Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow
If last year's instalment didn't manage to sate your bloodlust, then perhaps another dose of team-based shooting is in order.
Three hundred days. That's how long the gap is between the release of Rainbow Six 3 last October and the release of Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow this August. That's not all that much time to get under the hood to create a substantially different game, but then Black Arrow isn't really much of an upgrade over its predecessor. And while it is technically only an expansion pack, Black Arrow is a fine example of giving customers what they want and still managing to do it properly.
Black Arrow builds on the tactical, team-based franchise that started out on the PC way back in 1998. The series has found its way onto just about every available platform since then, undergoing a few aesthetic and gameplay changes en route to this most recent iteration. Rainbow Six 3 was released to both critical and popular acclaim last year, and for good reason - the game is a well-crafted first-person shooter with a healthy dollop of team management and good online play thrown into the mix. Games like this often lead to fans crying out for more of the same, and this is exactly what Ubisoft has given them.
Black Arrow excels as a first person shooter. The smooth frame rate and pixel-perfect (and highly customisable) controls combined with the faithful and vast armoury make for an exhilarating experience. In this age of poor cameras and worse control systems, it's refreshing to pick up a gamepad and have your character do just what you tell them to do. Sadly, the range of actions of your characters is illogically constrained, to the point where a simple rope is enough to block your path and force you to take a more circuitous path to your next checkpoint. Controlling your team is a simple matter of ordering them to enter and clear areas using the D-pad. Black Arrow is easy to get into and provides a pulse-raising, nerve-tingling experience. And well it should - it's almost exactly the same as Rainbow Six 3.
There are a couple minor upgrades to the gameplay over last year's instalment. Most obvious is your team AI, which receives a significant bump. Keeping Eddie, Louis and Dieter alive until the end of the mission is now less of a chore, and they are notably more effective at clearing areas on their own than they were last year. The PR material included with our review code proudly touts the improved enemy AI, which is not wholly inaccurate. The terrorists are more organized this time around and they will make a more concerted effort to trap you. They're still pretty dumb though.
In one of the later levels, I strode in with my trusty Dragunov sniper rifle - the only new weapon of the two dozen-odd included - slung over my shoulder. I was soon greeted by a group of six terrorists standing quite close to one another in the distance. Picking them off was easy enough, but seeing them just standing there, expressionless and immotile, as I took down their comrades with headshots seemed a little out of character. I know that terrorists are icy-hearted beasts with no regard for human existence, but surely the abrupt end-of-life of someone standing right next to you should be reason enough to raise the alarm, or at the very least an eyebrow.
The single-player campaign mode consists of ten new levels threaded together by a story steeped in current events. In a plot seemingly ripped straight from the cover of the Times, terrorists are attempting to put together a nuclear weapon, and it's your team's task to make sure those blaggards get what's coming to them. Gone are the detailed CG cinema clips that set the stage for RS3 missions, and in their stead are simple narrated sequences. The story is largely inconsequential though, providing a fragile framework upon which the missions are hung. Levels completed during your campaign are subsequently available for custom missions, during which you can try to better your time through stages, hunt the terrorists by yourself, or try to beat the clock through a stage.
The environments add nicely to the experience, providing nuanced and detailed backdrops to the solo and multiplayer missions. Locales seem designed with the latter in mind, filled with hiding spots as they are. Despite the concentration on Mediterranean and Eastern European destinations, there's surprising visual variety in the level design, with settings ranging from an abandoned train yard and an open-air market to a sparkling castle and labyrinthine Greek ruins. Unfortunately, they all suffer from similar setbacks; levels are overly linear - even when they don't immediately look that way - and how much you can interact with them is highly variable and arbitrary.
Probably the most obvious unique selling point of Black Arrow comes by virtue of its being the first game to take full advantage of Xbox Live 3.0. What this means is that there is a much more robust and communal online experience. You can form clans, leave text and voice messages and even arrange competitions, all without having to leave the confines of the game.
Outside of these new - and honestly rather superfluous - technical features, online play remains largely unchanged from Rainbow Six 3. Which is to say that it is great fun, whether you're playing an everyone-for-themselves mode like survival or one of the two new team-based modes (total conquest and retrieval). All the campaign mode levels are available in multiplayer and there are a few more liberally sprinkled in, bringing the final tally to 17. The game does tend to bog down rather terribly on slower connections though, making it largely unplayable, so make sure to join a fast server.
It should be clear that nothing much has changed for Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. If this is your first experience with Rainbow Six 3, you'll be enthralled by the great controls and the intense and compelling gameplay, both on- and offline. If you've already built up your stats online and shown Elite mode what's what in Rainbow Six, then the extra levels and new campaign mode should serve you well. The budget-range price can't be beat, making this a worthwhile purchase for anyone who can stand first-person shooters. And at the end of the day, that's quite an achievement for 300 days of work.
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Rainbow Siz 3: Black Arrow
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