There's simply no denying that Vegas 2 is a giant improvement upon its predecessor and is fantastic on its own merit.

User Rating: 9.5 | Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 X360
The Good: Gameplay is greatly expanded and more fine tuned than ever, graphics have been vamped up and at no cost to multiplayer quality, more guns, addressed more issues from first game than I care to count, continues to be updated by the ever busy Ubi Montreal

The Bad: Still a few VERY tiny gameplay issues, game is still less-than-stable at times, lacks enough casino environments, many voice actors did not resume their previous roles, story mode Co-Op is only two player maximum and you still have to drag your squad around, ACES bonuses don't "stack", achievements can be glitchy

Being a first person shooter fan, Rainbow Six Vegas was, in a lot of ways, a dream come true. The gameplay was fluid as it was riveting, the cover system positively influenced the tide of combat without becoming the focal point or a gimmick, and the amount of realism in graphics and technology was a sight to behold. It wasn't perfect though, as nothing is, and there were some little and big issues that I desperately wanted fixed.

That's part of, if not the whole reason, why R6V2 is such a God send. It's been called Vegas 1.5, seeing as it's viewed as "one giant update" by skeptics. Opinions aside…is that really a bad thing?

R6V2 picks up not quite where the first game's story left off. You actually assume the role of a different squad leader, even though you're leading the same other two NPCs as you were in the first game. The game starts a few days before the other game, but by the time it ends the two timelines have synched up and the storylines tie together. The story is well told through in game cutscenes and scripted events, but the story can be hard to follow if you aren't paying attention, and it's hard to pick back up on if you fall behind. The story mode is a good 6-8 hours, and by the end, all loose ends are tied up.

Aside from story mode, there's a large array of other things for you to do. You can simply choose one of the game's maps and kill a predetermined number of terrorists without dying, or you can play online against other people. Both story and terrorist hunts can be played split screen, system link, or online co-op, but disappointingly, story co-op is only up to two players, and unlike the first game, the host must drag the two AI companions along with you and your buddy, which can become an irritation and feels unnecessary. The game can get difficult, especially on the highest difficulty, and sometimes you wish you could be playing with three humans alongside you, instead of one.

Terrorist Hunt co-op works just fine though. Not only can up to four participate, but depending on the difficulty you play on, you get a certain number of respawns as well, which eases a little bit of difficulty that persisted in the previous game's T-Hunts.

The remaining factor, then, is adversarial online play. As addicting and fun as the adversarial modes are, there are only five this time around, which is a bit of a drag. There's free for all deathmatch, team deathmatch, attack and defend, and two new modes called total conquest and team leader. Total conquest puts you on the map with three satellite dishes waiting to be commandeered for your team. They're taken by walking up to them and holding the action button until the satellite is taken, and the goal is to hold all three satellites for a 30 second timer, or to control the majority when the match is over. Team leader is a complicated VIP style game, in which the team leader enables your team endless respawns, but once killed, he cannot respawn, nor can anyone on your team. Also, being killed by the opposing leader also permanently eliminates you for the game. The goal is to escort your leader to the extraction point on the opposite side of the map, but more often than not, it boils down to the leaders being hunted down and killed, and then a bitter firefight to the death between the two teams when respawns are gone.

All of these game modes are fun, despite the fact that the classic attack and defend is inexplicably limited to, at most, three respawns per player, and that other gametypes found in Vegas 1 are absent. At any rate, with only five gametypes to choose from, the game still ends up being surprisingly varied and you rarely get bored as long as you appropriately mix things up.

It is also important to note that in a recent game update, Ubi Montreal did a number of deeply appreciated things. To name a few, they released three new maps for free, including the classic Calypso Casino. Other than that, it's mainly gameplay oriented updates. They increased accuracy of light machine guns, they increased power of sniper rifles from farther ranges, they added a grenade indicator a la Call of Duty, they modified some gadgets for balance, and they added new ranks for ACES and Elite. They made the zoom for weapons faster. They also gave the host the option to allow dead team members to still communicate, they added options for "random respawns", and they added a new mode called High Stakes.

