In the Rainbow Six 3 games, you’re part of “Rainbow” – an elite squad of counter-terror specialists, taking down the scum of the earth, wherever they roam. Your team is the last hope for all of the citizens on earth.
But don’t be confused – this isn’t your average first person shooter. Don’t lump it with Call of Duty or Halo. This one is pretty different. Sure, you go around, shoot the bad guys, and protect the good guys (or, if you’re like me, do the exact opposite). But the difference that comes in the Rainbow Six 3 games is the emphasis on tactical planning for your team. You map out an extensive plan for your team (by clicking on a map, creating “waypoints”), and are sent to carry it out. Instead of being the single hero charging in, guns blazing, you must be careful, very careful. (Heck, if you try that in this game, you’ll be dead in seconds!) You work with your team, giving, receiving, and carrying out orders. Sometimes you’ll be in radio contact with other teams, who will work from other locations to help you, and will often take orders from you.
Teams are also handled a bit differently than other games. Obviously, your teammates are computer players, but you can switch between them at any time, and control them yourself. You’re not assigned to any individual character, and if your character dies, you can switch to another one until you run out. Every member of your team has individual strengths, and as you lose them, it may become harder to complete your objective. No matter what happens, you’re always the leader, and they’ll listen to you. That’s why you need to always pay attention, and be careful to not lead them into a trap. You issue orders like “open door”, or “open door, and throw in grenade”, and the other members will carry it out. Since you’re the leader, they try to protect you. One tip: don’t open doors yourself if you think there might be enemies behind it. Have the team open the door for you. If you know there are a number of enemies in the room, you can use the “open and clear” or “open, stun, and clear” commands instead.
Planning missions on the map can be hard. Fortunately, you can load some pre-made plans, if you’re clueless on how to do it yourself. Your teams will only be able to help you if you have a plan and waypoints set. This is mainly what the AI relies on. Another major part of planning a mission is selecting the right people. On the team planning screen, you can select up to 8 team members, spread across 2 assault teams and a sniper team. Each team can have a maximum of 4 people.
The game offers a few difficulty settings, like most games, so you’ll be able to choose how easy or hard the game is. Where the game becomes harder is the way you can’t hit a save button in the middle of the mission, even on the easy setting. This makes it a bit of a bummer, especially when you factor in the way it’s so easy to die from a single bullet and even lose half your team in a moment. Other things like a really good auto-aim, which can be adjusted, are there to make it easier for you, if you want.
Don’t worry about being thrown in completely clueless. In the main menu of Raven Shield, there is a tutorial menu option, where you can learn about movement, weapons, and various team tactics. I found that this was very helpful for me, even though I’ve played a number of FPS titles before. The way RS3 handles some actions is a bit different, and may take some getting used to, so I recommend the training. Athena sword – the expansion – keeps pretty much the same controls, so you won’t need to re-learn anything.
The story aspect of the game is pretty static throughout, with you invading someplace and either killing bad guys, or sneaking around for some kind of recon mission or something. Don’t expect much there, since it’s really just like most other video games, in terms of plot, story, and character development. Most of the levels connect with each other with a basic story, only giving you the intel about the guys you’re about to fight. Oftentimes, you’ll rescue some hostages, but they aren’t a big part of the missions, just a side thing. (“Kill the baddies… oh, yeah, and rescue those people, if you get around to it”)
Athena Sword offers an extension to the story from Raven Shield – a new campaign, 8 missions, more multiplayer maps and game types, and even revisits some maps from older Rainbow Six titles.
The AI of the teammates is kind of strange and buggy sometimes. I’ve seen them react in various ways. Most of the time they were helpful, but other times, they would just walk right into the line of fire. It has some weird bugs that will hopefully be worked out in a later patch. Athena Sword works slightly better, but is still basically similar in terms of AI.
When you’re playing, the action itself is amazing! The guns are pretty real, imitating real-world weapons, (Athena Sword adds even more) and everything around you is pretty real. Blood spatter on the walls, realistic lighting and walls, and more all add up to make this game very impressive on the visual front. There are no tell-tale design tricks or any visual glitches, from what I saw. RS3 uses the Unreal engine to power the game behind the scenes, so you know already that it has some quality in it. The game play in missions will often consist of just sneaking around, enjoying the scenery around you. Then, out of nowhere, guns will start firing, and it will all be over as quickly as it started. You should always look around, and be ready. If you have snipers in your mission, make sure they do their job. One bullet will often take you down, so the more terrorists the snipers can clear, the easier your job will be.
The sound is excellent, being on-par with a Hollywood production. You’ll hear your teammates talking in your ear, over the radio, and the terrorists and hostages yelling at you. The voices are pretty well done, and help to make it all more impressive. The music was also top-notch, and a nice touch to get your blood pumping in those stealthy missions.
Other than having some minor problems with AI, and some difficulty in triggering commands in mission, I felt the game was great. It’s certainly an A student, overall. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it does well in this existing genre.
Game play: A-
One final complaint about RS and Athena Sword for the Mac is that it doesn’t have much more than Mac to Mac play in Multiplayer, using the GameRanger software. You can join online servers, but the Mac-only play hurts the multiplayer potential for the games. This is true for both Raven Shield and Athena’s sword, unfortunately.
If you want to see more about the game, check out Aspyr’s site – Raven Shield and Athena Sword. Raven Shield is $35 on Amazon, and the Athena Sword expansion is $30 on Amazon. Note that Raven Shield is required to be installed for Athena Sword to work. In addition, both Raven Shield and Athena Sword are rated “M”, so if you have little kids around, keep them away – this is a fairly bloody and violent game.