Double and Nothing

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 doesn't know when to fold ‘em

I learned something about my own personal hell this week. Somewhere in the labyrinth of my impending damnation is a 10-foot corridor stocked with an unending supply of terrorists whose unerringly accurate aim more than makes up for their frail bodies. A disembodied voice will guide me—an infiltration and threat-elimination specialist in name only—from one end of this urban Tartarus to the other and back. I will be followed by a pair of nigh-invulnerable imps who look just like me but outperform me in every way, laying waste to the hordes in a living testament to my own impotent skill set.

The frustration will build and build until, in an act of final desperation, I will drop a white phosphorus grenade at my own feet and end it all, only to have my burnt carcass dragged to one end of the corridor (it doesn't matter which) and resurrected to do it all again. The pain of the chemical flames will only be matched by the scorn and ridicule I heap upon myself as I continue my Sisyphean quest again and again, presumably until entropy causes the heat-death of the universe.

Welcome to my experience with Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, the ninth title to bear the Rainbow Six name and a confusingly mishmashed prequel/sequel/"during-quel" to the previous Vegas game. It's a lot like Vegas itself: a stunning amount of eye candy liberally applied to a mediocre cash-in of a premise and dropped into the middle of a dreary, featureless desert. It can easily suck up hours of your time, but when presented with the game's uninspired reality, it looks less like the glitz and glamour of fast living and more like a monument to wasted opportunity.

Tom Clancy games are apparently really big deals, what with their constantly improving AI, tactics-based gameplay, trademark Clancy-ish espionage-laden "real-world" setting, morally ambiguous plot lines, and the fact that the Clancy label has been slapped on nearly three dozen games over the last 10 years.

As such, I'm hesitant to admit that playing Vegas 2 was a test of endurance whose low points literally put me to sleep on more than one occasion. I'm half-expecting a team of inept black-ops wannabes to take it upon themselves to accost me until I have to chase them away with a water hose. Despite my trepidation, Vegas 2 remains one of those dull, frustrating experiences that can easily sap a player's will to live, let alone continue playing.

The name itself is even a misnomer. While the original Vegas largely stayed true to the geographical promise made by its title, Vegas 2 follows protagonist Bishop to such FPS mainstays as the Oil Refinery, the Train Yard, and the Corridor-Filled Convention Center as he cleans up the mess made during the first Vegas.

While this may help flesh out the Vegas series' storyline, an abundance of levels whose design features saw their novelty come and go during the Goldeneye era of gaming isn't the best way to keep player interest high.

Quantity over quality is a running theme in Vegas 2. Weapon selection, arguably one of the most important elements in a shooter, chokes on the game's devotion to realism. Sure, there are dozens of differently named weapons, but when the starting collection performs nearly as well as anything earned in-game, those names become a cosmetic issue. Customization options increase their versatility, but not enough to turn weapon choice into anything but a problem to be solved with a printout, a dartboard, and a blindfold.

Speaking of blindfolds, I might as well have been wearing one during most of Vegas 2's firefights. Combat plays like it was developed to be the Righteous Avatar of Vengeance Against Overpowered Players. AI opponents have every advantage players once enjoyed (radar senses, inhuman levels of accuracy, near-precognitive foreknowledge, etc) while players are left with an anemic mini-map, targeting reticules that are little more than suggestions, and an in-ear "mentor" who wants them to die. Sneaking up on the enemy yo-yos in difficulty from unintentionally easy to irrationally difficult, often within the same level. Armor is a paper-thin afterthought when facing an opponent whose bullets are all magnetically attracted to the player's head.

It has its strong points—there's something to be said for Rainbow squads having two extra targets, after all, and the rehashed, formulaic levels are at least nicely-rendered. All in all, though, Vegas 2 is the romantic mistake of early 2008's game crop: fun for a little while, but vapid, repetitive, and ultimately undesirable in large doses.