Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (PS3)

I loved the hell out of Rainbow Six: Las Vegas. It was excellent. An FPS for the thinking man. Slow, stealthy, methodical work was rewarded. And if you simply charged into battle, you were invariably slaughtered. So when I saw Vegas 2 for $20 at WallyWorld, I snapped that shit right up.

I'm terribly disappointed.

The basic formula is the same as the first game: you're the leader of a three-person assault team. You're responsible not only for the standard FPS fair, but also for commanding your teammates.

You indicate commands using the X button (on PS3). If you point the crosshairs at the ground or a cover object when you press X, your team moves to that position. If you aim at a door and press X, your teammates "stack up" beside the door in preparation to storm and clear the room. Press X while aiming at a bomb or similar plot device, and they'll go tinker with it.

This works really well in the first game. You can push forward through a space by commanding your team to cover, then leapfrogging past them while they cover you. Room clearing is a blast, as your team will open the door and toss grenades (flash or frag) before storming the room.

Unfortunately, they broke it horribly in Vegas 2. The controls are the same. You have roughly the same options. And yet your team's AI is so downright retarded as to be nearly worthless.

At one point, I was working my way through a parking garage. On the ground was a puddle of water and a parking cone. Both of my teammates walked through the puddle, touched the cone, and became completely stuck. None of my commands to follow me, nor to take a specific position, seemed to work: they just stood there doing the chicken dance. Only by telling them to move to a point about six inches away, and five minutes of bread-crumbing their way, did I manage to get them moving again. This happened routinely.

A vastly more annoying problem is your team's behavior while they're following you. They're constantly sticking themselves out around corners, exposing themselves to enemy fire and ruining your element of surprise. Similarly, on several occasions that I was crouched below a waist-high window, planning my next move, they broke the glass and jumped into the room only to stand there while the tangos rained bullets on them. Perhaps "follow" means something different in the tactical world, but I was pretty sure it meant "stay the fuck behind me", not "take any random position within fifteen feet of me."

The only place the AI worked consistently was in room clearing. Otherwise, I found it far more practical to just leave them hanging back and clear areas myself. This is unacceptable in a game whose most basic premise is realistic tactical planning and teamwork.

Even putting aside the AI, there are huge programming flaws throughout the game. The most annoying is the terrible sound programming. To start with, character voices are mixed so low as to be inaudible--and they frequently overlap with radioed briefing info, rendering both incomprehensible. Of course, if the voice in question is some whimpering civilian, you'll be able to hear him literally throughout the whole level. And, your character's voice is mixed so loud that anything she (or he) says drowns out nearly all other sound in the environment.

Gunshots and explosions often make dull "thud" sounds instead of their regular sound effect. This is obviously some attempt at realistic muffling, as it sounds fine most of the time. But occasionally, the system will decide that sounds should be muffled even if the only thing between you and the shooter is a potted plant. It's kind of disorienting to have a string of automatic gunfire go from deafeningly loud to nearly silent just because you duck back behind a corner.

In a synergetic clusterfuck, the physics and the sound conspire to annoy the crap out of you on a regular basis. The way this usually happens is that some lightweight item (a box or a tin can) gets trapped in the level geometry, vibrating wildly. This vibration then causes an endless, rapid-fire string of "thuds", "thumps", and "tinks". Which, naturally, is mixed so loud as to drown out gunfire.

These sorts of glitches are kind of par for the course in modern physics-driven games, so I can forgive them--even if they happen far more frequently here than in any other game I've played. What I can't forgive is the bloody fucking terrible enemy voice acting. The deliveries are wooden and emotionless, aside from the cursing, which is over the top. I almost wonder if they just had the programmers record the enemies' lines.

The voice acting is bad, but it's made orders of magnitude worse by the repetition. I heard the same damn conversation about a joke (which is never told) at least fifty times--I didn't start counting until the third or fourth level, and I stopped counting at 35. Most other dialogue I heard a similar number of times. And these aren't spread out, either: at one point, I heard that dialogue about the joke as I planned my assault on three consecutive rooms. And I don't even want to talk about the noises the bad guys make as they die, or the commentary of those around them. I'll just say that I heard "that bitch owed me money" so often that I'm pretty certain the solution to the credit freeze is to employ terrorists as loan officers.

The developers also added a ranking system that wasn't in the first game. At first, I thought it was pretty cool, since there are lots more weapons available this time around. And then I realized I couldn't care less. While the guns aren't all quite identical, they may as well be. Since the game's built on a realistic premise, all guns kill in just a couple shots, and all of them are at least basically accurate. Likewise with all the armor you can unlock: none of it will actually prevent you from dying. And the XP requirements for the weapons are extreme, requiring you to play through the game many times to unlock the high-end gear.

I suppose the ranking system is really geared toward multiplayer. But I can't imagine Rainbow Six being fun online. The whole premise of the game is that you're smarter, better equipped, and better informed than the enemy. You're vastly outnumbered, but you have the element of surprise. Playing against people would put you all on a level playing field, turning Rainbow Six into just another FPS.

Which reminds me that the developers totally fucked up the level design in this iteration. The first game was so enjoyable because, for the most part, you worked room to room, clearing each of terrorists before moving to the next. If you did it right, you could play whole levels without the bad guys ever getting a shot off at you. And then, to keep you from getting too cocky, the developers would throw in a straight open firefight. These were few, far between, and were the most tense moments in the game.

In Vegas 2, they throw out that formula. Instead of methodically working through interior levels, you're forced to frenetically rampage through open outdoor levels. Yeah, there's still plenty of cover, and so you don't just run and gun. But, the tangos know you're coming, and often start shooting before you've even seen them. Vegas 2 plays more like Gears of War than it does the previous game in the series.

All in all, I can't really recommend Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. If you played the first game, you might enjoy it, but you'll more likely be frustrated by it. If you didn't play the first game, Vegas 2 will sour you to the whole franchise. Just play the original.

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