High Stakes is an overlap on other game types, it is not its own. It changes numerous things. It makes your gun far less accurate from the hip, encouraging you to zoom in to engage in combat. It makes the cover system such that when placed against cover, you don't have a huge viewing angle of your surroundings, as is unrealistic, and to some, unfair. So, on cover, the camera is fixed on your character's head and chest, forcing you to peek out of cover in order to take in your surroundings. Team damage is also always on. Another feature is that health does not regenerate past a certain point, so you have to play smarter and safer. Last, High Stakes also reduces the amount of ammo you have and removes the grenade indicator.

As you can see, Ubi does a lot to their games to ensure they're all they can be. Three more of these things are a sprint button, permeable cover, and a new ranking system.

The sprint button was a must. One issue I had always had with the original game was that even when you heard a grenade clink at your feet, there was nothing you could do but trot away at a snail's pace and pray. Not only is that unrealistic, but it's plain irritating. But, no more. Assigned conveniently to the left bumper is a new sprint button, and it does its job marvelously. One thing to note about the sprint button is that you can use it to interrupt a reload animation, making it an invaluable tool in saving your own life when you reload, thinking the scene is clear, and it isn't. Make sure you still have some ammo in the clip though! If you do a "dry reload", nothing happens.

The other thing that begged to be placed in the Vegas games was permeable cover. Much like the sprint button, it's unrealistic to be unloading with a .50 caliber pistol into a box made out of plywood and not kill the target behind it. No more. Various materials throughout the game are permeable on several different levels, and the gun you're using and the range you're using it at also effect how well the bullets penetrate. It's not perfect, and at first it seems very underwhelming, but after a long time with it, you realize that it's far more realistic than Call of Duty 4's, and Ubi didn't just add a last minute, sloppy gimmick.

The new ranking system wasn't something I consciously wanted from this game, but I am eternally grateful for it. The way the previous game ranked you up was determined by a few factors; winning, losing, game duration, balanced teams, and sometimes difficulty level. The reason this system was, well, bad, is because it didn't reflect individual player performance. You could suffer by having a bad team, or by doing extremely good up until something stupid at the end of a match causes you to lose, and it's basically all for nothing. This game uses a system much like Call of Duty 4's in which you earn XP on the fly for performing certain tasks, meeting certain requirements, or winning a match. For example, if you did a T-Hunt on the hardest difficulty in Vegas 1, and your whole team died with only 1 terrorist remaining, you got nothing. In Vegas 2, you still get a hefty sum of points for every enemy killed on the hardest setting, and you share XP with all your teammates as well, which is a cool touch.

Paired along with this system is ACES. ACES is split up into three categories: Marksman, Assault, and CQB. These categories all have, as of the newest update, 100 levels. You get certain amounts of points in the categories, and these points tally up until you reach preset amounts, unlocking new weapons or triggering XP boosts. Things like headshots, killing at long distances, killing people using ropes or killing while you're using a rope gets points for marksman. CQB, on the other hand, is earned by close range kills, killing with blindfire, killing from behind, etc. Assault is aptly named, being killing through cover, killing with explosives, killing using C4, killing a shield user, or killing a turret gunner. The guns you unlock for each category are ones affiliated with said categories, and it doesn't take too long before you're a weapon collector of the most deadly kind. Once you pass level 20 in each category, the rest each trigger 5,000 XP boosts all the way up, so it makes it easier to rank up to higher levels once you have nothing to go on.

The one beef I have with ACES is that your bonuses don't "stack". Say you killed an opponent on a rope from a far range, you'd only get points for the higher point value of the two. Or maybe you killed someone from behind, from a close range, with a headshot; only the highest point value is counted. A minor inconvenience, but it doesn't seem to make sense and is a lost opportunity for ascending faster in the ranks.

The rest of the gameplay in Vegas 2 is a dream. The controls are all mapped easily and intelligently, with several other schemes available if you choose to change it. The cover system works as well as ever. There's a slight moment when whipping around from cover when your crosshairs become uncentered so that you can't simply pop around a corner and nail someone right in the head right away. Instead, you must wait a split second before firing accurately. It makes it more fair and realistic, and it's just one example of fine tuning the gameplay on Ubi's part that makes the game so fantastic.

