Rainbow Six 3 & Black Arrow for Xbox Review

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Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield for PC is easily one of the best tactical shooters to date. My personal favorite is SWAT 3 but I think Rainbow Six 3 is a close second. Granted, I’m terrible at anything requiring tactics and/or strategy but I still enjoy the genre, regardless. I enjoy the early Rainbow Six titles in particular for their quick and tense action, exotic locations, and satisfying gameplay. Rainbow Six 3 not only came out for PC but it also came out for consoles and the console version is actually quite different. I guess you it’s a spin-off. Developed and published by Ubisoft, Rainbow Six 3 was released for the Xbox in November, 2003, PlayStation 2 in March, 2004, and GameCube in June of that same year. A semi-sequel, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow was released for the Xbox in August, 2004. For this review, I played the Xbox versions of both games. After playing these, I have a feeling the real draw of these titles was the multiplayer over Xbox Live at the time but you can also utilize the system link feature for local multiplayer. Both entries include a campaign and Custom Mission mode along with gameplay that is a lot more forgiving compared to their PC counterpart.

The stories in these games are entirely different than what we saw in Raven Shield but they’re not exactly super interesting or exciting, either. In both games, you play as Ding Chavez, leader of Rainbow, and you lead a small team of operatives through numerous missions in an attempt to stop terrorism. In Rainbow Six 3, the team responds to a series of terrorist attacks in South America. It turns out these attacks have something to do with Saudia Arabia and the elected President of Venezuela. In Black Arrow, you face off against a Russian terrorist group funded by bad people who are trying to develop of a weapon of mass destruction and create a new country. I have a feeling Tom Clancy’s books do a better job at storytelling because the stories here do very little to hold my interest. In Rainbow Six 3, you can watch a cut scene before the start of each mission and the actual voice acting is nothing special. Your commanding officer will also provide a briefing before each mission and the Rainbow operatives will speak during gameplay but none of the voice performances really stand out. Black Arrow doesn’t have as many cut scenes but the ones that are present are a bit better. If you skip the cutscenes and don’t bother listening to the briefings, it won’t affect how you play. Your commanding officer guides you throughout each mission so it would be hard to not know what to do. At the end of missions you’ll be debriefed and in Black Arrow, you can view your score for the current mission. Black Arrow’s campaign is also a bit shorter than the base game’s campaign.

I didn’t get a chance to try the multiplayer but I can say that both games are basically identical in terms of gameplay when talking about the single player. I would recommend playing through the training in either game just to get familiar with how things work. When you start the campaign you first choose the difficulty of which there are three – Recruit, Veteran, and Elite. Unlike the PC version there is no planning, setting up teams, or micromanaging your operatives in any real way. Most missions have you leading a four-man team and if one member goes down, they’ll return in the next mission. The penalties for death are not extreme in these games, at least compared to Raven Shield’s campaign. If you die, you don’t switch to another operative. Instead, you have the option to restart from a previous save or restart the mission entirely. I should mention that you’re provided a limited number of saves per mission so don’t expect to save every five seconds. You and your team members have health bars, meaning you can take a few shots before going down. That, alone, will drastically change how you play because that tension experienced in the PC version is now basically gone. You can walk, lean left and right, crouch, slowly open and close doors, and zoom with any weapon. You’re always equipped with night vision and thermal vision goggles, both of which can be utilized for better vision in specific situations. Being a squad-based shooter, you can command your team to perform different actions like moving to locations, hold their position, opening doors, breaching doors, open doors and throw grenades, defuse bombs, restrain NPC’s, etc. You can also perform these actions yourself. You can toggle a Zulu go-code meaning you command your team members to perform an action on Zulu. This is good for coordinated assaults like if you want your team to breach a room from one door while you breach from another at the same time. Not only can you issue commands using the controller but if you have the headset, you can issue actual voice commands which is pretty cool. There’s a lot less trial and error here compared to the PC version. I would say the gameplay here is streamlined, probably due to it being on console and it’s actually a precursor to what we would see in games like Rainbow Six: Lockdown or the Vegas games.

Before the start of each mission, you’re given the opportunity to view your team members and equip your character. But only your character. You can select a primary weapon, secondary weapon, a couple of grenades, maybe a breaching charge, even a gas mask which is great if you plan on using tear gas grenades. The weapons and equipment in Rainbow Six 3 carry over into Black Arrow but I do wish Black Arrow had a bigger selection. There’s several assault rifles, sniper rifles, submachine guns, a couple of shotguns, some handguns, even grenade launchers. You can view each weapon’s attributes in terms of range, accuracy, damage and things like that and specific weapons are silenced but there’s no weapon attachments to choose from, armor types, or anything like that. What you see is what you get. The weapons don’t even have alternate modes. You only get three team members total, you cannot choose your team members, and you cannot equip them. The team member AI is actually not that great. They frequently get in your way and cluster together which becomes annoying. It becomes a big problem in doorways and corridors, two things that are prevalent in every map. Now they will cover your back and kill enemies here and there but often times their aim is for shit and even if you blind terrorists with a flashbang first or be as cautious as possible, there’s still a good chance your operatives will be killed before the end of a mission unless you do all of the legwork. Furthermore, they will frequently stand right in the middle door ways as they open them to throw grenades before entering, leaving themselves exposed to gunfire.

