Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 4 (working title) Impressions

We meet with Ubisoft to check out the PS2 and Xbox versions of this previously unannounced shooter.

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Last week Ubisoft stopped by the GameSpot offices to show off the then-unannounced Rainbow Six 4 (working title) on both the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox. Although our time with the game was quite limited and we didn't actually get to take the controls ourselves, there were plenty of things on show for us to get excited about in both the campaign missions and the two versions' very different online features. We can also report that, online features aside, the differences between the two games looks to be far less pronounced than they were in Rainbow Six 3, which is great news for those of you who might have been expecting to get shortchanged on the PS2 after playing that game.

Your squadmates will be far from generic this time around.
Your squadmates will be far from generic this time around.

Aside from some visual differences, the 16 story-driven campaign missions on the PS2 and the Xbox--which can either be played solo or cooperatively--will essentially be identical. Although details of the game's storyline are being kept under wraps at the moment (it's something to do with an insane guy getting hold of nanotech viruses--the usual stuff), we can reveal that Team Rainbow will find itself having to adopt a defensive rather than offensive posture for much of the game. We can also say that some of the enemies you'll be facing (the game will boast three distinct levels of enemy artificial intelligence) will be the products of military training not unlike that attended by your Team Rainbow squadmates. In other words, even those of you who have cruised through the campaigns in previous Rainbow Six games should find the tougher of the game's two difficulty settings suitably challenging. Ubisoft is also hoping to make Rainbow Six 4 more accessible for newcomers to the series than its predecessors have been, so it will be implementing a number of optional features for inexperienced players. A couple of examples of these features include highlighting enemies that might otherwise be difficult to spot and assisting with your aim.

Regardless of your experience with previous Rainbow Six games and which difficulty setting you opt for, you'll find that the Rainbow Six 4 development team is going to great lengths to ensure that the game is as easy to pick up and play as is possible, given that you'll be commanding a squad of four for the most part. The briefings you'll be given before each mission, for example, will now be presented as just a handful of bullet points and slides that will outline your objectives and draw your attention to potential dangers. Taking the time to read a particular mission brief, for example, might alert you to the fact that the enemy has access to nerve gas, so then you'll know to equip your squad with masks--which takes us nicely to the team-outfitting screen.

Your goggles won't always afford you such a clear view of the action.
Your goggles won't always afford you such a clear view of the action.

One of the first things you'll notice when equipping your team before a mission is that unlike your colleagues in previous Rainbow Six campaigns, who were all quite generic, Rainbow Six 4 will see you fighting alongside a cast of 10 different characters from all over the world, including females. One of the development team's goals with Rainbow Six 4, we're told, is to team you up with characters that you'll actually care about and become attached to as you progress through the game. We haven't seen nearly enough of Rainbow Six 4 at this point to know how successful that aspect of the game will be, but we can tell you that the differences between the characters definitely won't be limited to their appearances--as evidenced by some of the in-game radio chatter that we got to hear during our demonstration.

There are several other new features in Rainbow Six 4 that you can't help but notice the first time you play the game, the most obvious of which is that the entire screen is framed by a pair of goggles. Initially, the goggles will make no difference to the gameplay whatsoever, but as you progress through the game they'll further immerse you in your role as a Rainbow team leader. Your view through the goggles becomes partially obscured by raindrops, cracks caused by enemy attacks, and suchlike. Weapons with zoom functions will also look a lot different in Rainbow Six 4, and the zoom effects will vary for each weapon. The one that we saw in action didn't incorporate a zoom lens per se, so its zoom feature looked more like we were just getting our head down and looking straight through to the other end of the barrel. The effect of the gun model moving to the center of the screen, getting bigger, and blurring out of focus felt very realistic and, of course, it afforded a slightly easier shot at an enemy who was some distance away. Each of the weapons in the game (there will be four new ones added to the extensive Rainbow Six 3 arsenal) will also boast realistic recoil-induced camera shake. Perhaps the most impressive weapon that we saw in action was a high-powered sniper rifle, which will be the weapon of choice during the all-new sniper missions scattered liberally throughout the campaign.

Rainbow Under Attack

The sniper missions will, for the first time in a Rainbow Six title, allow you to assume the role of a character other than the Rainbow team leader. The mission that we saw will place you, as the sniper, in a tower overlooking the grounds of a castle where the Rainbow team has been pinned down by a large number of enemies. Moving between three windows and with radio chatter from your colleagues below alerting you to the positions of hostiles, your mission will be to clear a safe route through the grounds for the team. You'll also need to be wary of any enemies who spot you picking off their colleagues from your lofty position because, as we saw during our demo, they might decide to point their machine guns, sniper rifles, and RPG launchers at you rather than at your team below.

Not all of the cover you'll find is bulletproof.
Not all of the cover you'll find is bulletproof.

The two regular missions that we saw were set in Algeria and South Africa, and both of them saw team Rainbow battling with enemies in city streets where there was precious little cover to be found. We're not sure what the team's primary objective was in Algeria, but during our demonstration the priority was simply to stay alive. However, this task wasn't easy, since the team stood in a sun-bleached street surrounded by tall buildings with plenty of shadowy windows and doorways for enemies to hide in and rooftops for them to take positions on. Fortunately, there was a shell of a camper van in the middle of the street which, although far from bulletproof, afforded the entire team some cover. The South African level started off in much the same way, although the enemies had less places to hide and weren't so shy about taking to the streets and engaging the Rainbow team at close quarters. The team did manage to find some cover behind a car that had stopped in the middle of the street at one point, but when that became riddled with bullet holes and its windows were smashed the team moved into a nearby building. The building, as it turned out, was a bank in which hostages were being held, and its maze of narrow corridors and offices felt much more like the kind of levels that team Rainbow is used to working in. The transition from the exterior to the interior was seamless, incidentally, which will come as no surprise to you if you've played Rainbow Six 3 at all.

