What are the odds that Rainbow Six Vegas 2, the sequel to last year’s critically-praised shooter, will be a winner? As it turns out, the odds were good, but now, in the eleventh hour, they’re pretty bad. What changed? Well, let me break it down for you.
Before the game's name was announced the odds were pretty good: let’s put it at 80%. A sequel to Rainbow Six Vegas? Sounds awesome. What do you think, maybe Rainbow Six Miami? Rainbow Six Kilkenny? Missoula? Since Rainbow Six Vegas ended with a cliffhanger “to-be-continued” notice, it could resume just about anywhere and guarantee some neat real-world locales. Anywhere, one would guess, except Las Vegas.
But then the name was released and we discovered that Rainbow Six Vegas 2 looked like it was going to be in Vegas again. Hmmm. Back in Vegas, huh? The odds started to slip just a little. The word on the streets was that 75% was too favorable. A few gamers began betting against Vegas 2, wagering precious Mountain Dew and Ritalin money.
Once the oddsmakers (read: me) got their hands on their review copies of the game, their suspicions were realized. Not only does Vegas 2 fail to push forward the story began in the first game, but it builds a parallel story, following a character through an alternate series of terrorist attacks to the ones we watched Logan face in the first Vegas. Some of the names and places have been changed, but everything from the weapons to the tactics to the terrorists’ ad lib comments are the same.
Not that the first game was bad. We loved the room breach tactics, the flashbang effects, left-trigger cover mechanic and the inverted rope climbing from the first Vegas—and all that returns. It is just that there is nothing new to add to the first game’s list of sweet innovations.
Even the graphics and music are identical to the original game. The textures of the environments are uniform and flat. Characters lack expression (especially hostages, who look as if they’ve been botoxed), and big gunfights can slow the framerate to a shuddering crawl. The 360 version is a little sharper than the PS3 version, but that shouldn’t be a big surprise for a port. If the music seems familiar, it is because it is the exact same music from the last game. If your seventy missing dollars didn't say otherwise, you might swear it was the same game.
Okay, I’m not quite being fair. There are a few tweaks that deserve mention. This time through, your campaign character is customizable. You can dress him in funky colors, adjust his body armor, or use a digital photo to mold his face like your doughy butt. And then you can use that same character in the multiplayer game! Yawn. Odds down, hovering at 50%.
And then there is the “new” A.C.E.S. system, in which you gain points depending on the type of kill you accomplish. There are three categories: close-quarters, marksman, and assault. Shoot a bad guy with a shotgun from a few inches away and you’ll get a handful of close-quarters points. Marksman points come by way of headshots and long-range kills, and assault points are accumulated by grenades and explosions. As you gain points, you unlock new weapons. New point system, let’s bump the odds up to 52%
Now let’s drop them to 40% because here isn’t really anything new about the A.C.E.S. system except that it grades your kills. In the first Vegas you had to unlock weapons as well, and the point system was tied to experience points gained in multiplayer matches. There are a handful of new weapons, but none of them are that different from the set of assault rifles and submachine guns in the last game. The best that can be said for A.C.E.S. is that they make the tactical game a little more arcadey. Shoot ‘em in the head!
If there’s one thing you will hear a lot of during the single-player campaign, it’s the terrorist war cry “Shoot him in the head!” The terrorists will say a lot of stupid things, but nothing more often than “Shoot him in the head!” It is as if you are the evil boss monster of some other game, and they have just figured out that the only weak spot is your melon.
But from their point of view, you are an evil mutant terrorist-eating monster. This game, even in its normal setting, is insanely difficult. You will enter a door. Terrorists will see you from across the room. They will shoot you. You will die, and the terrorists rejoice.
It’s what happens next that turns you from all-too-human agent to zombified counter-terrorist superweapon. You respawn at the last checkpoint and this time through, you enter a different door, flank the terrorists and kill them. But then another bad guy, one you didn’t see hiding before, will shoot you in that pesky head. The still-living terrorists rejoice.
