That first year I owned an Xbox 360, I probably downloaded every game trailer and demo that was posted to the Xbox Live Marketplace. I purchased the Xbox 360 just before Halloween 2006, after saving a couple weeks worth of earnings from my first job, and I found myself buying into the prerelease marketing for just about every high profile release. Among them, was Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas.
Developed by Ubisoft Montreal and published by Ubisoft in November 2006, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas was, like, the twentieth release of the series by then (including expansions and the like). I can’t say I’d ever been interested in the sort of counter-terrorism storylines or realistic, tactical first-person shooting those games offered; the fast-paced, local multiplayer mayhem of the TimeSplitters series was more my thing up to that point. If I’m remembering correctly, what sold me on this particular game was its demo, specifically the ability to rappel down the side of casinos and bust in through their windows, which just seemed really, really cool.
Over the game’s ten hour runtime, it turns out I did that about… five times. Which you know, is kind of a bummer after fifteen years of assuming I’d be busting through way more windows. But honestly, I’m not disappointed. Proportionally speaking, the amount of rappelling/busting action was in line with the game’s runtime. Ubisoft Montreal could’ve easily overdone it. If I was rappelling down buildings and busting through a window every thirty minutes, forget it, the sense of thrill would be gone. The game would be better suited as an attraction at a carnival. Plus, I’d have to wonder what these guys were doing; were they really top-notch counter-terrorism soldiers or wannabe parkour thrill seekers?
Fortunately, the team I led were the real deal. They were an elite trio in pursuit of a terrorist ringleader who had captured a couple of teammates and planned on doing… something bad in Las Vegas. Little stood out to me from a narrative standpoint, save for the settings. Even though they had been cleared of civilians, it was still novel to take cover against slot machines while engaged in shootouts in casino pits. This wasn’t always the backdrop, but a considerable amount of the game took place within a few, distinct casinos; casino pits, clandestine backrooms and hallways, large outdoor warehouses, there was a little bit of everything, and there were combat engagements everywhere.
Regardless of whether I was facing down terrorists in a narrow hallway or expansive casino pit, I needed to find cover. The game had two difficulty settings – normal and realistic. I went with normal, although I may as well have gone with realistic. If I wandered into the open, and an enemy combatant noticed me, I was dead in a split second; two shots and I was staring at the reload checkpoint screen. Which, by the way, were lousy. Sometimes I’d make, like, ten minutes of progress, slowly, carefully advancing, only to run into Johnny on the spot and have to redo multiple encounters broken up by what appeared to be natural checkpoint breaks. I guarantee there were a half-dozen encounters that I had to retry more a dozen times each.
At times it was frustrating. Other times it was immensely satisfying. Careful, tactical action was what this game offered and the player had to act within realistic boundaries; this game couldn’t be played guns blazing. Thankfully, there were two team members at my command. I could issue simple orders, basically telling them where to post up or how to breach and clear a room, and by the end I relied on them. I actually think they took out more enemies than I did in the final missions. I’d order them ahead to sweep an area and spot terrorists. Sometimes they’d fall in battle and need reviving; if the other was still upright, I could issue the command to him; otherwise I’d have to heal both.
Unlike the potential diminished returns of rappelling/busting through windows too often, having my teammates clear rooms never grew dull. Before issuing the command, I’d use a snakecam to survey what was on the other side and mark targets. When given the word, they’d enter guns drawn, toss in a grenade, or breach the door with an explosive charge. After the first couple of targets had been eliminated, assuming there were more, we’d get to work. Posted up behind cover, I’d order them around in an effort to flank and flush our opponents while also working forwards myself.
Generally, when coming up on a group of terrorists, there were a few different options for our opening salvo. I didn’t have the range of options I’d find in a fleshed out immersive sim like Deus Ex, but there were different routes that impacted how a battle played out. They often came down to whether I wanted the team to enter from a door on the ground or second floor, which again, isn’t much. I suppose my equipment selections also provided some opportunity for autonomy, but I frequently relied upon a submachine gun and sniper rifle. The former provided the quick rate of fire and accuracy needed to take out an enemy in a split second, while the latter allowed me to keep my distance when desired. I rarely used explosives or flash bangs, although the few times I did were reminders on useful they could be.
So after fifteen years, I’ve come to discover Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas isn’t all rappelling/busting through windows action. And I’m okay with that! Whether I was navigating enemy infested corridors or large arenas with plenty of cover and flanking opportunities, the game’s careful, tactical combat and pacing offered ample challenge and something I haven’t experienced much of. Similarly, engaging in shootouts amongst slot machines and the like was something I’ve done in… no other game? Conversely, the story and characters lacked the spark to get me fired up. But with a ridiculous cliffhanger ending (there was some closure), I guess I’m all-in on the sequel.