Infuriatingly difficult, but incredibly intense and addictive.
I'm not going to lie to you; Rainbow Six Vegas is an infuriatingly difficult game. Difficult to the point that if you're a controller thrower, expect to have launched your Xbox 360 controller across the room at least a dozen times before the game is over. No matter, there WILL be moments of Rainbow Six Vegas-induced rage if you play this game. This is an indisputable fact, whether you are one who frequently rages while playing video games or not.
So what's so great about a game that's difficulty is so immense that it sends you into a rage? Well, Rainbow Six Vegas is no doubt a difficult game, but it's not one of those games that is hard in a cheap manner. Every time that you die it is usually because of something you did wrong. Now of course this is not always the case, and there will be several cheap deaths along the way. The number one rage-inducing culprit in Rainbow Six Vegas however, is the checkpoint system.
The checkpoints in Rainbow Six Vegas are scarce, and you will find yourself being forced to occasionally replay large sections of the game when you die. This can be immensely infuriating because you will come up to a part that is ridiculously difficult, yet of course there is no checkpoint before it. It would have been nice if Rainbow Six Vegas was a more forgiving game, because this rare checkpoint system is one of the biggest things it has going against itself. It's not all bad though, because due to the limited checkpoints, you are encouraged to play extremely tactically and try your hardest to stay alive.
Newcomers may be surprised however, to find that Rainbow Six Vegas doesn't actually start in Vegas. You begin the story as Logan Keller in Mexico, where you are trying to capture a terrorist named Irena. Naturally things don't always go according to plan, and you eventually find yourself being relocated to Las Vegas to neutralize a significant terrorist threat. The story isn't really anything you haven't seen before, but it does its job well enough. The majority of the story is told to you on the fly through video feeds or while you're riding the chopper to a new location. Occasionally you will come across characters who will engage in conversation with you and your squad which will generally reveal some new plot revelations. All of these events take place in first person though, so you're never taken out of your character's eyes to watch a cut scene.
What's really important about Rainbow Six Vegas though, is the location in which the game takes place. The story does its job, but it's really just there to give you an excuse to be combating terrorists in Las Vegas. This is undoubtedly the best thing about the game - being in Las Vegas having shootouts with terrorists is an absolute blast. It's not news to anyone that having modern games taking place in the Middle East is starting to get a bit stale, and having the game take place in Las Vegas really does a lot to spice things up.
Rainbow Six Vegas is a highly tactical game, and you will need to rely heavily on team strategy and coordination to make it through Vegas alive. The main single player campaign consists of you and two other Rainbow operatives which you can command at any time. There is a ridiculous depth to the orders in which you can give to your squad mates, but the manner in which you execute them is deceptively simple. For the most part all you ever have to do is look at something and press the A button. Depending on where you are located and what you are looking at, the context of the A command will change. For example, if you are looking at the ledge on a balcony, your command will be to move to that location and take cover. If you're looking at a downed teammate your command will be to heal them. If you're looking at a door your command will be to stack up against the door and prepare for entry. Not only that, but certain orders have follow up actions as well. If you command your squad to stack up against a door, the d-pad can be used to issue several more commands based on your rules of engagement. You can be set to either infiltrate or assault. Infiltrate will have your squad mates using silenced weaponry, and they will only fire their weapons if they have been engaged by an enemy. Assault on the other hand, will have your team using much larger and deadlier weaponry and will go all-out against a group of foes. These two rules of engagements alter your options when attempting to enter a room though. On infiltrate you will have commands such as flash and clear, or smoke and clear, and likewise on assault you will have commands such as breach and clear, or frag and clear.
Perhaps the most important feature about Rainbow Six Vegas however, is the cover system. Rainbow Six Vegas features a cover system very similar to that of Gears of War, in that your goal is to find anything solid to put between you and the enemy. It's absolutely essential to your survival though. Due to the realistic and tactical nature of a game such as Rainbow Six Vegas, you can die at the drop of a hat. Only a few shots and you're down for the count. Despite the fact that Rainbow Six Vegas is actually a first person shooter, when utilizing the cover system you are entered into a third person view. This helps immensely though, as it allows you to have much better peripheral vision and to plan your assault, as well as take some well-placed shots. You can even fire blindly around corners if you so choose to, but this is a highly inaccurate method of firing, and is generally only useful when attempting to suppress an advancing enemy without exposing yourself to incoming fire.
