“Flying Under the Radar”. A phrase that is readily defined in the gaming industry as a product lost in the mirage of hype and anticipation from an opposing product. With Gears, PS3, Resistance, Wii, Twilight Princess, and COD3 all released within the same month and riding high themselves, it would seem we may have forgotten all about Rainbow Six: Vegas, a game released in the great gaming month of November. But we haven’t; and will not forget about the game for months to come. Why? RSV is, as of now, the best tactical shooter out on any Next Generation console. The game capitalizes on GRAW’s and SCA’s greatest qualities, bringing about a great mix of stealth and “up close and dirty” warfare. It is definitely one of the next generation’s best titles to date, trailing not too far behind the likes of Oblivion and Gears of War. But hey, get ready to be visually amazed by the striking awesomeness of Sin City herself…Vegas.

Now you are probably wondering, just why the hell are you fighting in Vegas? Well, I am not the one to usually give plot spoilers, and I intend, for my image, to stay that way so I will just say this: The game’s storyline will not disappoint you at any point. It is presented throughout the course of the campaign perfectly, giving you prime backing on key antagonists, protagonists, objectives, and missions. Basically, the game will reveal you’re the overall purpose as to why you are shooting in between slot machines. Between that and some of the game’s stellar plot aspects, you will be immersed into your sinful surroundings, making you feel as if you are actually saving the city which we all love to hate.

The game’s missions and objectives aren’t really the most creative or innovative ideas ever presented in a shooter. Most of your jobs and objectives are the basic “Go from Point A to Point B” or “Go to Point B and destroy it”, nothing too complicated yet nothing too simple. Now there might be some plot elements masking this basic setup but after a few rounds of doing the same thing over and over you’ll realize there really aren’t too many complications. Now saying that, the creativity that Ubisoft has put in-between Point A and B is incredibly unique and simply put, astounding. Shooting over Blackjack tables, taking cover at the fountains of the Bellagio, jumping from helicopters onto the Vegas strip, jumping through glass into the casino lobbies – the list goes on and on. The innovative and technical quality used to blend a city like Las Vegas and a tactical shooter is simply jaw dropping. I have not come across many shooters that are set within electrifying surroundings…much less Vegas. Rainbow Six is an innovative and truly stimulating addition to legion of tactical shooter based games.

RSV’s ability to provide the player with missions which are thrilling and dynamic is equally complimented by its stellar control system. The key to success in RSV all depends on how well you use the game’s best feature: the Cover System. If you are looking for a “run and gun” arcade style shooter…you will not find it in RSV. Neither is it the kind of game where you are limited to just taking cover and popping enemies from a single position. Your ability to advance you and your squad through the game is to locate your enemies, get under cover, and take them out one by one. By pressing the left trigger, your player’s model will press up against the nearest concrete slab or surface. Holding down on the trigger will keep you pinned to it, allowing you to see from a 3rd person perspective overlooking the surface you are pressing against. From here, by simply using your right analog stick you can peek up, left and right while still being able to pin yourself back by releasing the stick. Once you have eliminated all the enemies around you, you can then look for another place to cover by simply going back to your 3rd Person perspective as mentioned before. Over the course of your time with RSV online and offline, you will come to recognize that the combat aspect of RSV is the game’s most distinguishing feature. After playing it a bit more, I am quite sure that you too will find RSV one of the best combat systems ever to be devised in a shooter.

While not very complicated, it still may take you an hour or so to get the controls down and memorized, then a few more days on top of that to master it. When you finally grasp the fluid motion that the cover system has to offer, you will then be able to incorporate the game’s remaining key controls with ease. With a click of a button, you can easily switch between weapons, grenade types, silencer attachments, and different camera settings. Being able to switch in and out of your inventory and other combat settings in less than a second proves to be an effective way to set the quick pace of the game. The rest of the game’s controls are rather simple, enough so that they should be picked up within your first half hour of playing the game.

The only other semi-complicated control system would be the game’s Team Control elements. The game’s Team AI is actually pretty good. They will be smart enough to take cover when cover is needed and will follow you most of the time close by. They won’t be wandering off just to get shot and they won’t jump out into the middle of fire without you telling them to do so. They do tend to die a bit more than one would like, but on the whole they aren’t the same bunch of mis-configured programming you would probably expect from the standard team AI. Believe it or not, if they are placed in a good position, they can pick off a good portion of your enemies as well. Controlling them is rather simple; telling them to hold or move with a click of the D-PAD, giving them positions by pointing to a location and pressing the action button, or ordering them to heal each other by simply aiming to the wounded and clicking on A. Besides that, there isn’t much to it and is yet another control element that is easy and satisfactory.