It just wouldn't be Rainbow Six without night vision.
It just wouldn't be Rainbow Six without night vision.

Inside the bank, we got to see one of the team's new gadgets in action: a motion sensor. Along with the night vision and thermal devices from Rainbow Six 3, the motion sensor will let you locate enemies in locales where they might otherwise be almost impossible to spot. The motion sensor will let you see enemies hidden behind obstacles and even through walls. Its range will be limited, though, and you won't be able to fire any weapons while using it. Visually, the motion sensor we saw wasn't radically different from the thermal vision, and since none of the enemies we encountered during our demo were ever motionless, it proved to be very effective. Whether or not the motion sensor proves to be useful in the multiplayer game remains to be seen, and the same can be said of many other new features--not the least of which are the new player classes being introduced to the Xbox Live battlefield.

As we mentioned briefly at the start of this preview, the online features of the PS2 and Xbox versions of Rainbow Six 4 will be very different. Both games will feature more or less the same cooperative, deathmatch, and team-based modes of play (adding several new options to those found in Rainbow Six 3 and its subsequent Black Arrow Xbox expansion), and both will support up to 16 players, but that really is where the similarities will end. The Xbox game, for example, will pit red and green teams of Rainbow operatives against each other, while the PS2 game will allow you to either side with team Rainbow or play as a mercenary. To avoid any confusion, we'll talk about the two multiplayer games in separate paragraphs going forward. First up is the PS2.

Sweet Sixteen

With Rainbow Six 4, Ubisoft is working hard to ensure that the multiplayer experience on the PS2 isn't inferior to that on the Xbox--which was certainly the case with the previous game. The PS2 game will feature 10 multiplayer maps which, although they're set in the same environments as campaign missions, have been designed specifically for multiplayer use. As well as looking different (you'll be able to use an existing character or create your own), the Rainbow and mercenary factions will have access to different weapons from the Rainbow Six 4 arsenal. So, for example, flashbangs will be exclusive to team Rainbow, while nerve gas will only be available to mercenary players. Mercenaries will also have the ability to close doors and fuse them shut so that Rainbow players can't open them--not without using their new battering ram, anyway. It's also worth mentioning that Ubisoft hopes to use its Ubi.com service to provide support for clans, rankings, tournaments, and suchlike--the same features that will be available to Xbox players via Xbox Live 3.0, basically.

Your online experience will vary according to which skills you decide to specialize in.
Your online experience will vary according to which skills you decide to specialize in.

If you're an Xbox player, you can look forward to a very different online experience--one that we'll admit we're very excited about. Even the multiplayer maps in the Xbox game will be different to those on the PS2, for reasons that will become clear once you hear about some of the abilities and gadgets that you'll be playing with. Team play will be more important than ever in the Xbox game, because once you've created a persistent character for yourself (more about that shortly) and started playing, you'll earn experience points that can be spent on learning and eventually mastering skills from any of four specialized roles: commando, engineer, field medic, and spec-ops. Commandos will have access to more-powerful weapons and armor than other classes, and they will also be able to use a ballistic riot shield. Engineers will be able to deploy automated turrets, and they'll hack into security doors to open or shut them. Field medics will be able to deploy field clinics and use nerve gas (the easiest way to beat an enemy behind a riot shield). Spec-ops will be stealthy characters able to perform deadly knife attacks, and they'll have access to a sensor jammer that can disrupt enemy radars and sensors. You'll be able to choose a single profession and master it, or you can select your favorite skills from each of these specialized roles, and as you progress through the game, you'll become more proficient at any given skill, like hacking into doors more quickly or deploying more powerful turrets, for example. Exciting stuff indeed, just like the word persistent earlier in this paragraph.

When your armor deteriorates you'll have to either repair or replace it.
When your armor deteriorates you'll have to either repair or replace it.

When you create an Xbox Live character for yourself, you'll be encouraged to use that same character every single time you play. You'll be able to influence his or her physical appearance, kit them out in different uniforms, and then customize those uniforms with camo patterns and logos of your own design. We didn't get to see the character editor in action, but we did check out a number of player-created characters, and they all looked very different physically and sported varied outfits (including loads of different headgear). As you play the multiplayer game and rack up experience points, you'll unlock additional customization options for your character, you'll be awarded medals, and you'll earn money. What are you going to need money for? Why, to replace that worn-out body armor, of course. That's right, your body armor (and presumably a number of other items in the game) will deteriorate over time, making them less effective. It's not yet clear whether you'll have to purchase weapons and/or ammunition a la Counter-Strike, or what any of the other consumables might be (grenades, perhaps), but it's certainly an interesting direction for the Rainbow Six series to be heading.

Both the PS2 and Xbox versions of Rainbow Six 4 are currently scheduled for release in spring 2005. We'll bring you information on the game as soon as it becomes available.

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