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The first Rainbow Six game I ever played was Rogue Spear and it was the Dreamcast version. I was just a kid at the time and thought the game was boring because I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t read the box, the manual, or do any research whatsoever. I just wanted to run around and shoot shit and that’s not what this series was about… at the time. The early games were all about planning and tactics and I just didn’t have the patience. Fast forward to around 2008 when I decided to play Rainbow Six: Vegas and really enjoyed it so I have plenty of respect for that game even though it doesn’t really represent what the series is known for. I’ve heard many say the PC version of Rainbow Six 3 is the best in the series and it’s been in my Steam list for years. I’ve played it on and off over the years and finally decided to give it a real chance. This review will cover the Rainbow Six 3: Gold Edition which includes the 2004 expansion, Athena Sword. I’ll also be covering Iron Wrath, another expansion released for free back in 2005, and the popular mod, Raven Shield 2.0.
Quite frankly, I honestly have no idea what the story is about and that’s because it’s not all that interesting, it’s clearly not the focal point of the game, and chances are you’ll spend more time focusing on the planning and execution which I’ll get to in a minute. The story in the base game, Raven Shield, has something to do with terrorists and Holocaust loot. The game opens with a cinematic, telling a story of Nazis and fascists trying to loot shit and escape in 1945. The terror starts again in 2005 with a group of neo-fascists and, basically, you command an elite counter-terrorism task force called Rainbow to stop them. In Athena Sword, you find out that there are still more of these terrorists out there so you have to stop them once again. The Iron Wrath expansion has something to do with more terrorists and a nuclear bomb. Yeah, Rainbow needs to stop them, too. The story is told through several cutscenes and during mission briefings. The voice acting is pretty horrible. When you actually play the game it’s blatantly obvious that the story takes a back seat to everything else.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this game it’s that if I had to command real operatives it a combat mission, I would get all my guys killed. This game is all about tactics and planning, things I’m, evidently, not very good at. At all.
There’s fifteen campaign missions in Raven Shield, eight in Athena Sword, and seven in Iron Wrath. Just think of them as maps instead because that’s really what they are. For each campaign mission you complete, you unlock the campaign map in the Custom Mission mode where the real meat of the game is. Ubisoft shut down the multiplayer servers a while ago but there are still ways to get this up and running online thanks to the dedicated following this game has. But I have no interest in trying the multiplayer.
Whether you’re playing through the campaign or Custom Mission mode, the idea is you plan out your attack and then execute it. You’ve got a huge team of operatives that specialize in different tactics including assault, recon, sniper, demolitions, and electronics. You choose an operative, assign them to either the red, green, or gold teams, and then equip them with whatever weapons and gadgets you want. There’s tons of weapons to choose from various categories. So if you want your red team to be a shotgun squad, you can do that. If you want everyone have sniper rifles, there’s nothing stopping you. One of the best things about Rainbow Six 3 is the freedom it gives the player in both customization and planning.
The next step is the planning and it’s definitely the most important part of every mission. After choosing your teams, you can plan out the actions of each team. Planning can be intimidating and time consuming but it will enhance the fun factor of the gameplay if you can master it. You don’t have to create a plan but you should if you don’t want your operatives to die. You get to plan out where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do. When you’re planning, you get to view the map and the planning mechanic is quite intuitive. You click to place waypoints and assign actions and use the keyboard for other various functions like rotating the map, zooming in and out, and deleting waypoints. You can also click the command buttons at the bottom of the planning screen to perform some of these actions. Each team can be assigned go-codes which can be used for several things but they’re fantastic for coordinated attacks. Each mission comes with pre-loaded plans but they definitely don’t guarantee a successful mission. By successful mission I mean keeping all your operatives alive and completing the objectives. The campaign can be even more stressful because if an operatives dies, and you accept the mission outcome, that operative is dead forever. They are then replaced with generic no-name operatives so you’ll want to get the planning right. Thankfully, you can keep retrying. You can spend thirty minutes to an hour, maybe even longer, just planning or tweaking your plan. It’s extremely satisfying to execute the perfect plan which I only did once and it was a pre-loaded one. Still, it was satisfying. It really comes down to trial and error. There’s even an observer mode where you can watch your operatives complete the mission and all you need to do is execute the go-codes.
