Calling this a “First Impression” is kind of a misnomer. Truth is, the first time I played Rainbow Six was when it was available in a just-released “Gold Edition” which included the Expansion Pack. I had just gotten my 500mhz PC (the one I recently retired and replaced with Mazinkaiser) and was eager for another game to run on it, and Rainbow Six had a number of inherent appeals–not the least of which was that I had just discovered a taste for Tom Clancy.
Sadly, first impressions were not good, and I wound up selling the game.
It is now over a decade later, I’ve built Mazinkaiser and again, I’m looking for software to run on it. I happened to find Rainbow Six (again, with expansion) at Goodwill. Has time flipped things? Well… actually, yes, a little bit.
When I booted up Rainbow Six this time, my first impression was “wow, this game is tough,” but then I started bending the rules a bit. I would play only with “Reserve” characters, and virtually ignore the “Planning” phase altogether (I should note that this WILL NOT work on Elite difficulty–on that mode, you either play it right or suffer the consequences!) and playing that way, I got all the way to mission seven–the one with the dam and where one of the terrorists wants to turn informant–before I finally got bored.
I did go back and experiment a bit more with Rainbow Six’s gameplay mechanics, particularly the planning phase, and on paper this seems like an awesome game for people who like meticulous and detailed simulations of what its like to be in a covert anti-terror unit. Another appeal, for me, was the almost total lack of lifebars for both you and your enemies–one or two shots will usually down friend or foe alike, which gives the game a very quick, immediate feel. As weird as it sounds, this is exactly the same thing I love about arcade games like Gradius, even though Rainbow Six is otherwise nothing like such games.
My main issue so far is that while Rainbow Six has a lot of good concepts, none of them work particularly well. The Planning Phase is a nice idea in theory, but in practice it fails constantly because the computer-controlled characters are fucking stupid, and you have to make just about every goddamn step they take a Waypoint or else they’ll take a beeline for their next destination, which invariably causes them to get stuck on a part of the environment. Other times they’ll blatantly ignore someone who is shooting at them (although I’ve had a variety of experiences here–sometimes, my dudes are remarkably good shots who take out bogies I didn’t even see!) And of course, they constantly get in each other’s way, blocking shots or stuffing up doorways. Unfortunately, Rainbow Six was before games like SWAT 4, meaning that the only way to tell your mates to do something is for it to be pre-arranged during the planning phase. Reached a new room that you want to flash-bang before entering, but your player-character is out of flashbangs? Tough luck. Unless he gets shot and leadership switches to the next in line, you ain’t using more flash-bangs.
I also feel… somewhat unsatisfied. Once the objectives are reached or all the terrorists are killed, the mission simply and abruptly stops, going to a debriefing screen, and my first few times out (when I used the Default plans provided by the game) the missions ended before I really had a chance to get a grip on what I was doing. It felt underwhelming. Even when I started playing my way and taking a more hands-on approach, I rarely felt that much of a sense of accomplishment when I completed a mission. This was partly why I kicked it up to Elite difficulty and started mucking with the planning. I want the game to be more than just an occasional time-waster, I want to enjoy it!
This game is supposed to have a storyline, loosely based on the Tom Clancy novel of the same name (actually, the game started out as an unrelated project and the relationship to the book was decided in mid-development) but its only delivered if you pay attention to the between-level briefing screens, which like most western-designed games, suffer from too much information, most of it redundant and uninteresting. I often wind up just reading enough to know what my mission is and then skipping to the parts I get to interact with.
Is Rainbow Six a keeper? For the time being, I’m gonna say “yes.” But Time may will flip things a second time.