Respawn again, and this time through you kill the first terrorists and fling a grenade at the hidey-hole that you already know contains a hiding terrorist. Then something else happens and you die again. It is extremely rare to get past two checkpoints in a row without dying lots of times. But with each death, you learn something more about the terrorist positions and tactics until, the fifteenth time or so, you bust in like a superhuman mind-reading, terrorist insane-o-flex psychopath, able to know exactly where each terrorist is and when each new terrorist will enter the room. This was something of an encumbrance in the first game, and it is doubly fatiguing in the second.
It goes better in the cooperative campaign, which is a true drop-in, drop-out cooperative campaign this time around. The terrorist hunt missions are back, and support up to four players. Just like last time, these missions put you in a paper bag with dozens of terrorists and shake.
I’ve saved the multiplayer for last because it is, for this reviewer at least, the biggest disappointment in the game. The first Vegas had an outstanding multiplayer experience, sporting fast-paced action tempered with tactics that required squad communication. The second Vegas doesn’t change much—adding a handful of maps and two new modes—but manages to deliver something that just doesn’t feel the same.
The jury is still out on the new maps. Prominent among them is a train depot, in which the teams square off in a darkened warehouse setting, and the villa, a mansion composed of many tiny rooms and hallways for close-quarters fights. The new maps are smaller, which leads to more intense and frequent gunfights, but they are also have fewer chokepoints, hot spot where teams fight to control the balance of the map.
The new modes can be celebrated without question though. Total Conquest is a domination-style game in which both teams try to activate three radar arrays. I’m not quite sure what a radar array is doing in the basement of the train station, but when the game is fun, it’s best not to ask stupid questions.
The other mode, Team Leader, is one of the more communicative game modes we’ve played. While each team’s leader is alive, that team can respawn, but players killed by the other team’s leader cannot respawn. To complicate matters further, both team leaders can see the position of the other on the h.u.d., and are able to call out orders to their team. It’s a good, fun, tactical game mode for tactical gameplay.
But there are two changes in the multiplayer game that seem wrong-headed. First is that ranked team deathmatch games (on the 360 version) only allow players to respawn once. Rather than having two modes, an unlimited respawn team deathmatch and a no-respawn team survival (as the last game did), Vegas 2 tries to split the difference and ends up with a game mode that is not as good as either.
The other change, which is more damaging overall, is the lack of a map in the upper corner of the screen. Now the map is a giant, cumbersome, pop-up affair that leaves the player vulnerable while checking it. Since the Vegas multiplayer game has always relied on positioning, on seeing loud enemies on the map, and on seeing where teammates are located, the omission of the handy map is unfathomable. Why? Oh why? With much grief, I lament: shoot ‘em in the head.
Correction: We originally published that there is no HUD radar map for the multiplayer game. That is incorrect. The HUD radar merely had to be turned on through a menu that hid like a terrorist from the reviewer. Still, though, removing a good feature and turning it into a hidden option is exactly the kind of devious tactic made to trip up reviewers and make them feel stupid. Our apologies.
The best that can be said for the multiplayer is that it runs smoother with less loading time. There is still the problem with the ranked matches booting everyone out after one game and with the sound of gunfire sometimes continuing after a player is dead. But some of the more troublesome annoyances (like getting into a game only to have to watch from the outside) are gone this time around.
However the PS3 online game has been notoriously buggy, forcing Ubisoft to offer a mandatory update. It remains to be seen whether new patches will clean up the conflicts causing players to be disconnected from games, but it is no stretch to say that Rainbow Six runs much better on Live than it does on the rink-a-dink PSN.
What’s worst about Vegas 2 is that it refuses to take any meaningful gambles. Fans may enjoy having more of their favorite game, but they might also find it drab and boring after so much of the same. For someone that played the hell out the first Vegas, this second Vegas makes the prospect of having to review a Rainbow Six Vegas 3: Revenge of the Broken Slot Machine a powerful argument for getting off this FPS-reviewing gig.