During missions you can switch between teams and team members at will. The waypoints you set in your plan appear on the screen as a means of where you should be going but you can always do something different if the situation calls for it. If you’re supposed to proceed down the hallway but you hear an enemy in the room nearby, there’s nothing stopping you from going in putting him down. Just from watching several YouTube videos, I’ve noticed the perfect plans normally have your teams covering most of the map and spamming smoke grenades. That’s because smoke grenades will save your life. They obstruct the enemy’s view so you’re not wide open and throwing them down in doorways or before going around a corner is always a great idea.
This is not a run and gun shooter. This is a slow-paced, tactical shooter and you must be careful. Rushing around corners and into a room without taking the proper precautions pretty much guarantees your death. During missions you can command your team members to perform various actions like clearing rooms, throwing grenades, and opening doors. Speaking of opening doors, don’t ever stand in the doorway as you open it. There’s a neat little feature where you can nudge doors open and closed using the mousewheel and it’s extremely helpful. After your team performs an action you’ll need to command them to regroup if you want them to continue following you and I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to do this. I end up in a firefight with no backup. Yeah, you need to think. You’ll want to lean around every corner and never spray when firing. It’s all about short controlled bursts. These are more or less basic tips for staying alive.
Even with armor equipped, it doesn’t take many bullets to drop you or an enemy emphasizing the need to have a well developed plan. The chances of you completing a mission successfully without a plan are not very good. The enemies normally have quick reaction times and as soon as you’re hit with that fatal bullet, you’re on the ground, it’s almost like a jump scare, especially if you don’t know where the shot came from. Next thing you know, you’re whole team is down. That’s normally a sign of a poorly developed plan. An operative may be able to survive a shot but that operative will be limping for the rest of the mission.
The maps take you to all kinds of different locations like an airport, island estate, a snowy alpine village, and plenty more. The maps are all realistic and the level design is just fantastic. Every map is well connected and intricate. Athena Sword and Iron Wrath even add some classic maps from previous Rainbow Six titles. I’m not a big fan of Iron Wrath’s campaign maps. Not that there’s anything wrong with them but many of them feel kind of drab. I prefer the more exotic locations of Raven Shield and Athena Sword. Considering Iron Wrath is free, it’s not that big of a deal.
The Custom Mission mode is where you can choose what kind of game you want to play and the map to play it in. Practice Mission allows you to play through any of the campaign missions. In a Terrorist Hunt mission, you decide how many terrorists will populate the map and the goal is to take them all out. Hostage Rescue is pretty obvious and Lone Wolf is all about you taking out the terrorists as a single operative. Lone Wolf can be very intense to the point of terrifying. Athena Sword adds a Count Down mission where you must complete objectives within a time limit. For some reason, Count Down doesn’t carry over to Iron Wrath.
I can’t emphasize enough, the amount of freedom this game gives you. The Custom Mission mode is definitely my favorite way to play this game because other than the defined goal of the mission, you’re free to tackle each mission however you want. If you want to command the red team and just wing it but plan out the actions of your sniper team as a back up, you can do that. If you want to command a shotgun squad to go in all guns blazing, you can do that, too. The planning aspect gives this games tons of depth. Each time you play a map the enemies spawn in different spots and that really adds to the replay value. You can repeat the same mission multiple times and it will always play out differently.
I think Raven Shield looks pretty great for a 2003 game. Everything is well textured and my only real complaint about the visuals is the animations. The reload and character animations look pretty stiff and then I remember that this game is thirteen years old.
Rainbow Six 3 has this cinematic-like theme that’s quite memorable but there’s really no other music which would probably be distracting during gameplay anyway. A few tunes kick in here and there but they’re clearly there to add more tension to different situations. Now the sound effects all sound good and really add to the sense of immersion. It’s the little things. The sound of wind blowing, radio chatter, birds chirping, maybe the bad guys have the game on, I mean it’s all these little things that really makes the environments feel realistic. And the more common sound effects like gunfire, footsteps, and AI chatter, all get the job done so I really have no complaints when it comes to sound in this game.
Now I suck at this game but that’s not to say this game doesn’t have problems. Now the AI fluctuates for lack of a better term. This applies to both your team members and enemies. Your guys will frequently get stuck in doorways and run past rooms with visible enemies which usually lead to them dying. The enemies go from ridiculous reaction times to no reaction times at all. They show off their stupidity in obvious ways, too. For example you kill a guy with no silencer and his buddy in the next room won’t hear a thing. Many times it’s clear you killed an enemy in the line of sight of another and they don’t react.
