In the murky world of terrorists and counter terrorism on the PC, there is one name that pops up time and time again. Tom Clancy. He's known for putting his name to a particular style and brand of game, and this time Mr. Clancy must be smiling a great deal because Ubi Soft's new Tactical Action Shooter has hit the bullseye as far as I'm concerned and hit it hard. Developed by Ubi Soft with advice thanks to Red Storm, Tom Clancy's: Rainbow Six 3 - Raven Shield is the game that leaves Counter Strike in the dust, and it's about time, says I.
I've done one preview already about R63 when I had the MP demo, and another when I picked up the beta code from Ubi Soft, and throughout the process of the game it's been interesting seeing it evolve, seeing the various ideas incorporated and in the end holding the full version in my paws and playing it solidly. So here's the full expose, the 'Full Monty' and the full review. It's a typical R6 storyline in the Singleplayer episode of the game, but it's not a typical game at all, it's obvious that the developers have learned much from the Zen that has been their hit and miss foray into Tactical Action Shooters hereby called TAS by me this very day.
Right from the start and the very tasty intro that is well worth seeing a couple of times, R63 oozes style and panache. From the instantly recognisable GUI to the music that has kept me awake so many hours into the night to the calls of 'Tango down' as I explored the first ever R6 and thought 'wow' this is a bit special. Fans of R6 and RS will love this game's feel and instantly feel at home. The missions are good, although the game does lose a few points right from the start for reusing 3 maps at least twice during the campaign. I would have preferred that the developers had not been that 'cheesy' in the execution of that little element and gone the 'new' map route instead.
But that aside, it's the wonderful mixture of slow tactical planning and outright 'firefight' action to save your life that sets this title apart from all of the others in the genre. You can be sneaking along quite merrily, switching to your heartbeat sensor goggles to check the doors and way ahead. You think you've got all angles covered and you move too fast, someone hears it and there is the sound of running feet, opening doors and suddenly...you're immersed in more lead than a stock of pencils at a Stationary convention.
Bullets fly and your team returns fire, and unlike previous instalments of this franchise, they actually seem to know what they're doing. Sometimes it seems as though they make too many dumb mistakes, but other times they really do lay down cover fire, back you up and act like you'd expect a bunch of elite special forces to do. Of course, you're there as well, ducking behind something, hoping that none of your men are hit, injured or killed. You pop up and squeeze a shot or two off and hear that satisfying 'Tango down' radio call you've been waiting for.
Only to find one of the terrorists has decided to toss in a grenade, two men are taken out and smoke fills the room. The sense of loss is palpable and you take revenge by delivering your own grenade through the door. He sees it and screams 'Grenade, run run!' as the deadly explosive goes off with a thundering crash. Another 'Tango eliminated' call and you cautiously peek around the door; Mr Tango is across the other side of the room, bent over a table. (Thank you KARMA Ragdoll Physics Engine!)
Yes, bullet impacts make the bodies bend in interesting ways, they impact off surfaces and end up in some pretty interesting positions, like bent over a balcony or flopping down after sliding down a wall, arm resting over the planter.
Sounds too good to be true, well it is true and when the AI works like this you forget you're in a game, you're immersed in some of the most impressive graphical and atmospheric action this side of...er...er...Raven Shield? I'll admit it, I'm addicted to this game and it's because it's so nicely done that I am.
The Graphics, as I have said before, are great...regardless of what other people have said, I'll burn and be called a heretic by my own peers, I'll stand out from the crowd and say: R63 features the best Graphical use of a modified Unreal Engine without a mega-powerful PC to back it (Splinter Cell) ever. All the equipment appears on the model of the character, and the models are highly detailed polygon masterpieces of animated goodness, I don't bog people down in jargon, come on and look at these - you can see the grenades, the weapons, each fold and bit of webbing. They holster guns, they put them on their backs and they take and throw grenades off their person. Argh, sweet mother of CPU gamer joy overload!
Ok, must be calm. It has detailed levels and they are also likewise, brought to life with excellent graphical features and design. The design of the levels is painstaking and very detailed, real in places almost. Staircases and ladders litter the maps with a view to providing some excellent sniper points to set up your team, but also to give you a very realistic location with which to plan your assault. The Unreal Engine technology gets better and better each time it's used by a new developer, they push the boundaries and combine it with their own ideas. I can't separate the animations and the graphics, they just flow together smoothly, they use real actions/tactical movements as they head from waypoint to waypoint or follow you around. It's a joy to watch them covering each other with weapons, providing backup as a door is opened or just generally looking around.
Bottom line: Graphics and animations of the main and supporting characters are excellent, some of the best. The weapons are fully animated and they are gorgeously designed and textured. Basically, these are some of the best Graphics in a shooter to date and they should be after all the time it's taken the R6 series of games to come to the conclusion, we like to see the gun as we hold it. It's a marriage of style and substance, all the animations of the characters are blended together as they seamlessly change posture and adjust their weapons. Crouch, prone, you name it and they react as though they are real people doing it.
AI: Well, there's not much that I can say about the AI apart from it 'has its moments' and those moments more often or not will save you from being turned into swiss cheese, or in the case of a terrorist, will see you lose your team in a concerted effort to take you down. The enemy AI at times is frighteningly accurate, they don't stick around, they surrender or they throw explosives - you react slowly to them and you pay the price, it really does hone your trigger finger sense, so to speak. So as I said, it does have excellent AI and some of the best that's been seen in a long time.
