Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lockdown Hands-On - Rainbow Returns to the PC

Forget about last year's console versions; Rainbow Six: Lockdown for the PC appears to be a completely different game, indeed.

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Though it started out on the PC, the Rainbow Six series has become especially popular on the consoles. This has become a point of concern for PC gamers who fear that the series, known for its ruthlessly brutal and realistic tactical combat, will mutate into just another console shooter. Last year's Rainbow Six: Lockdown for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube did nothing to alleviate those fears, as we were introduced to a "hip" new generation of Rainbow commandos who were too cool to even bother with wearing helmets in combat. After all, helmets would just cover up their cool cornrows (PC fans everywhere wailed in anguish over that detail). So you could imagine our complete surprise when we recently loaded up an early PC version of Lockdown and discovered that this isn't a mere port. Red Storm is giving us a new version of Lockdown built directly for the PC, while also getting rid of all the silly elements found in the console versions. Throw in the spiffy new graphics engine, and suddenly we're looking at a potential faithful heir to the PC franchise.

Rainbow is back on the PC, and it looks pretty darn sharp. This is no mere port.
Rainbow is back on the PC, and it looks pretty darn sharp. This is no mere port.

Like the previous games in the series, Lockdown puts you in charge of the elite Rainbow counterterrorist team, a NATO unit tasked with stopping the bad guys and rescuing hostages in high-risk missions. Lockdown will feature 16 missions set in exotic locales around the world, from the Dutch parliament to the South African capitol, and you'll slowly uncover yet another nefarious conspiracy to unleash global havoc. Thankfully, you've got a lot of firepower at your disposal, as you have a huge arsenal of weapons and equipment to choose from, as well as a team of elite commandos to lead into battle.

Still, we should note that the PC version of Lockdown isn't quite Rainbow Six as you may know it. First, the trademark mission planning that the series is known for is gone. Now, after you outfit your team from the extensive array of weapons and equipment options (at least that remains untouched), you launch directly into the mission. You no longer have the ability to plan out your team's attack, and while most players generally skipped this phase, it was one of the things that made Rainbow Six different from virtually every other shooter on the market. Also, the multiple-squad format of previous Rainbow Six games is gone. Instead of leading several teams into combat and being able to jump between them, you'll lead a single team of four elite operatives who follow you around and follow your orders.

You can modify your weapon by adding scopes, sights, or other pieces of equipment.
You can modify your weapon by adding scopes, sights, or other pieces of equipment.

It's immediately clear upon entering the first mission that this is a vastly different game from the console versions of Lockdown. Though the locales are the same (the first mission starts in South Africa, just like the console versions), the levels and environments are much bigger and much more detailed than those found in the console versions. There's no mistaking this is a PC game and not a port, especially after you see the fancy graphical effects, such as heat blur and dreamy water reflections, as well as the high quality of the graphics in general. Some textures are incredibly sharp, and there are lots of little things in the environment to knock over, thanks to the game's physics engine. We immediately got caught in a firefight with several terrorists in a parking lot, and it was a lot of fun to shoot out car windows and watch the rag-doll physics in effect. Just unload a few pieces of lead into a bad guy, and his body will recoil like it should. Sometimes they just slump to the ground. Other times, they'll get knocked back. The location damage also helps the death animations; you can shoot a guy's leg out from under him and he'll tumble to the ground believably. And, thankfully, none of the awkward death contortions from Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield (the last PC Rainbow Six game) have appeared thus far.

Tango Down

The artificial intelligence in Lockdown looked a bit flaky at times, but it was fairly solid from what we saw, and the game is still in development, so there's hope this can get tweaked further. We saw terrorists use cover intelligently, such as hiding behind pillars or cowering by the side of a car. Your own teammates basically follow you around and provide supporting fire, but you can give them a move order simply by pointing the cursor where you want them to go and hitting the space bar. They'll move ahead, and if the coast is clear they'll give you a hand signal to move up. You can also give them specific orders, such as to breach a door (blow the lock open), toss a flashbang grenade in, and then clear the room of enemies. Just point the cursor at the door and select the options. The team will assemble at the door and prepare the charges, and you simply have to tap the go code for them to execute the move.

You like grenades? There are flashbangs, phosphorus, smoke, and frag grenades in Lockdown.
You like grenades? There are flashbangs, phosphorus, smoke, and frag grenades in Lockdown.

While the levels are big, they're not quite as large or as wide open as those found in earlier Rainbow Six games on the PC. There's much more of a linear feeling to the levels in Lockdown, whereas previous games had such huge levels that you could often get lost exploring them. That brings up one of the more interesting aspects of Lockdown: Each mission can take place on multiple maps. Instead of having the mission take place on one huge level, several levels are pieced together to create a mission. For example, in the campaign's initial mission, the first level is all about battling through a huge parking structure to get to the street level. Once you do that, you load the next level, which covers the running street battle as you go from the parking garage to the bank, which is your objective. Once you arrive at the bank, the game loads the third level, which is the interior of the bank itself. The game saves your progress at each level load, so when you die you don't need to start the entire mission over. It's certainly an unusual approach, especially for a Rainbow Six game, but we'll see how it pans out over the course of a full game.

We should also note that Lockdown isn't a "one shot, one kill" game like previous Rainbow Six games, either. In early Rainbow Six games, you have the barest margin for error, since a single shot can put a commando out of commission. However, Lockdown is a lot more forgiving, since each commando has a health bar consisting of three bars. If you're wounded, you take damage. If you take enough damage, you lose a health bar. If you lose all three health bars, the commando is dead. And since you can't switch between commandos, if your main character dies, you've got to reload the mission. The version we had also featured two difficulty settings, normal and challenge. Unfortunately, from what we can tell, challenge doesn't make the game one-shot, one-kill. Instead, it appears that enemies are just tougher to take down, and you still have the three-bar health system.

After you finish the game's campaign, there is still plenty of replayability in Lockdown, judging by the number of different single-player and multiplayer modes. You can play the single-player maps in terrorist hunt, reverse terrorist hunt, lone wolf, and training modes, and all the single-player maps are playable in multiplayer in cooperative mode. Other multiplayer modes include team adversarial, rivalry, retrieval, free for all, and terrorist hunt. Multiplayer is a Rainbow Six staple, of course, and the good news is that there are also a number of bonus multiplayer-only maps, some based on classic Rainbow Six levels, such as Mint and 747. Oh yeah, and Lockdown will support up to 16 players.

Lockdown for the PC should lock down on shelves next month.
Lockdown for the PC should lock down on shelves next month.

While Lockdown isn't Rainbow Six as PC gamers know it, the good news is that this is a much more serious game than the console versions--so much so that you have to wonder why Ubisoft and Red Storm are keeping the name exactly the same, as this will undoubtedly sow some consumer confusion. It appears that Red Storm remembers its roots, and the PC version of Lockdown is a challenging game in the PC Rainbow Six vein. And while it's more streamlined than previous Rainbow Six games, we'll find out how the gameplay stacks up when Lockdown is released next month.

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