On the PC, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six pretty much kick-started the realistic tactical shooter genre, and it was the obvious inspiration for the world's most popular online game, Half-Life: Counter-Strike. The Dreamcast version had somewhat less of an impact, possibly due to its inexact gamepad controls and its total lack of a multiplayer game. Rogue Spear, the sequel to Rainbow Six, improves on the original in every way. It boasts a great single-player experience, much improved controls, and a four-player mode. If you're wondering why there aren't any positive adjectives in front of the words "four-player mode," it's because there isn't a whole lot to it. It's there - a big improvement over not being there - and it works. But it doesn't offer the depth or wide range of features that made multiplayer Rogue Spear so popular on the PC.
Rogue Spear doesn't change the basic game structure used in Rainbow Six. Play is split into two phases, planning and action. You begin the planning phase by reading an overview of the upcoming mission. Once you have a general idea of what you're supposed to be doing, you pick up to eight team members from an initial pool of 30 (ten more than in Rogue Spear for the PC), equip them, and then assign them to squads. Finally, you're presented with a blueprint of the mission site. This is where the real meat of the game is. You must carefully plan each squad's actions throughout the mission. You plot where they'll go and what they'll do when they get there. With its arcane symbols and dense latticework of multicolored lines, the planning map is pretty intimidating at first. You'll quickly learn to decipher everything at a glance, however. Each mission comes with a default plan, but making your own and seeing it enacted successfully is the most satisfying part of Rogue Spear.
Once your plan is in place, the game switches to the action phase. This plays out in 3D, like a slower-paced version of Quake. Unlike in Quake, though, the bullet hits in Rogue Spear are modeled realistically. One shot - or two at the most - and you're dead, so deliberate movements with covering fire are preferable to the running around, guns blazing style of play featured in most shooters. You see everything through the eyes of each team's highest-ranking surviving member, and you can switch to the viewpoints of different members at will. There are over 20 different in-game commands, and the developers have managed to cram all of them onto the Dreamcast pad. However, aiming quickly with the joystick, which is trying at the best of times in console first-person shooters, is made even worse by the fact that Rogue Spear's terrorists are fast and will generally kill you with one shot. Luckily, mouse and keyboard support have been included this time around, and the Rogue Spear is best enjoyed using these peripherals.
The graphics have been improved over Rainbow Six's as well. Though still not quite state of the art, they get the job done. The real-world locations depicted in the game aren't incredibly detailed, but, given their somewhat low budget of polygons, the designers have done a great job capturing the feeling of being in a real place. A few levels even do a respectable job of simulating outdoor scenes.
Though the box says Rogue Spear includes the Urban Operations mission pack, that's only partially true. It does include that product's single-player missions, but it doesn't include any of its multiplayer enhancements. Most sorely missing is Urban Operations' best feature, the multiplayer "defend" mode. In fact, although Rogue Spear supports four-player split-screen deathmatch, its multiplayer is its worst feature. Unlike the PC version's rich set of game modes, which include cooperative play in the single-player levels, bots, and a complete skirmish builder, Rogue Spear for the Dreamcast features only plain-vanilla deathmatch. It works, and it's not horrible (though the frame rate is often pretty awful with four people), but, using multiplayer Rogue Spear on the PC as a benchmark, the Dreamcast version's multiplayer falls way, way short. Not to mention that Quake III Arena's online play has permanently raised the expectations for every other Dreamcast multiplayer game - expectations that Rogue Spear also fails to meet.
Still, if multiplayer is not a big factor for you, Rogue Spear's single-player game is certainly worth the price of admission. It's long and challenging, and it features a unique style of gameplay that mixes thoughtful planning with tense action. And it provides yet another great excuse to buy the keyboard and the mouse.