Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Preview
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At the headquarters of Tom Clancy's Red Storm Entertainment in Morrisville, NC, the finishing touches are being put on Rainbow Six, a first-person simulation that at the very least should win an award for best concept for a first-person game.
Rainbow Six is the code name for a multinational team of agents brought together to resolve hostage crises and other terrorist acts across the globe. No such team exists now, but as with the rest of the game, the idea is grounded firmly in reality: The FBI and other agencies around the world are urging the creation of just such a force to handle the expected increase in terrorism.
Drawn from elite outfits such as the US Delta Force, Israeli Border Patrol, the SAS, and the LAPD SWAT team, each of the 20 agents (based on real-world counterparts) is rated in various categories - aggression, stamina, teamwork, stealth, electronics, demolitions, and several others. After receiving a thorough briefing on the situation, your first step is to choose up to eight team members and then start outfitting them with everything from weapons and clothing to specialized electronics gear. Gamers accustomed to arcade-style blast fests will have to cool their jets a bit during this stage: Load down even the stealthiest agent with too many guns and gear, and the amount of noise she makes will increase.
Once you've equipped your team and split it up into three groups, it's time to start devising your plan. All the locales are based on real-world space and include a foreign embassy, oil rig, and an amusement park. To help you form your objectives, you'll have access to what essentially amounts to a "tricorder" that'll show you the locations of hostages by detecting their heartbeat - a technology not yet developed but currently in the works. Using a 3D wire model of the structure you'll be investigating, you begin drawing routes for each team, setting up as many waypoints as you like.
Perhaps the most crucial part of planning, though, involves setting up the rules of engagement. At each waypoint, you can set the team's operating instructions: "Clear" means they take whatever steps necessary to clear an area of all threats, for instance, while "advance" prioritizes movement over target acquisition. Additionally, you also decide the team's speed, from "blitz" to "stealth."
You're in charge of Alpha team at the start of each mission, but at any point during the action you can switch off and lead any other teams that are involved - but regardless of which team you control, you still have to issue commands for the other teams after they reach certain locations or achieve specific goals. Naturally, some missions will be simpler than others, but the adjustable difficulty levels will also determine how quickly your opponents will react. On the easy setting they might not respond until they actually see one of your team members, while at higher difficulties they might simply execute a hostage within 30 seconds of hearing something odd. The difficulty settings also affect the amount of information given in pre-mission briefings.
Red Storm went to extreme lengths to ensure the accuracy of the movement physics, including hits from weapons fire, and the results are simply astounding. You won't see blood and gore fill the screen when a terrorist takes a head shot because as producer Carl Schnurr points out, "That's just not the way it happens in real life." What you do see, however, has twice as much impact. When someone takes a hit, you'll see their body crumple slowly to the ground and a crimson pool slowly begin to spread across the ground. It's possibly the most authentic death scene ever seen in a game, and it brings home what this game is all about: saving lives, not wasting everything in sight.
After Schnurr showed off the game's first missions, any skepticism I had over Red Storm doing a first-person shooter vanished, as he guided his teams through darkened rooms and stairways. The tension was palpable as he located a hostage cowering in the corner of a room, and I've got to admit that my heart skipped a beat when a team member suddenly went down outside the embassy. And to prove once and for all that you don't need buckets of blood and guts to give a game impact, Schnurr had a team member point his submachine gun at a hostage - the sight of the man shaking with fear drove home his point instantaneously.
To top it all off, Rainbow Six has a robust suite of multiplayer options. Up to 16 players can compete in free-for-alls, a co-op mode, team play, "capture the hostage," and other variations, and voice chat will allow teammates to stay in constant communication with each other during a match. All the usual networking options - TCP/IP, LAN, IPX - are supported, and Rainbow Six will also be playable on both Internet Gaming Zone and Mplayer.
I'm not usually fond of making predictions, but after thoroughly exploring this game I'll break my policy and make this one: If the AI routines work as they should throughout all the missions, then Rainbow Six could easily be the best combination of strategy and action this year.