lots of menus and variables if you're just itching to get into the action.

Once you've made it into a mission, you'll find that slow and steady is in fact the only way to survive in Rainbow Six 3's realistic combat scenarios. Like in the other Rainbow Six games, the damage model is pretty unforgiving; Ding is no superman, and even with the benefit of armor he can't take more than a few bullets (and you won't find any health kits, either). So moving through a mission successfully becomes a steadied, deliberate affair as you crouch behind cover or lean around corners to see if any terrorists are lurking ahead. In addition to your main weapon, you'll have an assortment of sidearms and grenades to choose from, as well as thermal and night vision that can be switched on at any time. Your night vision comes in quite handy in many of the missions' dark corridors, while the thermal vision is handy for seeing enemies' heat signatures even through closed doors. The nifty visual effects for these two special vision modes have of course been retained in the PS2 version of the game, as well.

Rainbow Six 3 provides an action-oriented experience while retaining the tactical feel of the series.
Rainbow Six 3 provides an action-oriented experience while retaining the tactical feel of the series.

Since you can't run with guns blazing straight into a pack of terrorists, the gameplay in Rainbow Six 3 is focused on teamwork. Your AI colleagues will join you throughout the missions, and, unlike in many games, they'll actually make a big difference. In fact, it's often possible to move through a mission behind your team, giving them the orders and letting them do the dirty work of neutralizing hostiles. You can issue a wide variety of context-sensitive orders to your allies that will instruct them to move, take cover, breach a door and secure the room beyond, defuse bombs, and more. Orders can be given quickly with the controller by using a pop-up menu that shows you the relevant commands you can issue in a given situation. If you're itching for that extra degree of realism, you can also use a PS2 USB headset to literally bark the orders at your team, which can be pretty cool if you have ever envisioned yourself in a career as a drill sergeant.

As with some other recent PS2 ports, Ubisoft and its Shanghai studios (who created this version of the game) have added an impressive amount of new material to Rainbow Six 3. Chief among the additions is a new split-screen two-player mode, which lets you play the game's single-player missions with a friend. The Xbox version required you to use the system link option (which demands two Xboxes, two TVs, and two copies of the game), so this new split-screen option will be a great way for players to do the co-op thing without any extra hardware.

There's also a brand-new single-player mission set in Trieste, Italy, that sees Loiselle and Weber captured behind enemy lines; you and Price will have to go it alone in an attempt to free them. The Xbox version's online multiplayer modes will of course be available as well, and the PS2 game will contain four new maps--Trieste, Crossfire, Prison, and Sandstorm--bringing the total number of available multiplayer maps to 10. According to Ubisoft, "online support at launch" will be available for only six players "due to production and server restrictions." Whether this number can be raised after launch due to further server tuning remains to be seen.

The game really pushes the PS2 hardware and looks pretty darn good for it.
The game really pushes the PS2 hardware and looks pretty darn good for it.

As you've doubtless come to expect from Xbox-to-PS2 ports (such as Ubisoft's own Splinter Cell), the PS2 version of Rainbow Six 3 is visually lagging behind the Xbox version, but it makes quite an impressive graphical effort on the PS2 hardware. Most of the visual fidelity seems to be intact, such as the detail of the character models and the rather impressive lighting effects (such as the soft sunlight that streams through the windows of the island manor), though there's a bit more aliasing than seen in the Xbox version, and the frame rate is lower. Ubisoft is still polishing up the game in preparation for its late-March release, so the graphics may yet be further improved before that time. Even in its current state, though, the game looks quite good in PS2 terms and certainly won't disappoint anybody who hasn't played it before now. The sound design, of course, is just as good as in the Xbox version, with lots of realistic weapon sounds, voice communication between your teammates, and even peripheral effects like the rustle of your equipment as you run quickly behind enemy lines.

From what we've played so far, Rainbow Six 3 is an impressive effort to bring the solid tactical FPS action of the Xbox version to PS2 owners. Ubisoft is continuing its noble tradition here of enhancing subsequent ports with considerable bonus content. Considering Rainbow Six 3 isn't losing any significant features in the transition to the PS2, the original content plus the new additions translate to a lot of game indeed. Rainbow Six 3 is currently slated for release on the PS2 in late March, and we'll bring you more on it soon.

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