You bet your life.
There are plenty of answers to your question. Celine Dion, for one.
But the question you should be asking is not why terrorists, in the latest Rainbow Six game, want to destroy Vegas, the haven of good times for bad people. Instead, you should ask yourself whether you like gambling. Do you like leaving fate up to chance? Do you enjoy the thrill of watching the wheel of destiny turn? If so, you should stay far away from this game.
Rainbow Six, as a franchise, has never turned a favorable eye toward the lucky, and Rainbow Six Vegas is no exception. If you’re fortunate in other shooters, you can expect to be toast in this one. But if you’re tactical and scheming, if you’ve practiced head shots at five hundred yards for most of your virtual life, and if, above all, you’re trickier than an organ-grinder’s monkey, then maybe you’ll excel at this solid, if thin, first-person shooter.
[image1]You play as a personality-free terrorist hunter who is sent in to Las Vegas to stop some evil-doers with a bomb. Between missions, you are flown in a helicopter to the next casino, sort of like how Paris Hilton must do it, and are briefed on the situation. The situation is always about the same, kill the terrorists, rescue the hostages, return to the helicopter. Like G.R.A.W., a heads-up display occasionally broadcasts television reports and briefing notes straight to the corner of your screen during play. Unlike G.R.A.W., however, the heads-up display does little else.
Not that you will have a lot of time for fiddling with gadgets. Each mission drops you into a firefight from the start, and most of the game is spent popping terrorists in the head with your rifle. For such a tactical game, sneaking is not significant. Dodging, however, is.
Here’s what you do in the game, over and over again from start to finish. Someone shoots at you. You duck behind cover by holding down the left trigger. Wait for them to pop out of their hidey-hole, and then swing out of cover, shoot them in the head, and return to cover in an instant. Since all of the ducking and covering is done with the trigger (holding it down keeps you in cover) the “sticky” problems that plagued Gears of War are absent here. It’s an elegant control system, one that feels slick and precise.
But you won’t feel very slick when you pop out of cover to take a slug in the skull. The enemy A.I., even on the lowest “normal” difficulty, is not only a good shot, but an excellent eye. Enemies take cover as you do, and they rarely expose themselves when you’ve targeted their cover. Flanking, by directing your team of two other grunts, is usually the only way through more difficult sections of the game.
[image2]Most of the difficulty comes from two sources, one reasonable, the other less so. The first is that when you get shot, you usually die. If you do manage to take a bullet or two and get out of the way, your health replenishes by itself. Your extreme fragility to flying lead is reasonable; bullets are supposed to hurt.
However, your enemies’ eagle eyes are less reasonable. Often, you’ll get pegged from across the screen by what looks like simply a rogue pixel. The graphical detail is excellent, making it difficult to discern distant enemies from furniture and slot machines—however, your enemies can spot you as if you were waving a giant kill-me flag.
After starting up at a checkpoint several times, you will enter the room knowing where each terrorist is located since they’ve already killed you. The trial-and-error gameplay can get tedious, but when you finally try-and-succeed, your anti-terrorist hunter will look preternaturally gifted. If the bad guys can see for miles, it’s still fair because you have the Groundhog’s Day advantage.
Vegas looks awesome at the micro-level and only average at the macro-level, making it the visual opposite of real Vegas (Never examine your bedding carefully, ever). Furniture, glass, and interior game textures look excellent—big firefights are mayhem, bits of debris flying everywhere as gunmen burst through windows and chuck grenades. However, the city of Las Vegas, from the window of your helicopter and elsewhere, looks bland—the high-rise buildings built out of single-texture wallpaper. The characters, too, look last-generation, especially the hostages and non-player characters who you meet during the game.
Not to mention the funky-looking fellows you will meet online. You can outfit and customize your online avatar, decking him or her out in camouflaged armor and little purposeless hats. The game also allows you to overlay your own photo on your avatar’s face using Xbox Live! vision. While few people have taken advantage of this feature so far, I eagerly await the first ass-faced terrorist. Not that I’d have much time to study his vertical smile.
[image3]If the single-player campaign is merely difficult, the online game is agonizingly hard. The frustration begins when you first jump into the game as a Private Second-Class wearing, for all intents and purposes, just dogtags and socks. As you gain experience, you can unlock new armor, better weapons, and cooler camouflage. However, even with these bonuses, you’ll still be frag fodder for a long while.
The learning curve is, shall I say, formidable. Not only are the maps confusing at first, but the possible camping spots are myriad. Even when you do get the drop on someone, if your first shot isn’t a head shot, it will probably be your last.
Oh sure, you’ll fiddle with your armament during your many respawn screens—switching between types of submachine guns and sniper rifles—but in the end, it takes many hours of learning to pwn before the online game gets even competitive. And then, of course, it’s a lot of fun.
The best move in the game, without a doubt, is the inverted rappel. By climbing up a rope outside a window, flipping your assassin over so his face is looking down, and peeking in the top of the window, you can shoot unsuspecting enemies in the head and impress your audience at the same time. Other tricks include smoke and tear gas grenades, incendiary grenades that blank out your enemy’s infrared goggles, and explosive C4 charges that you can set at convenient choke-points on the map. Neat trickery is what makes the online game, once you’re adept, something of a tactical chess match.
What would make the chess match better would be, for one, the ability to play ranked games against players of your own caliber. It isn’t until you’re at least a corporal that you discover with what mouth-salivating hunger your enemies viewed your Private’s single stripe during the match set-up screen.
[image4]And it would be nice to fight back with your hands. Without either a jump button or a melee attack, agility and swiftness take a back seat to precision aiming. This is most apparent when you’ve managed to sneak behind someone, only to miss the headshot. If only you could strangle. Ah, how many times have we all had a similar wish?
The other drawbacks to the online game deal with the host—sometimes a host will quit a game he is losing, stealing experience from everyone in the match. Often hosts will boot underperforming players [blush] on their own team or overperforming enemies. Although uncommon, you can also run into absurd lags and buggy matches. If there is one thing Vegas is not, it’s fair.
What is remarkable is that, even despite these drawbacks, the steep learning curve, accurate controls, and heated tactical challenge make Vegas’ online game the most complete for the 360 so far. Games are easy to find and join (unlike Gears of War), and the maps are varied and encourage strategy (unlike F.E.A.R.). Adding the unlockable carrots at the end of the stick just sweetens the ante.
While the single-player game is repetitive and thin, the online game is robust and challenging. And I didn’t even mention the co-operative campaign and terrorist hunt modes, both of which allow two players on the same console to run themselves into fatal crossfire together. With so many odds stacked in its favor, Rainbow Six Vegas is a tough learn, but it’s also a sure bet.