The Rainbow Six series first came out for the PC in 1998 and introduced a whole new sub-genre of action shooters based on the "one shot, one kill" idea. The first installment of the series on the Xbox does an excellent job of bringing that nerve-racking tension to both the single- and multiplayer portions of the game.
Rainbow Six 3 puts you in control of the fictitious counter-terrorist group called Rainbow; in particular, you fill the shoes of the team's best soldier in Domingo (Ding) Chavez. The offline game has you darting all around the world in a tale that's pretty reminiscent of Splinter Cell. While the plot is pretty standard Tom Clancy stuff, the game does a good job of narrating it so that you have a good idea as to why you're doing each mission. But you won't be doing it alone: with the exception of two levels, all missions will provide you with at least one teammate, and usually you'll have all three comrades at your side. And having backup is necessary because there are no health bars, medical kits, or even extra ammo. You and your teammates can only take a few bullets before being incapacitated or dying, so caution and forethought are required to advance.
Unlike the PC version, there is no planning stage of the game, and instead of selecting up to eight soldiers for a mission, you're relegated to a maximum of four. It's a good choice in helping to streamline the game for consoles, emphasizing action over the somewhat dry task of developing a strategy. One feature that wasn't left out, however, is the huge array of weapons available. Everything from a silenced 9mm pistol to the all-powerful .50 caliber sniper rifle is included, along with a nice variety of grenades and grenade launchers. The weapons have their own characteristics, forcing you to weigh the pros and cons of each and decide based on the mission.
Games such as this are made or broken based on the competency of your companions. There's nothing worse than watching your bumbling comrades cross each other's line of fire or take the most awkward route to cover, all while being peppered with shots from tangos. Thankfully, your Rainbow teammates are smart and will rarely need you to babysit them through a situation. They will follow your commands, however, so ordering them into the middle of an ambush will get them killed.
Commanding your team can be done in two ways: with a simple and easy in-game menu system, or directing them through the use of a headset. The number of commands is impressive, giving you full control of how and when you want your comrades to act. Orders range from the simple "regroup" or "move to" to the complicated "open, frag, and clear on zulu." Each order given is repeated back, so you know immediately if they understood. The phrase "on Zulu" is one that you'll be using quite often. You can give an order that will be executed when you either press the white button or say, "Zulu go." For example, there's a hostage in the next room with two or more entrances into it. You tell your team ,"breach and clear on zulu” at one door while you move to another so you can both attack at the same time. It's quite thrilling and satisfying to clear a room in two seconds while the hostage is yelling for help.
Each level is unique, with a distinct look and feel. You'll travel to a small Swiss town, New Orleans during Mardi Gras, a meat packing plant, and a car dealership, among others. While the locations are interesting, the mission goals rarely are. Nearly every level has you dealing with explosives and/or rescuing hostages. While it's always entertaining, it does get a little redundant after awhile, especially since most hostages are no-name polygons. The level design is pretty sharp, with a nice variation between tight hallways and expansive rooms. Enemy placement is the same every time you play, but for the most part makes sense. If an area seems like a good place to have an ambush, there probably will be one.
The enemy AI is, with a few exceptions, good. Terrorists will react believably to incoming gunfire, usually by firing a few shots before seeking cover. Using a breach to blow one door while you enter from another is great way to shoot at everyone's back. Unfortunately, it seems a large part of this is based on scripted and triggered actions; i.e.--the guards will come out only when you've walked x amount of steps down the hallway. That's not to say that everything done is a scripted action, but it does take away replay value when the same guards are in the same rooms and usually do the same things when you enter it. This means that trial-and-error will eventually see you through every level.
As mentioned above, the AI of your teammates is pretty strong. They will follow you and watch your back until you order otherwise, and while I saw them occasionally get stuck in doorways, they righted themselves without any interference from me. If you decide to have them cover an area, or just want to leave them behind while you snoop around, they'll immediately take up defensive positions and seek cover while watching every possible area. Your comrades are extremely capable at clearing rooms and securing hostages, and are a very valuable asset. The only real problem deals with ordering your team to throw grenades. With the exception of tossing one into a room, asking them to throw a grenade is asking for something humorous, and most likely lethal.
Although the replay value of the campaign is somewhat lacking, RS3 solves this with a custom mission generator and fabulous online play. The custom missions place enemies in random spots throughout each level and provide a nice way to extend the life for those without Live.
For the lucky people with broadband, connecting to Live is simple there are plenty of games to join. You can choose to play either with or against other humans. Playing co-op is limited to missions or a simple terrorist hunt, but both are extremely fun due to the human factor. Adversarial games include survival (last man standing wins), team survival, and sharpshooter (most kills win). Most maps are based on levels in the single-player version, with a few tweaks. Overall, they translate well to Xbox Live. The only real knock against the multi-player is the lack of objective-based games. For a game that's centered around bombs and hostages, it would've been extremely nice to have those challenges against humans.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in Rainbow Six 3 are sharp. The Rainbow team looks good and animates very well. Some of the lighting and shadow effects are taken from Splinter Cell, adding tons of atmosphere to the game. Each level looks and feels unique: there's no confusing the car dealership mission with the office building. The effects from the grenades are good, and you can immediately tell which grenade was used by the type of explosion. Blood will appear on you or your teammates' uniforms as you get shot, and will also splatter on walls. At one point I literally jumped when I got shot from behind and saw the blood spray on the door in from of me. RS3 makes use of the now standard rag-doll physics in death animations. Tangos will slump over desks or ledges, and generally look good when they die. Overall, the graphics do a superb job of making you feel a like member of Rainbow.
The audio is excellent in some areas, and good in others. One of the highlights of the game is the sound of the various guns. Each one has a distinct sound that comes through clearly and forcefully. Between that and the vibrating controller, firing a weapon is just fun. If you have surround sound, prepare to be impressed, especially if taking fire from multiple angles. Both the voice acting and the music are solid, if a little sparse.
Rainbow Six 3 doesn't introduce too many ground-breaking new ideas, but it does tie a bunch of different elements together in a way that works like no other game. The ease of commanding your team is very impressive. Even lacking a headset, giving orders is simple due to the menus. Many times it was easier to just give commands through the controller than to speak it. The whole interface is streamlined to such an extent that it's hard to remember that RS3 started out as a keyboard and mouse game.
While not truly awe-inspiring, the ability to shoot through doors (depending on the caliber of your weapon) is a nice touch that genuinely spices up multi-player.
One of the coolest moments in the game has you infiltrating Alcatraz and replaying the famous shower scene from The Rock. The wide variety of weapons and explosives is also great, and means you'll have an assortment of means to watch the sharp rag-doll physics. Online play via Xbox Live is excellent, extending the life of a great game.
This game brings the joys that PC gamers have known for years to the Xbox. Although some aspects have been toned down or left out from the PC version, it's still one of the best shooters available on any console. Top-notch level design and great online play make this an excellent stocking stuffer for the gamer on your list.
Gameplay: 8, Graphics/Sound: 9, Innovation: 7, Mojo: 10. Final: 9
Reviewed by Lucien | Dec 22nd 2003
GOTY AWARD: BEST XBOX LIVE GAME OF 2003
GOTY RUNNER-UP: BEST ACTION GAME OF 2003, BEST SOUND 2003