The first expansion pack for Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six 3, Athena Sword continues the exploits of Team RAINBOW as it hunts down the last remnants of the terrorist threat introduced in 2003's Raven Shield. A total of eight new missions are available, taking players to exotic locales set in Italy, Croatia, and Greece as part of the covert squad's ongoing pursuit to keep the world safe from danger. Other noteworthy features include eight multiplayer levels, five new multiplayer modes, three classic missions from previous titles in the best-selling series, and seven additional weapons to use against the terrorist threat. In an effort to maintain the high production values the series is known for, the developers sought the expertise of crew members who worked on The Matrix to re-create each weapon's sound effects.
The Rainbow Six series has never been known for overly generous expansion packs. Most of the time, you don't get much more than a few maps, which you'd normally get for free if you'd been playing a game with more robust support for third-party mods and map-making.
At first, Athena Sword doesn't seem like it's going to be an exception. The checklist reads like almost any other expansion from the series: new single-player missions, some new multiplayer maps, a handful of guns of dubious value, and perhaps a few new modes to tweak the basic gameplay. But then you'll stumble across the "Capture the Enemy" multiplayer mode, which is a spirited version of freeze tag with guns. This is the brightest new thing for the series since it was ported over to the Unreal engine.
Capture the Enemy is sort of a variation of the "Jailbreak" mods that began with Quake. The idea is that when you've "killed" an enemy, he doesn't die. Instead, he gets captured. But unlike Jailbreak, in which a captured player is instantly teleported to jail, here he stops in place and puts up his hands for a short time. If you get to him while he's surrendered, you can cuff him, effectively knocking him out of the action. However, if his teammates reach him, they can uncuff him. The team that manages to cuff all the guys on the other team wins. Otherwise, the match is decided by the number of captures once the time limit is up.
While this sounds fairly straightforward, it adds a giddy new dimension to Rainbow Six and Raven Shield's normally brief and decisive gameplay. The lethality of the weapons guarantees that encounters are over quickly. And once you're dead, you're stuck spectating until the next round starts. But in Capture the Enemy, there's always a chance you might be rescued. What's more, since the window of surrender is so short, and since there's a brief period of invulnerability immediately after you've recovered from a surrender, there's a lot of wild shooting, running, yelling, laughing, and generally mucking about like a bunch of kids playing paint ball. This adds not only a considerable amount of ammo chew -- it's actually useful to bring extra ammo, since you might "kill" the other guys repeatedly -- but it introduces some levity to the methodical and tense gameplay. With Capture the Enemy, Rainbow Six at last loosens its tie and gets a little crazy.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of Athena Sword is disappointing. The "Countdown" mode, which challenges you to finish a mission within a certain time limit, is an absolutely pointless addition that you could have introduced on your own with a $1.99 egg timer from Wal-Mart. The "Kamikaze" mode is just a minor variation of the pilot mode that can't even be bothered to use a new character model. Without exception, the new guns are unremarkable variants of guns already in the game. Unless you host a server that forces players to use them by enabling kit restrictions, the odds are you'll never pick one of these weapons up.
The new single-player campaign is interesting for its European setting, taking place in Italy, Monte Carlo, and Greece, giving the action a bit of a Bourne Identity or Ronin vibe. The eight-mission campaign pits you against a group of typical Rainbow Six terrorists, in that they keep finding themselves in situations where they have to take hostages. In the last three missions (two of which take place on re-used maps), the terrorists take a break from grabbing hostages and start planting bombs instead. This shunts you into timed missions and culminates in a mission where the terrorists will detonate the bomb if you sound the alarm. They're not quite as annoying as Raven Shield's infamous stealth mission, but you can't accuse them of not trying.
The settings range from a luxury hotel in Monaco, a Palermo warehouse (that may as well be in Poughkeepsie except for the Italian signs), a Croatian old city district, a castle converted into an art museum, a marketplace in Athens, and downtown Milan. Although these maps all look great, stuffed as they are with European detail, their size will put a strain on any lower end systems. And the level design relies far too much on fake doors, or even worse, contrived and flimsy obstacles like "no entry" signs and police tape that only serve to call attention to the fact that they're fake doors.
The dedicated multiplayer maps fare much better. In fact, they're as good as the single-player maps are mediocre. A lumberyard with long sight lines and plenty of obstacles is a real challenge online. The ferryboat is like a smaller version of the luxury liner from Rainbow Six. A small neighborhood in Tustin (a Southern California suburb), looks and plays like something from Sierra's moribund S.W.A.T. series. Updated versions of the London subway and Siberian base maps from the original Rainbow Six are welcome blasts from the past.
With Capture the Enemy and the multiplayer maps, Athena Sword certainly isn't a waste of money. In fact, it's arguable that Capture the Enemy is worth the price of admission, being one of the brightest additions to the series in a long time.
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