Rainbow Six Vegas doesn't play like most first person shooters though. You can't simply just open a door and walk into a room, shoot all the guys in a room, and then continue forward. You have to plan each room carefully. For this you have the handy snake cam, which you will be using liberally throughout the course of the game. By simply aiming at the bottom of the door and pressing the A button you can scope out a room and plan how you want to breach it. By pressing the back button on the 360 controller you can tag up to two priority targets which will show up on your map so you can follow their movements. These priority targets will also be the first targets your teammates will attempt to eliminate. This is effective for planning a two-staged attack into a room. Sometimes when you're dealing with a hostage situation having your entire squad enter the room by the same door is a bad idea. So you may order your squad to stack up against one door, tag two targets for them to take out, then hightail it to another door, perhaps even on a different floor, to ambush and outflank the enemy from multiple directions. This allows you to take out different targets than your teammates, as well as to prioritize targets too.
Another great feature of Rainbow Six Vegas is that it doesn't play like a conventional first person shooter where you are slowly given access to weapons in a pre-determined order. You begin the game will access to a large variety of weapons and gadgetry that you can customize however you wish. There are also areas where you will encounter equipment stashes where you can restock on ammunition, frags, and so on, as well as change your equipment. You begin the game with a plentiful assortment of weaponry, but you can also gain access to new weaponry by taking the weapons from dead terrorists to an equipment box. You will not start the game with weapons such as the FN P90, MAC-11, or Desert Eagle, but by finding them and taking them to an equipment box you will have access to them for the rest of the game. You can only carry two weapons and a sidearm at a time however, so you have to plan carefully on which types of weapons you want to take into each area. You can also customize weapons with a variety of scopes, sights, et cetera, which means that each players experience of a given level can be largely defined by the weaponry and approach they take to it.
Naturally being an earlier Xbox 360 title, Rainbow Six Vegas has been surpassed in most technical aspects, but the game still looks great. The weapon models are fantastic, and the design of the locales is exceptionally good. The levels are incredibly detailed and really do an amazing job of making you feel like you're actually in Las Vegas. The Calypso Casino level is easily the standout area of the game, as it really immerses you in the whole S.W.A.T. versus terrorists in Las Vegas feel of the game.
The atmosphere in Rainbow Six Vegas is phenomenal, the audio is superb with tense, atmospheric music constantly droning on and on in the background. This is by no means negative, the droning atmosphere of the sound design is absolutely superb and is actually reminiscent to the sound design in F.E.A.R., however naturally without the horror elements. The atmosphere of the casinos and what not is also great, with sound effects coming from slot machines really making you feel like you're in Las Vegas. The weapons all sound top-notch, and the voice acting is solid. The terrorists can also be amusing to listen to when you're spying on them, and even during combat they occasionally utter some humourous lines to one another, as well as your squad.
Aside from the single player campaign Rainbow Six Vegas does have some multiplayer as well as co-op features. The single player is playable in co-op with up to three other players, and the prospect of coordinating how to get through the game with other people is definitely great. There are also a variety of cooperative terrorist hunt missions where you and a group of players attempt to take down all terrorists in a level. There is also your standard online multiplayer with up to sixteen players total. I didn't really go very deep into this mode, but there is persistent character creation here, where you gain experience through the multiplayer and unlock new clothing, armour, and weaponry for the various online modes. Considering that there are numerous other online games as well as a direct sequel to Rainbow Six Vegas, the online shouldn't be your main focus here; as the single player alone is ridiculously excellent in and of itself, that you shouldn't even need any other reason to play this game. Unfortunately the graphics in the multiplayer have taken a significant hit in quality when compared to the single player game. Seeing as how this is an older Xbox 360 game that isn't all too popular online anymore, it's definitely recommended that if you're looking for tactical online multiplayer that you take a look at Rainbow Six Vegas 2, rather than this one.
All that said, Rainbow Six Vegas has an absolutely astounding single player mode, with a great number of features that makes it an amazing ride to play through. If you're a fan of tactical shooters you would have to be absolutely insane to pass up Rainbow Six Vegas. The single player although at times infuriating, is ridiculously good, and the co-op and multiplayer is there if you so desire. If you're looking for something fresh, exciting, and incredibly intense as well as challenging, then Rainbow Six Vegas is an essential to any Xbox 360 game collection.