Most of my other gameplay issues are minor. Your team members come in both male and female and they hail from all different countries, yet, they all sound American during gameplay. The men all sound the same and the women all sound the same. The controls take some getting used to. When I first started playing I had to frequently pause to see what button does what because there are so many functions but after playing for a while I got the hang of it. You can equip guns with different attachments which is really cool but I was a little dumbfounded by the fact that you can equip assault rifles with a scope or a silencer but not both.
I’m running this game on Windows 10 and encountered several technical issues. I believe Windows 10 is the cause for this strange flickering problem but I ended up finding a fix online. I also encountered sound issues with Athena Sword and Iron Wrath. Both expansions didn’t play the sound effects for the new guns and maps so I had to copy all sound files from the expansion folders into the Raven Shield folder. The game would randomly crash and I never found a solution. Most of the time it crashed just as I was starting a mission. Most of the time. The crashes are frequent enough to be annoying. I went hours playing and then the next thing you know I’m switching to night vision and the game crashes. As I said earlier, I’ve played this game on and off over the years but this is the first time I’m running it on Windows 10 and I think that might have something to do with many of the technical problems. Getting Iron Wrath to install was a bit of an adventure, too. Apparently, I needed to install the UK version. And last but not least is the fact that the main menu is hard coded at the 640×480 resolution but, luckily, the gameplay is not and can be adjusted in the options menu.
Raven Shield 2.0 is a mod that’s compatible with the main game and both expansions. It adds some new weapons, hi-res textures, iron sights, and a bunch of other little features. It’s one of those mods that makes it hard to go back to the vanilla game. Like any popular mod you’ve got that small group of assholes that bash the mod for asinine reasons, but even if I didn’t like it, I would still respect the work that went into it.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice a difference. Things feel different, things look different, and for the most part it’s all great. There are unique iron sights and scope sights for weapons. All of your AI operatives now switch to the single shot fire mode for any automatic weapons. That’s actually really annoying. Yes, you shouldn’t spray but I would often need to to switch to another team member and quickly react to an enemy only to realize I forgot to switch fire modes so I’m holding the mouse button down and not firing. Your teammates react quicker, they’ll switch to their secondary weapons when their primary runs out of ammo, and just a bunch of other minor tweaks that make the AI feel more realistic. The enemy AI was also tweaked. The enemy accuracy was toned down a bit and they no longer throw grenades as often.
Guns have more of a punch and the redesigned gun models look amazing. They removed the crosshair in favor of the iron sights, making the game feel more immersive. At least I think so. However, the iron sights are 2D which is kind of weird. I mean they look good but they’re not 3D models and they’re somewhat transparent so you can sort of see through them. Also, there’s no muzzle flash when firing using iron sights. Maybe the creators thought the muzzle flash would be distracting but I don’t think it would be that big of a deal.
In the vanilla game, the Team Room screen showed the models of the operatives and equipment but for some reason Raven Shield 2.0 only includes silhouettes so you can’t really see what anything looks like. This can be frustrating when deciding which armor you want to equip.
The initial install of the mod includes goggles as a feature. It’s supposed to be immersive and I get what they’re going for but it really just obstructs your view. It covers the HUD and I think it’s meant to encourage you to disable the HUD elements in the options menu. Thankfully, goggles can be removed by editing the game’s files.
Raven Shield 2.0 is arguably one of the best way to play this game. It hasn’t been updated in quite some time and was supposed to be succeeded by the Raven Shield: Project VI mod but the creator has since declared it dead but did release the source code.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield is an amazing game. Even though I’m terrible at it, I still have a great time playing it. The only other tactical shooter I ever got into was SWAT 3 but I think this game has it beat. This is a tactical shooter that can be played however you want. There’s no denying it’s a thinking man’s game and even when you fail, it’s just so much fun to keep trying and see how things play out. Even when only a small part of your plan is successful, it’s immensely satisfying to see it in action. Since this game, the Rainbow Six series has definitely went down a different a path in terms of gameplay and not everybody is happy about it. I can see why. I think even to this day this is still the best tactical shooter to date.