This fourth full release in the series that first brought the techno-thriller fiction of author Tom Clancy to the forefront of gamer consciousness, Rainbow Six: Lockdown deploys its counter-terrorism challenges on PC and all three 128-bit generation consoles. The Rainbow Six games are known for allowing players to target sophisticated objectives with surgical strike styled operations, and featuring characters and squads that become more skillful with successful missions.
Lockdown turns the tables, challenging Team Rainbow with vengeful enemies that become more deadly as the game progresses. Gameplay follows the format of earlier Rainbow Six games, as players choose a three-soldier team from an international selection of crack operatives, then plan and execute their operation. A new single-player mode lets player take the role of Ding Chavez, returning leader of Team Rainbow, or Dieter Weber, a sniper who must provide cover from afar for his teammates as they execute their orders in enemy installations.
One of my fondest gaming-related memories is of playing the original Rainbow Six. It was exhilarating, intense, and so damn fun that I could barely stand it. I can't even count the number of times that it kept me awake until the wee hours of the morning as I desperately fought my way through wave after wave of crazed terrorists. Sadly, the only reason Rainbow Six: Lockdown, the fourth installment in the series, kept me awake late into the night was my befuddlement over how such an innovative and classic game series could have gone so horribly, horribly wrong.
The single player campaign is cast across 16 missions and tells a rather uninspired story of terrorists who have stolen a bio-weapon called Legion. You play as Ding Chavez (you can no longer move between the members of your team), and you lead three other ass-kickers into each mission. It's all extremely generic and forgettable.
As has always been the case with the R6 series, before each mission you receive a mission briefing and are given the ability to outfit your squad with specific weapons and equipment. Unfortunately, the briefings are no longer as detailed as they once were, and you can no longer formulate a plan of attack using waypoints and the like. (Undoubtedly, those omissions are the result of the game originally being designed to play on the Xbox.) Instead, you're simply shown a map (that cannot be accessed once you're in the game) and then thrown into the mix. You can issue basic orders to your squad, like telling them to hold a position, attack, or move to a certain location, but none of those commands come close to replicating the brilliant tactical aspects of the previous games in the series.
Subsequently, Lockdown doesn't feel at all like a Rainbow Six game. It's just another generic "special forces versus terrorists" shooter, a concept that has been done to death over the past few years. Any tension that was once present in this franchise has been stripped away.
That said, the level design in Lockdown is fairly decent. Instead of each mission consisting of a lone level, they are usually spread across multiple levels, which adds some variety. For example, during the course of one mission you may fight through a terrorist camp and a cave system. It's a nice touch, but one that is soiled by lazy enemy placement and some of the worst AI ever seen in an action game.
If there is one that thing I wish had changed during the course of the Rainbow Six series' lifetime, it's how the enemies are positioned. They're still put in the usual nooks and crannies where you'd expect to find them, and they don't do much of anything except stand there and shoot. You can still pop one bad guy in the head while his buddy, two feet away, does nothing.
But what really set me into a blind rage was the AI powering your squad. The AI is simply one of the worst I've ever seen, and in a game of this caliber, it's inexcusable. When you're storming a room full of terrorists, it's vitally important for your squad to work together as a cohesive unit. That rarely happened. Although my squad would be set to "follow," they'd wander around aimlessly or simply refuse to move. When they did move, it was like watching the Keystone Cops. Instead of coordinated movement, where firing angles and corners were covered, they'd move seemingly at random.
It was extremely common for a member of my squad to approach an open door and then turn and face away from the door, exposing their back to enemy fire. You can pretty much guess what happened from there. (In case you can't, I'll tell you -- they were riddled with bullets.) On other occasions, enemies would blindly charge right through my squad, none of whom fired a shot, and the enemy would either kill me or kill half of my squad before I was able to take them down. Perhaps my boys were so stunned by the terrorist's brazen actions that they didn't know how to respond.
The sole bright spot in Lockdown is its graphics. The members of Rainbow look utterly fantastic -- you can see their gear hanging from their uniforms, detailed patches, and they are all wonderfully animated. The enemy characters are also nicely detailed (although, when there are five enemies, all the identical model, within three feet of each other, it's hard to maintain your suspension of disbelief).
Multiplayer has always been an integral part of the Rainbow Six experience, and Lockdown continues that trend. For the most part. The usual gameplay modes, such as co-op, terrorist hunt, reverse terrorist hunt, etc., are all present and accounted for. The real joy in multiplayer is playing through the single player missions with three other humans. Not only does this address the AI problems, it's also the only way to use real tactics during the course of the game.
Using Ubisoft's proprietary server browsing software, finding and connecting to a game is a little more aggravating that it should be. In one instance, it took me ten minutes of actively trying to connect to a server before I was successful. (I kept getting a disconnect error.) Latency was pretty high for an online game (the lowest ping I ever got was 200), and there were consistent issues with ghosting, where an enemy would simply vanish right before you double-tapped him.
It's truly saddening to see the Rainbow Six series plummet to these depths. As it is, unless the next installment is a return to the series' glorious past, Lockdown will be the last Rainbow Six game I ever play. I cherish the memories of playing the earlier games too much to let them be soiled like this.
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