Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Lockdown Updated Hands-On

We get our hands on the latest PS2 and Xbox builds of Ubisoft's upcoming squad-based shooter.

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Currently scheduled for release in mid-March, Rainbow Six: Lockdown is the latest tactical shooter in Ubisoft's Tom Clancy-inspired series. The game promises to introduce a number of new features to what has proved to be a winning formula for Ubisoft and developer Red Storm, and it will offer a very different multiplayer experience according to which console you're playing the game on. We'd give anything to be able to tell you that Lockdown is shaping up to be a worthy successor to Rainbow Six 3, but, based on the work-in-progress PS2 and Xbox versions that we've been playing (and the fact that the release date is less than a month away), it's hard to say just how the game is going to turn out.

We've spent the majority of our time with Rainbow Six: Lockdown playing through the first few missions of the single-player campaign mode, which are set in Pretoria, South Africa; Amsterdam, Netherlands; and Edinburgh, Scotland. The locales are every bit as varied as you'd expect them to be, but, with the exception of a few set pieces (and sniper sections), we unfortunately can't say the same about the gameplay, which is still rough around the edges.

Giving orders to colleagues couldn't be easier.
Giving orders to colleagues couldn't be easier.

Although issuing orders to your colleagues (who move as a group and cannot be given individual orders) couldn't be easier--you simply tap your action button to have them move to the position you're pointing at and hold the button down to bring up a number of different options relating to the area or object that your sights are focused on--the game's AI is still a mixed blessing. While the AI is capable of some very useful actions, its breadth is not impressive. When you approach a door, for example, you could open it yourself (instantly or gradually), or you could choose to have your colleagues open it normally, open it with a shotgun, knock it down with a hammer, or even breach it with an explosive charge. Furthermore, at the same time you're instructing them how to open the door, you can tell them what to do next: hold their positions, enter and clear the room, or preface the entering and clearing with a frag grenade or flashbang. So, when it comes to opening doors, Rainbow is definitely the right team for the job. It's some of the other stuff that its members have trouble with.

The fundamental problem we're seeing right now is that while you can easily order your colleagues to move to a specific location, you have no control over the positions that they adopt when they arrive. So, if you order the three of them to go and stand behind a parked vehicle, for example, one of them will most likely do just that, but the other two will take up positions nearby that in no way take into account the locations of enemies or the fact that thin air makes for lousy cover. Lockdown would certainly benefit if a Full Spectrum Warrior-style control scheme were implemented, allowing you to determine the positions of your colleagues when moving them. Nevertheless, Rainbow operatives do a good job of looking busy when you move them into position, and, provided they're facing the right way, they'll often pick off (or at least spot) any nearby enemies before you've even had a chance to. We found that our colleagues did a good job of putting bullet holes into all kinds of other things too--basically anything that came between them and an enemy they had spotted, such as a wall that the enemy was taking cover behind or even a vehicle that the Rainbow operative in question was standing behind. In short, our colleagues' proficiency with weapons was occasionally so good that we had very little to do, and on other occasions it was so bad that we felt like we were babysitting them. Ubisoft and Red Storm are no doubt working to make the behavior of CPU-controlled characters in Rainbow Six: Lockdown more realistic, and we sincerely hope that they manage it, because it will certainly make or break the game as far as the single-player experience is concerned.

Your colleagues' firearm skills are inconsistent at best.
Your colleagues' firearm skills are inconsistent at best.

Surprisingly, the level that we've had the most fun with to date is the only one we've played that effectively does away with the tried-and-tested Rainbow Six formula. We are talking about one of the game's numerous sniper missions, namely the first one you'll play, which is set in Amsterdam. Your first glimpse of Amsterdam in Rainbow Six: Lockdown comes from inside a helicopter flying high above the city from which you'll use your sniper rifle to pick off any enemies that threaten the progress of your Rainbow colleagues on the ground--including other snipers. After a couple of minutes the helicopter drops you on a rooftop, at which point your job gets a lot harder because you'll need to find your own vantage points and move between them regularly to keep your colleagues safe. When you successfully see team Rainbow to its destination, you'll step out of your sniper shoes and back into those of the team's leader, at which point Amsterdam plays a lot like the rest of the levels, with plenty of narrow corridors, closed doors, and hostage situations to deal with.

