Traditions change. Even in the strongest franchises, they are prone to change. The recent Command and Conquer: Generals made the leap from the classic Command and Conquer vertical menu bar to a horizontal one, oft-associated with its competitor Blizzard. Sega’s Phantasy Star appears to have set sail permanently to the MMORPG world without looking back. Closer to Raven Shield’s genre, NovaLogic’s latest Black Hawk Down is slowly edging away from its tactical first-person shooter roots to a more arcade approach.
That hasn’t happened to Raven Shield. But this is the first time you’ll see your own gun in first-person mode for a Rainbow Six product. After years of arguing that a timed revolving circle could signify reloads and an oscillating crosshair is all you need for aim, the developers at Red Storm have finally put in 3D models for their guns. And they are turned on by default.
This might have something to do with the change of 3D engines. The innards that powered Rainbow Six, and then subsequently Rogue Spear, were pure Red Storm products. While a little quirky at times, especially with spotty collision detection where arms and legs would stick out of doors, it was embraced by fans as the pinnacle of first-person shooter realism. The switch to Unreal may be suspect, especially considering the fact that besides id Software’s Quake, Unreal has its roots in fast-paced arcade action titles. But recent developments (such as America’s Army) on the Unreal engine have proven this technology is flexible enough to mimic and recreate the subtle nuances of realistic modern warfare.
Make no mistake about it. The Unreal engine gives a solid foundation for Raven Shield’s international locales. The inclusion of good lighting effects (though not on the level of sophistication as Splinter
Cell) is something that could not have been done with its proprietary technology from before. Night vision is only effective in completely dark areas but can become a liability in mixed lighting. It’s no longer a green tint with gamma correction turned up.
The developers also improved on things that they do well with the Rogue
Spear engine. Animations for characters are even more realistic than before – if that’s actually possible. The death animations are slightly more natural but more importantly, significantly less dramatic and shorter. Raven Shield carries the same attitude as it did in Rainbow Six years ago. Blood splatters everywhere and violence is up front and graphic. Unlike products in the Electronic Arts stable, Raven Shield puts up no façades when dealing with mature material.
The most appreciable benefits are actually in the terrain. The outdoor levels are far less boxy than before. The ridges and hills, for example, have a more natural contour to it. Finally, the game is also exceedingly fast indoors. On a modern machine, it renders sprawling indoor spaces, replete with closets, bathrooms and more without any hesitation.
The Unreal engine also brings real gameplay amenities. I remember the first time I played Rainbow Six, I spent a good five minutes trying to memorize the plan assigned to me before going on mission. Things got slightly better looking at the map, but it was still not as seamless or intuitive as it could have been. Now, in Raven Shield, floating bubbles, visible to the player only, show plan objectives right in front of your Rainbow operative’s eyes.
While Raven Shield retains a significant pre-mission planning module, it has finally made the move to embrace on the fly commands. You now have the ability to set go codes and assign actions on the fly like SWAT 3 or Operation Flashpoint. Pointing at a door, you can order your squad to open and clear and then switch to another one to watch the action.
The planning stage is also more integrated into the 3D engine. When you plan now, you have a small camera view of the environments to give you a better idea of where your plans are taking your operatives in the game. Missions in Raven Shield are still divided into planning, equipment and action stages, but they work more seamlessly now. It takes very little time to go from one stage to another.
When Raven Shield first started up on my computer, I thought I was watching an advertisement for a different game. The introduction begins with narration from 1945 onwards and World War II, hardly what I would consider part of the Rainbow Six timeframe. It’ll come as no surprise to everyone that Raven Shield deals with the issue of terrorism. This time it’s yet another bunch of neo-fascists coming out of the woodwork.
Let’s just say the premise is not as exciting as it could have been.
Part of the reason why Rainbow Six was so attractive was the plausibility of it all. In 1998, with the Olympic Games in Sydney for
2000, there was a genuine fear in the Clinton era that biological weapons would be employed some time in the future and dispersed in popular international events. That was played on nicely by Rainbow Six and it toyed with Clancy’s fiction, or rather, faction – the mixing of plausible fact and fiction together.
