Rainbow Six is all about patience. Developer Pipe Dream, which converted it from Red Storm's 1998 PC version, certainly wasn't in a big hurry to release it. The game was originally slated to be a Dreamcast launch title, then met with numerous delays before finally emerging eight months late. Although the final product isn't as feature-rich as its PC counterpart, Rainbow Six for the Dreamcast retains the original's slow-paced, strategic gameplay while, somewhat amazingly, not sacrificing any of its complexity to the Dreamcast's limited controller.
While the packaging might lead you to believe it's an action shooter, Rainbow Six is really more of a strategy game punctuated by occasional bouts of gunplay. You control a secret multinational antiterrorist strike team as it executes 21 globe-spanning rescue missions. The game is split into two distinct sections. The first is the planning phase. Here, you read the very detailed mission briefings and choose your team members and equip them. You are then given access to a blueprint of the mission site, where you must assign each member of your squad to one of up to four teams. Each of the teams must then be given explicit orders as to how to proceed through the mission. This planning phase is where you'll spend the bulk of your time while playing Rainbow Six, and it's what separates it from the typical action game. A quick trigger finger cannot overcome bad choices made here. It's a complex and time-consuming process, especially daunting at first when the colored lines and various symbols make the map look more like an abstract painting than a coherent set of directions. With patience and practice, you'll eventually overcome the complicated interface and be able concentrate exclusively on plotting strategy. The reward of making a plan and then seeing it executed is really the heart of Rainbow Six, and it's a unique gaming experience. Each of the missions has a standard, preset loadout and plan so you can ease your way into the game. But even if you accept the default course of action, you'll need to review it in detail in order to have any chance of succeeding.
After finalizing your plans, the game switches to the action phase where you actually execute your strategy. This is the part of Rainbow Six that looks like a typical shooting game, though it doesn't play like one. You control one team member at a time while your squad mates are under computer control, following your preset orders. The game's universe is not populated with the typical-shooter cast of bulletproof superheroes. In Rainbow Six, one good shot will kill you. So rather than charging ahead, guns blazing, you must usually creep around and deliberately, methodically clear each area en route to your final goal. Since there's no in-mission save and because team members killed in action are gone for the remainder of the game, you'll find yourself playing each mission many times. Thankfully, the missions' areas are generally compact, so it usually only takes a few minutes between each restart. There are over 35 different commands that can be given in the action phase, and they've all been assigned to some combination of joystick buttons. It's a lot to learn, but it lets the game maintain the tense immediacy of the keyboard-enabled PC version without resorting to intrusive drop-down menus.
The graphics in the action phase are excellent and faithfully reproduce the PC experience. From oil tankers to embassies to the pirate ride at an amusement park, Rainbow Six presents a varied and memorable set of environments.
Sorely missing from the Dreamcast version is any kind multiplayer option. This is not a trivial omission, as multiplayer was one of the best parts of Rainbow Six on the PC. It's especially frustrating given the online capabilities of the Dreamcast and the fact that the Nintendo 64 version somehow managed to include a two-player option. The load times are also painfully long. Many of the levels take upwards of 45 seconds to load, and they must be reloaded frequently since the action phase is both short and difficult. Lastly, the same font that was crisp on a monitor is kind of fuzzy and hard to read on your TV, which is bad in a game with so much expository text.
While these shortcomings are annoying, they don't overshadow the fact Rainbow Six is still an excellent single-player experience whose mix of heavy strategy and action represents a style of game virtually nonexistent on the Dreamcast. As long as you're not expecting Quake III Arena and are ready for a steep learning curve, Rainbow Six is as deep and challenging as action games get.