You've Been Spotted

We noticed a few differences between the Xbox and PS2 versions of Rainbow Six: Lockdown, although most of them are likely present only because the PS2 game is clearly further into development than its Xbox counterpart. Your colleagues in the PS2 game, for example, are far more talkative and clearly have different personalities (including the requisite comedian and loose-cannon stereotypes) that come across in their radio chatter. We also found the PS2 game to be significantly more challenging, not because the enemies we were encountering were more intelligent or numerous, but simply because they were a lot harder to see. In our version of the Xbox game, enemies are highlighted with a white box that turns yellow when they spot you. This alerts you to the presence of enemies that you might otherwise have little chance of spotting, as we found out when we played through the same levels on the PS2. Having enemies highlighted before we had actually seen them had the effect of making many areas far easier to beat than they should have been, while some of the same areas were really tough without the highlights. The problem, as we see it, is that without the highlights you'll find that your enemies are invariably able to see you long before you spot them, particularly in dark areas. Reducing the range of the enemies' vision in those areas (or increasing your effectiveness in moving stealthily in shadows) might even things up.

Night vision is your best friend in dimly lit areas.
Night vision is your best friend in dimly lit areas.

Once we'd played through the first few levels of the single-player game on both the PS2 and Xbox, we took the opportunity to check out the multiplayer options, which, as you'll know from our previous coverage, are very different on each console. Even the character-creation systems in the two games have very little in common, and not just because the PS2 game lets you play as either a Rainbow operative or a mercenary. Creating your character in the PS2 version of Rainbow Six: Lockdown is a fairly involved process, since you can use sliding bars to alter the size of specific facial features after you've settled on any of 12 different skin tones, three different body types (male or female), and around 50 different hairstyles. On the Xbox, however, when you design a character for use in its "persistent elite creation" mode (formerly known as career mode), your physical-appearance options are limited to just 12 different faces. It's unlikely, though, that you'll bump into your twin online, at least once you've earned some credits and have gone shopping for new gear.

When you visit the quartermaster's store between Xbox Live games, you'll be able to spend your credits on equipment, armor, explosives, clothing, and 12 different camouflage patterns. Some of the items will be unique to the character class you've chosen (engineer, spec-ops, medic, or commando), while others will be available to everyone. As an engineer, for example, you'll be able to purchase proximity mines, trip wires, electronic keycards, and even gun turrets, which are unavailable to players with different specializations. Items available to everyone will include body armor, a number of different grenade types, and more than a dozen types of headgear (including balaclavas, berets, head wraps, helmets, caps, and goggles), which appear to serve no purpose other than to enhance your appearance.

With bullets flying all over the place, you might expect Team Rainbow to wear helmets.
With bullets flying all over the place, you might expect Team Rainbow to wear helmets.

Although we have not had the opportunity to get a decent multiplayer game of Rainbow Six: Lockdown up and running, we did manage to play through the Xbox game's multiplayer tutorial, which will introduce you to each of the four playable classes so that you can make an informed decision when your create your character. The tutorial was clearly still coming together and wasn't finished, but it did afford us our first looks at the commando's riot shield, the spec-ops' deadly knife attack, the medic's deployable field clinics, and the engineer's hacking abilities and deployable gun turrets. The tutorial threw up very little in the way of surprises, although we were a little disappointed to see that we could deploy field clinics and gun turrets only in specific locations indicated by a large blue cross on the floor, which we're hoping is a feature of the tutorial rather than of actual online play.

Though this preview highlights a number of flaws that were evident in our work-in-progress builds of Rainbow Six: Lockdown, we're still excited to see how the game turns out. With improved artificial intelligence and some tighter colleague controls, there's no reason why the single-player campaign shouldn't be every bit as good as those in previous Rainbow Six games. Hopefully the development team will work on those aspects as the game nears its completion. We're also very much looking forward to putting the respective multiplayer games (and the Xbox version's character classes) through their paces once we get our hands on a more complete version of the game. Expect more on Rainbow Six: Lockdown as its release date closes in.

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