Raven Shield carries no such allure though. It fails to deal with contemporary issues head on. Like the theatrical version of The Sum of
All Fears, it hides behind the guise of fascists – they are all dead anyway and who can go wrong blaming Hitler and his cronies anymore.
Perhaps it’s unfair to level this charge. How could the developers anticipate world events? But Command and Conquer: Generals did not shy away from dealing with them at all, including missions in Baghdad and anti-terrorist campaigns against people who have a panache for hiding in caves.
The missions continue to be an indoor affair. This is a game of close quarters combat after all. The complexity of the 3D engine has transformed buildings to multiple floors, with each room having sub rooms like washrooms, storage areas and closets. It really hits home the difficulty of urban warfare as any nitwit sitting in a corner could spray an automatic weapon and take down a whole squad. The use of vertical space to ambush you will aptly be demonstrated by terrorists on Veteran mode or higher.
Great tools like the heartbeat sensor can help balance the odds. The heartbeat sensor is no longer pervasive anymore. It has been changed and at first it felt weird but it is still an effective equalizer for
Rainbow operatives. You now put the heartbeat sensor on and the heartbeats appear like sonar pings in front of your eyes.
Overall, there aren’t any truly spectacular missions though. Most of the missions now have penalties built in. You have to assault an enemy position but also prevent bombs from going off or files from being destroyed. If it’s not that, it’s the hostages who give the terrorists a one up advantage. Some of the maps are also re-used, by repeating missions for them again and alternating between daytime and nighttime.
Six multiplayer maps are included in Raven Shield, two of which are training levels. There is, moreover, no assault or defend game modes as found in Urban Operations and the few competitive ones added aren’t terribly innovative.
The shining star in multiplayer continues to be co-operative play.
Raven Shield is able to convey sheer bouts of terror as naturally and easily as before. On the streets in Brazil, there’s nothing more intense than sending your human squadmates across the street only to see most of them mowed down by terrorists lying in wait.
The pace is also notably faster in competitive play – to the point where people will accuse of it being CounterStrike. Raven Shield exercises some creative liberty with the game, leaving the fanatical devotion to realism to Rogue Spear and America’s Army, though this is still a game where the gung ho and uninitiated will die within the first three minutes because they don’t know the map and weapons as well as the veterans. When you die, and you will die often, a ghost camera and multiple follow cameras help keep you in the action.
The best maps, ironically, were the ones that took place outdoors. Some of the indoor maps are fun, since they provide a lot of ideal ambush places, but a lot are dark and too maze-like. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Ghost Recon these days, but I really thought Raven Shield had the conviction to take on more outdoor style maps.
Some lingering problems remain with the multiplayer portion. With the jump to the Unreal engine, it’s interesting to note that no bots can be substituted during team competitive play. It’s all the more curious because Unreal Tournament was built on this type of dynamic artificial intelligence. The artificial intelligence that does exist is trademark
Rainbow Six; quirks included. Terrorists will now investigate audible sound and you can bait them with some covering fire but there are still isolated instances of moronic insanity. I don’t count the terrorists who run away from a squad of Rainbow operatives though. We see enough of that on CNN to know that can be a true portrayal.
In terms of graphics, Raven Shield makes some leaps and bounds. In terms of gameplay, however, Raven Shield makes little progress. Where it has made the game easier, a trend started with the Ghost Recon convert, The Sum of All Fears, it has also made the game more limited.
There aren’t enough dynamic factors in the games themselves, even if the developers do not want to implement scripted elements a la Halo, No One Lives Forever, etc.
Raven Shield takes a step forward in some important areas, but elsewhere it also takes a step backward. The net result: This isn’t the Rainbow Six that made Rainbow Six a household name in 1998. But after such a long hiatus, any game with Ding Chavez and John Clark is a welcome relief for the genre.