There are three items about a shooter’s graphical standards we gamers really care about. The rest would be loved but isn’t really what gives a game the “Wow” factor we are looking for. So here we go: 1) We want the environments to be as detailed as possible and to be believable 2) We want the game’s player models to be realistic. 3) And finally, we want the game’s framerate to hold up throughout the game. Well the virtual Vegas looks beautiful, the excellent recreation of the Vegas Strip is proof of this itself. At almost every point of the game I could see picture perfect replicas of major Vegas landmarks and sights, almost so that it seemed as if I were there. It is obvious that the dedication to recreating the Vegas skyline is not only convincing but also deserving of merit. Vegas, as many may know who have been there, doesn’t produce the standard white urban glow of most cities. It, in fact has a distinct mix of dark desert skies and brown desert sand, culminating in an unforgettable reddish glow illuminating its sky. The game hits this Vegas signature perfectly. Overall, Vegas looks great from a realistic and gritty graphical perspective as well from an aesthetic point of view.

The game’s framerate holds up pretty damn well too. Since I’ve picked up the game and played it, I received hardly any framerate problems or malfunctions. Beyond that, the game’s biggest problem is revealed through it’s models. My only harsh critique of RSV directly involves the models, which are awful. Your model, the one you are in control of, looks great most of time. When pinned in the cover, your player will look clean and slender with some great face detail. Everyone else…not so much. To be honest, I thought my opposing enemies looked like stick figures at points. Adding to that, they also walk awkwardly, something we don’t want to see in a Tom Clancy game where finesse is crucial. The inconsistency in graphics is very odd. The environment is simply perfect but your model is no where near as graphically developed…strange! On Xbox LIVE they look even worse, nearly ruining the game’s credibility. Luckily though, the game as a whole is just too great for that to happen and trust me, after playing this game for a few hours you will undoubtedly look past the graphic inequality or graceless movement of your models…and really enjoy it.

Like most Tom Clancy games, the sounds remain solid on almost all fronts. The games score remains a clever mix of an array of quiet stealthy hymns and booming orchestrated pieces, setting the game as an epic. Gun fires, helicopter effects, and some of the game’s more intriguing weapons all boast stellar sound effect to compliment them as well. However, the clear centerpiece of the game’s audio aspect is the game’s top notch voiceovers. How good are they? They are probably the single best audio aspect seen on the Xbox 360 to date. Plus if you have surround sound, you might be thinking someone is shouting right into your ears. Perfect…stunning…audio.

The single player campaign isn’t the longest of games. Clocking in at about 10-12 hours on both difficulty settings (which really only differ in terms of your health bar longevity), you will be desiring some more RSV to fill your gaming hunger once the campaign is over and done with. Luckily enough, RSV offers the best Xbox LIVE experience since Halo 2. With hints of future clan support, amazing usage of the Xbox LIVE camera, and an excellent array of game modes, Xbox LIVE proves that with it’s accessories and proper connection management, it can be the reason why gamers should go out and pick up a Xbox 360. The lobby system is particularly extraordinary, presenting a perfected way to hop on with your friends and organizing clan based matches. Yes, that means that all clans looking for a great Xbox LIVE game should search no more. Rainbow Six Vegas is the real deal.

So what are my closing remarks on Vegas? The game is a top runner for Game of the Year, and if it weren’t for Gears of War the game would be getting much more recognition from the gaming world than what it is currently receiving. Still, it is a popular choice among Xbox LIVE fans and has remained towards the top of the Live leaderboards since its release. It is everything you have come to expect from the Rainbow Six series and especially from a major Tom Clancy game. Ubisoft have given us a powerhouse year to push the next generation ahead and over it’s first year slump, similar to what the same publisher did with earlier years on the Xbox and PS2. Rainbow Six Vegas caps off this excellent year for gamers, and is a must buy for shooters and all Xbox LIVE lovers alike.

Originally Written By: Steve Wysowski

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