With a campaign that's more of a different take on the first game's story than an actual follow-up, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2 feels more like a mission pack with minor corrections than a full-fledged sequel. While that will probably leave some players feeling disappointed, the tactical action formula still works just fine, resulting in an occasionally clunky but still solid tactical shooter.
The gameplay consists of the same sort of tactical shooting action that was found in the first game. You roll from checkpoint to checkpoint, taking cover behind objects and telling your AI-controlled dudes to bust through doors and gun down people for you. You'll occasionally encounter a hostage situation, which requires you to be a bit more careful with your fire. But the game doesn't rely too heavily on the tactical aspects of play, letting you solve most of your problems by shooting quickly and accurately. That's not to say the game is especially easy, though. It requires a lot of patience, because if you go charging around, you'll get laid down pretty quickly. Instead, you need to think about your squadmates, consider what's behind every door, and act accordingly.
A lot of that slow play is removed by the game's two-player co-op mode. While the game tells more of the story in co-op mode this time around, it's still a very different experience. When a player goes down, he respawns in ten seconds, provided the other human player doesn't get dropped during that time. Weirdly enough, the two AI squadmates are also present, and only the host can control them. This makes the second player feel disconnected from the action because he has no real tactical involvement--he's just a shooter. He's also weirdly silent--even though the second player can tag enemies while using the snake cam, there's no dialogue to say "hit him first" or "he's priority two" or anything like that.
The respawn feature makes the game way easier, as you can just run through blasting guys without any real care as to whether or not you stay alive. Depending on your personal enjoyment of stealthy tactics, this can either dumb the game down a bit too far or make things way more exciting. As long as the other player knows to back off when you go down, everything is fine. Making matters weirder, your AI squadmates still have to be manually revived. Seems like making the human players revivable the same way the AI guys are would make more sense and help maintain some sense of discipline, but then again, I had a lot more fun just running around blasting dudes without having to worry about a serious death penalty.
Regardless of how you play it, the story mode is tough to follow, especially if you didn't finish the previous Rainbow Six Vegas game or don't pay attention during the first mission. The game opens with a five-year-old flashback, then fast-forwards to the same timeline as the previous game, with most of the game running concurrently to the first Vegas. When I reached the end of the game--a dopey encounter that didn't feel as smooth as the rest of the opposition--I had no idea who this guy was standing in front of me, or why he was giving me some long speech about why he turned out so evil.
With the difficult-to-follow story, it's a good thing that the shooting itself is so much fun. Popping in and out of cover is easy and handled very well, making it more about lining up your shots and putting bullets into terrorists, rather than fumbling around with cover. Ordering your team around is really easy, too, with plenty of context-sensitive moments for getting them to use ropes, stack up on doors, and so on. There's a real sense of satisfaction that comes from breaching rooms and taking out the opposition before they can even figure out what's going on.
That said, it'll take new players a little while to get used to all of the controls, especially because some buttons have multiple functions depending on if you press and release a button or hold it down. Plus, if you've been playing copious amounts of Call of Duty 4, expect to toss at least one inadvertent grenade at your feet when trying to duck. I learned that the hard way.
Beyond the campaign mode, there's also a terrorist hunt mode, where you, either with your AI teammates or up to three human players, fight off a posse of terrorists in the game's multiplayer levels. You're stuck with limited respawns, forcing you to be pretty careful. There's also a full-on online mode for up to 14 players on the PS3, and 16 on the Xbox 360. You'll find the typical assortment of objective-based modes, as well as deathmatch options. The 360 version has a ranked game option that locks down the options to limit respawns. Unranked games on 360 and all games on the PS3 give you plenty of options to play around with, including the ability to limit what weapons players can use, should you decide that the game's auto-shotgun is way out of control and overpowered.
The adversarial multiplayer is awesome when you're playing with a group of similarly-skilled players, and the game's maps offer enough variety to keep you interested for a good amount of time. The cover mechanics don't always work quite as well when playing against humans, since any exposed body part will immediately get hit by a skilled player, but this just forces you to be more careful when taking on real people.
Vegas 2 puts a fat COD4-like experience bar at the bottom of the screen as you play, regardless of mode. This works just as well here as it did in Infinity Ward's shooter, giving you a clear sense of progression as you play. Ranking up unlocks weapons, armor, and new clothing for your character. A new system called A.C.E.S. gives you more ways to level up by tracking your progress in three categories: marksmanship, close-quarters battle, and assault. When you eliminate enemies in a way that falls into one of these three buckets--such as getting headshots, killing enemies from behind, or using grenades--you'll earn points in that category. When you earn enough points in a category, it will level up and you'll either get a big bonus for your main experience points counter, or you'll unlock an additional weapon. These simple goals make it very easy for Vegas 2 to sink its hooks into you and get addictive. It's also great that every game type, from the campaign mode to unranked online matches, all feed into the same pool of XP. So you'll always feel like you're progressing.
The differences between the 360 and PS3 versions of Vegas 2 feel pretty minor. Both let you use the camera to map your face onto your character, both control just as well, and both have the same achievement set--though, obviously, only the 360 version will contribute to an overall score, the PS3's set of ribbons and awards are entirely self-contained. The PS3 version of the game also opens with a mandatory install process that places around 2.5GB of data onto your hard drive. If you're the sort of person who gets all up in arms over installing console games, this will be the sort of thing that gets you all up in arms.
There have been a lot of reports about the PS3 version having serious online problems, but I didn't encounter anything too game-breaking in either version. The game doesn't respond especially well to lag, making the action jumpy and unplayable if the player running the server doesn't have enough bandwidth. There seem to be a few sound bugs in both versions as well. Online, I ran into cases in both versions where some effect would seem to get stuck, resulting in endless looping gunfire. Offline, I also ran into cases where bullets that were fired nearby would sound more muffled than they should, or spots where my weapon, or the guns being held by my teammates, stopped making noise entirely. I noticed a bit more of that on the 360 version than on the PS3. So the game is sloppy in a few spots, but overall, it never felt like a huge deal.
I ended up enjoying Rainbow Six Vegas 2 a lot more than the first game, even though they're pretty similar overall. The online options really give you a healthy amount of things to see and do, and the XP and A.C.E.S. systems constantly egg you on every time you get a headshot or kill someone at range. If you played the first game to death and are absolutely ready for more, Vegas 2 is right up your alley, but all those similarities mean that you'll probably burn out on this one a bit faster.