Between the release of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear and Raven Shield, Ubisoft and Red Storm produced a number of Tom Clancy titles: an add-on for Rogue Spear as well as a stand-alone Rogue Spear expansion, Ghost Recon, Splinter Cell, and a tie-in to the movie The Sum of All Fears. The Sum of All Fears game plays very similarly to the Rainbow Six series with some influence from Ghost Recon (another game similar to Rainbow Six), but with an emphasis on expansive outdoor environments. Raven Shield incorporates some of the new features found in those earlier titles, such as the improved waypoint and command functions, and comes across as a more polished, upgraded version of Rogue Spear.
Once again, Team Rainbow receives its orders from John Clark and intelligence reports from Kevin Sweeney. Following the mission briefing, players enter the team screen where they can select which members (up to eight in non-recon missions) will participate, how to divide them into teams, and which weapons, body armor, and items they will use. New to the series is the ability to make slight alterations to weapons, by choosing a silencer or high capacity cartridge when available. In previous Rainbow Six titles, silenced weapons were available, but the influences outside of silenced gunfire were not obvious. Now each weapon has statistics in eight categories, such as stability and range, and those statistics change when a silencer or high capacity cartridge is added. There are also many more firearms to choose from, including a selection of machine pistols for a secondary weapon along with the usual assortment of regular pistols.
After setting up the team, players are taken to the planning stage. A pre-set plan is available for every mission if users do not wish to create their own. Creating a mission plan has not changed very much from Rogue Spear; select a team, provide waypoints, and choose "Go Codes" with more detailed actions to take place at specific waypoints. The only major change in regards to planning is a map insert that displays a first-person view of what the team will be seeing when a waypoint is selected. Once the team and plan are set, it is time to send Rainbow into action.
The action is more under control than in previous Rainbow Six titles, thanks to the improved implementation of commands and movement of the squad. Players can easily give orders on the fly to team members, having them perform such actions as opening a door, clearing a room, or climbing a ladder. When moving, the last person in a squad will walk backwards to prevent enemies from getting the drop on the team. They will also alert the team by shouting out when the squad is taking fire from the rear. Teammates are quick shots and often take out hard-to-locate terrorists before you can even react. Since one shot can easily eliminate a player, it is very important that the computer-controlled Rainbow members are effective. Enemy artificial intelligence (AI) isn't always sharp, but opponents are very accurate shots and most players won't last long without their backup.
Although enemy AI is typically good, there are occasional glitches. An enemy may run into an object (or a Rainbow member) and continue to run in place until eliminated. Once in a while, the enemy might stand completely still, staring at you from a few feet away without firing. Others may hear a noise, but turn their attention to the wall rather than the only doorway someone might come through. Along with these bugs, there are a few that can also affect your own team. If two friendly teams cross paths in a tight spot they can become entangled, pushing against one another with neither able to progress. Fortunately, players can usually push up against stuck teammates and clear the traffic. Another bug had a computer-controlled team getting stuck on a ladder about one out of every three times the mission was tried.
If a player has the team hold up and then continues without them, the player can later command the team to regroup on the team leader. One such time the commander of a team passed through an open door and stopped just outside a closed door on the other side of a room. The rest of the group was just outside the open door but when asked to regroup they decided to circle the map and approach their commander from the other side of the closed door rather than simply entering the room. Though none of these bugs ruin the game experience, they can be frustrating if they lead to the failure of a difficult mission that was nearing a successful completion.
Mission difficulty can range from "not too difficult" to extremely difficult, depending on the circumstances. A mission where an objective involves rescuing hostages can be much more difficult than one where the only objective is to neutralize all of the terrorists. Having a successful mission outcome primarily relies on the success of the teams the user is not controlling, which can lead to some frustration. That every mistake is costly leads to a bit of repetition, replaying some maps for a few hours until everything goes just right. Also, keeping all of the team members alive in each mission is a bit more important now, as their statistics will improve over time. Recon missions -- those that involve zero gunfire and not being seen at all -- can sometimes be the toughest for Rainbow Six players. However, only one of Raven Shield's fifteen single-player missions is a recon mission and it is actually one of the easier missions in the game.
The storyline of the game isn't anything that will keep players on the edge of their seats. For two-thirds of the game the missions will appear random, until intelligence can put all of the pieces together and determine how they are linked. Settings are interesting, ranging from a London bank to a meat-packing plant in Argentina, but of the 15 missions there are only 12 different maps. All of the locations look great and contain a number of background details, such as ringing telephones and televisions with the game's credits scrolling on them. Unfortunately, other than a few exploding barrels and the ability to shoot a few static objects (such as a radio), background interactivity is limited. Animations are much improved over previous Rainbow Six entries; the stiffs that used to tip over and fall through walls are replaced with corpses that flail as they fall off of a catwalk or slouch while sliding down the closest wall. Although the new animations are well done, the final result can be quite bizarre. Apparently enemies lose their complete skeletal structure when killed, such that when they finally collapse to the ground their limbs are sometimes bent in ways that only Gumby could imagine.
Technically, the biggest issues are frame rates and an occasional crash. Of course, things will vary greatly depending on the hardware, but the frame rates can be sporadic (jumping at times between 5-40 frames per second). The game runs smoothly enough when indoors, but can sometimes struggle outdoors, even with the recommended system requirements. Turning down many of the options may help, though lowering the texture quality will make the game appear rather ugly and washed out. Expect to need at least the minimum recommended system requirements to see the game at its best. At the time of launch, CD key errors that prevented some users from playing the game's multiplayer mode were also a problem, but this issue has been addressed in the game's first patch (released April 10, 2003).
Raven Shield fits well into the Rainbow Six series, featuring the tactical, tension-filled gameplay for which the series is known. With the expected improvements in graphics, sound, and AI, along with a tweaked interface, Raven Shield is essentially a better-looking, better-playing version of Rogue Spear. A few more single-player missions, a deeper storyline, interactive backgrounds, and some additional tweaking on the technical front could have pushed the game over the top.
Graphics: Environments, characters, and weapons all feature a lot of detail. Night vision also looks quite good, as the screen size is reduced and everything is viewed through a translucent green. The smoke grenade effects are a bit weak however.
Sound: Background sounds fit each setting well, while weapons' fire effects accurately reflect the objects each bullet hits. The same voices and some of the same lines from previous Rainbow Six games can be heard. Dialog shouted by squad members adds to the urgency of each situation.
Enjoyment: Gameplay is tense and exciting. Successfully completing a mission is very satisfying every time. Playing the game with friends increases the enjoyment as you work together against the terrorists or battle against each other.
Replay Value: Length of the game is dependent on how many times a mission has to be replayed; a successfully completed mission normally takes anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes. Single-player missions can be played in a variety of ways outside of the campaign mode, including cooperatively with friends or solo in Lone Wolf mode. There are also a variety of multiplayer modes to keep players busy, such as Survival, Team Survival, and a Bomb plant/prevent mode.
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