Aside from the obvious cover mechanic, you have gadgets/explosives to use, guns to customize (lots of guns…), vision modes to use, and stuff to interact with in the environment, be it ropes and ladders or bombs to defuse. The gameplay isn't exactly frantic most of the time, but the pace has upped dramatically with the sprint button, and the tactics and execution that go into the gameplay looks and feels a lot more realistic and, to be honest, thrilling, than it ever has been.

The graphics have seen a surprisingly large improvement, most notably the fact that multiplayer graphics' quality is up to par with single player. The guns look better than ever, with lighting reflecting of the contours of the weapons in ways that make me drool at times. Dust clouds jet out of cement walls from near misses. Lights reflect off of face plates on combat helmets. Enemies go up in flames from incendiary grenades. Blood looks better than ever with excellent splatter effects and thicker gushes when hitting enemies. Water looks great in certain puddles on the floor, mainly in campaign levels. And, perhaps the best of all, character models in third person just look good. They're not exactly textured immaculately, but they have distinct armor and clothing and are very nice to look at when you're sitting on a wall all game.

Aside from straight up visuals, the game holds up a lot nicer than the first game did. Rarely a hitch in the framerate. Enemy AI is improved. The game is practically glitchless compared to the first one, and there's barely a moment of "Hey, shouldn't that guy be flaming right now?" or, "Why is that terrorist staring at me for no reason?" Rag doll physics are also a sight to behold. The way you know ragdoll physics work as they should is because you don't notice them. They never screw up. But, to the sharp eye of the sadist who loves watching the bodies after they die, you'll notice it's never over dramatized, and it always looks right. Also let it be known that you can essentially never watch the same death animation twice. Reading that, most of you would mutter, "Yeah, whatever…" but it's actually true. The gun, objects in the environment, the angle, and the distance are just some of the factors that effect how the body topples motionless to the ground.

The sound in Vegas 2 only has one flaw. That flaw is that, for all the new guns added to the game, barely any have their own unique sound effects, versus the old game, where nearly every gun had its totally unique array of sounds. However, apart from that, the sound is totally up to par with the rest of what the game throws at you. The guns all sound hearty and the sounds really fit their parts. It's more than common to hear sounds in a movie or a game that might even sound good, but you're thinking, "That shouldn't come out of that…" Not so in Vegas 2.

Aside from guns themselves, the terrorists belt out many similar lines to the other game, as well as new lines and new voices. The bullets make appropriate sounds when coming into contact with different materials, most notably the splintering noise of wood being shot, which can make you want to duck your head to avoid a hail of splinters. Another note is that a lot of voice actors did not reprise their roles in this game. This is disconcerting, but in some cases, the new actors are actually better…

One thing about Vegas 2's sound design is that it's near flawless in execution. Sound almost never plays late, fails to play, or lags and plays repeatedly for no reason. All three things happen in other games, including the previous Vegas title, so it's good to see that even something as little as a laggy light machine gun sound effect is a rare occurrence nowadays. Anyway, to close on the sound, I'd say the same thing about the rag doll effects. Sound doesn't stand out because it rarely doesn't work flawlessly.

One of Vegas 2's strong suits is that there's a lot to do. T-Hunts on various difficulties, let alone co-op or even with your AI squad can take a lot of time. There's the story as well, which can be very exciting with a partner. The multiplayer will keep you coming back with addictive gameplay, streamlined and heavily improved options for the host and players, many maps, and five game modes. The ranking system is rewarding and keeps things interesting, with 100 ACES levels and 99 ranks of Elite newly added. The achievements in the game are evenly spread through completing campaign tasks, T-Hunts, and performing different tasks in online adversarial. Ubi has also made sure that achievements are difficult to cheat to get, although on the flipside, it's not uncommon for certain achievements to not unlock, which is a huge bummer, specifically the 75 G achievement for completing the campaign on Realistic difficulty.

All things considered, R6V2 is a masterpiece of shooting games and should not be missed. CoD fan, Halo fan, Battlefield fan, anyone can find something to like in Vegas's deep, advanced, fine tuned, engrossing gameplay. There's more options, more unlockables, more ranks, more guns, better graphics, and some of the finest crafted core gameplay in any game you'll ever play. Don't miss it.