Control System: Well R63 now adds to the game, a feature that I have always wanted, that of the context sensitive GUI and reticule order system, as used in games like SWAT 3. Point your reticule over something to interact with and you'll be able to d a variety of things, tell your team to go to point (A) or climb a ladder, regroup as well. You can tell your team to open a door, open it and toss in a grenade, all this done by holding down the spacebar and choosing from a radial menu which pops up, either left click the mouse to trigger that order right away, or alternatively right click to hold the team on a 'Zulu' Go-Code, once you press the Go-Code key you'll find that they carry out the order, which is great for setting up complex takedown moves.
A lot of the old commands from the R6 series are there, holding up, allowing Snipers the freedom of free fire and the other commands. Of course, this brings me quite neatly onto the planning stage of the game, the whole section has been refined and made a lot easier, it's now simpler to set up a complex attack plan with a few mouse clicks, change certain orders on the fly and get your team to do almost anything that you want them to. You can also review the plan by running a small movie in a window, of how it would look, without tangos. With 3 teams to place you can quickly make a wickedly effective assault, cross firing terrorists from two locations while a third team works their way under a slow stealthy approach, places a charge and blows the door (Again all of this can be controlled by Go-Codes)
Terrorists also never remain in the same place either, it's random where they're set up so you really have to think on your feet. Assess a situation and react to it, like a proper planner might. Is this area too dangerous, a hazardous threat zone? If so, flashbang it and hope there are Tangos there. Do you move through quickly, or do you take the slow (Fisher) approach and try and cover a number of options.
Doors and windows can be inched open with a flick of the mouse wheel, or thrown open or sprayed with bullets (R63 has bullet penetration of doors and wooden items). If you use enough explosive force (A grenade or a breaching charge) they can be blown off their hinges and in the case of the latter, the Tango on the other side is often killed as well. I have used this tactic a number of times to deal with a packed room of Tangos, after scoping it out with the heartbeat goggles and thermal scope...did I just say thermal scope?
Equipment: The joy of all joys, more gadgets than James Bond's Q & R put together and they're also satisfyingly real-world toys to play with. Scopes for most guns, extra magazines, grenades, flashbangs, breaching charges and gas masks to go alongside those lovely tear gas grenades (Both the flash and gas effects are excellent and raise a chuckle from me every time). We have numerous items, heart beat pucks which give off a sound to confuse the goggles, thermal optic scopes for Sniper Rifles that allow you to see through walls and doors. And many, many more things, I'm not going to go into for fear of a gamer joy overload.
See, I'm a gamer, not a high paid magazine reviewer, some folks might not like my style but I like to get my point across without too much tech and jargon. I want you to see why I rather like something and why I think you might like the same, we don't hit the mark, and I don't hit the mark all the time but I am also very picky when it does come to games, and R63 exceeds all my expectations out of the box.
There are over 55 or so weapons in the game, and they're all given unique statistics and modelled pretty authentically. Various H&KMp5's stand tall with the WA2000 Sniper Rifle and the FNFAL Rifle. Each broken into categories, like handguns, rifles, shotguns etc. All of them are gorgeously implemented in the game and the shotguns are a joy to use, every weapon can have an attachment and most of the rounds can be altered, for example, change a shotgun 00 to a Slug round and watch the distance you can shoot from, with a scope. It's lethal.
Bonded to the excellent graphics, choice of weapons and the very nice levels are of course a plethora of top quality sounds. Right from the snick of a bolt being drawn back, the click of the magazine being slammed into the gun or the staccato sound of the gunfire itself are the ambient noises, such as the steady heart beat of a grandfather clock in one of the levels, the whisper of the wind in the cold trees on another and the sound of your team, moving through the area. The sound in R63 is nothing short of great, atmospheric and wonderfully realised. It makes good use of the environmental audio and on high-end sound cards with surround and EAX you can really begin to lose yourself in the experience.
But R63 isn't just about fragging the AI, no; it's about a smoothly realised, if a little buggy at the moment, Multiplayer game that leaves Counter Strike as a Dinosaur in a closed Jurassic Park. And I am sure some of the die-hard CS fans will burn me to a crisp for that, but I know many CS fans who have been seduced by the dark side of the Clancy and joined with Darth Ubi Soft to convert to the ways of Raven Shield MP, for it is a tasty and gorgeous experience that will have you fragging for more and more.
Survival: Deathmatch gametype, head to head, last man standing...wins...
Team Survival: Same as above, except it's two teams, with the last team standing, winning.
Bomb: Team Red must set and detonate bombs; Green team must stop Team Red.
Hostage: Red Team must stop Green from rescuing their Hostages.
Pilot: Green Team have to escort a Pilot (Played by one of Green Team's players) to an extraction point (He's armed with only a secondary weapon) and Red Team have to stop them from doing this.
Mission: Buddy up, play the SP campaign with your friend(s)
Terrorist Hunt: Team up; eliminate all the Tangos controlled by the AI.
Hostage Rescue: Get Hostages to the extraction point with the help of your buddies.
You can use the pre-generated voice commands to communicate in MP and also draw on a map via a drawing tool this lasts about 15 seconds and is communicated to your team mates automatically, including a message that the map's been updated. It's things like this that really enhance the game for me, and I urge anyone who loves this genre of games and likes Counter Strike, try R63 for it is ten times better than CS and provides a much more 'fun' experience, now I'm off to frag some more Tangos with my buddies - until next time.
"Remember people, we only get one chance at this, so don't blow it."