Having health bars really makes these iterations significantly more forgiving than the PC version. With that said, due to my experience with Raven Shield, I went into this trying to be as careful as possible and after I realized I could take a few shots, I was able to get through some missions rather quickly. If you’re accurate and quick to aim, you can easily breeze through areas, dropping every terrorist in sight without too much of a problem. I think there’s this slight auto-aim thing going on so as long as your crosshairs are close to the target, your shots always seem to make contact. As forgiving as this is, it’s only forgiving compared to the PC version. Compared to other first-person shooters, it can be tough. This is not a fast-paced arcade shooter or anything like that. If you don’t know the map in and out, you should still be careful, walk and crouch when needed, lean around corners, and be quick with your shots. Spraying will get you nowhere so you’ll want to shoot in bursts. You’ll also want to utilize flash grenades before entering rooms with possible hostages, take cover behind walls and objects if you’re under fire, and analyze your surroundings carefully before proceeding forward. Now the enemy AI is decent but also not that great. They’ll shoot at you if they spot you, throw grenades, fire rockets, and run to cover or another room when under fire. They will also do things like shoot hostages or set off bombs, resulting in a mission failure, if you’re not quick to take them out. They’ll even take hostages as shields during a firefight. You’ll also have to watch out for enemy snipers that can drop you instantly if you’re not paying attention. As for their stupidity, I’ve seen them run right towards me without shooting, refuse to move when repeatedly getting shot, not react when I’m clearly in view, even run into my line of fire. I think the enemy placement is slightly randomized but it doesn’t seem to be drastic. From my experience with the campaigns, in most cases, enemies always seem to spawn in the same general area no matter how many times you replay. For instance, a terrorist may be in one room during one playthrough but in the next, he’ll be in the room next door or in a different spot in the same room. Basically, there’s always a general area where enemies are a guarantee. One thing I don’t like is that the campaigns like to throw ambushes at you. There’s several missions where you get to a location and enemies come pouring out from multiple locations. Yes, the game is more forgiving, but you can still die rather quickly if you’re not careful and I guess I’m just not used to going up against unexpected hordes of enemies in a Rainbow Six game, at least in the earlier titles.

The missions, or maps, in Rainbow Six 3 are based on the maps seen in the PC version and I believe the maps in Black Arrow are based on the maps in the Raven Shield expansion, Athena Sword. Or at least some of them, my memory of the PC maps are a little fuzzy. And possibly the Iron Wrath expansion but I don’t really remember. I believe more maps were made available to download over Xbox Live during the time these games were in their prime but I was only able to play the maps that came on each disc. The maps vary in theme and I do prefer the maps in Black Arrow just because they feel like more exotic locations. Several of the Black Arrow maps are also some of the largest out of both games. You’ll traverse through maps set in locations all throughout the world including an alpine village in Switzerland, an island estate in the Dutch Caribbean, a penthouse in Venezuela, a subway station in London, a military base in Russia, and plenty of other exotic places. The biggest difference with the maps here compared to their PC counterparts is that they’re much more linear and a lot less open. You can still navigate anywhere within each map but you’re clearly funneled in a specific direction. Basically, the missions have you going from one end of the map to the other. There’s plenty of cooridors, rooms, and some maps have multiple floors and there’s always a specific way to get to your objective. Doors that may have been present in the PC version are non-functional here and some doors and areas are just missing or changed entirely. I’ll give it some slack because of the limitations of the console but this linearity also brings down the tension because it reduces the need and risk of trying different strategies and approaches. Furthermore, you’re objective locations are always marked on your minimap so you don’t really have to explore. What’s funny is, your commanding officer will sometimes tell you that you need to find an alternate route but the reality is there’s only one route you can follow. Normally, the missions have you completing multiple objectives which usually involve eliminating terrorists, rescuing hostages, defusing bombs, bugging devices, and things of that nature. Sometimes you need to complete an objective within a time limit and some missions only allow one or two team members to accompany you. You may even have to split from your team in some instances. Other missions require you to go in solo and these solo missions like to force stealth. And the stealth sequences are just terrible. In the base game, if you’re detected in any way, it’s an immediate mission failure. Black Arrow includes a stealth mission that gives you a little more freedom. You can use a silenced weapon to shoot enemies but if they detect you there’s a chance they will detonate a bomb. The mission still sucks but at least it’s not so trial and error.

Outside of the campaign and multiplayer is the Custom Mission mode. This was my favorite mode in the PC version but this mode, too, has seen some cut backs in the console releases. In Rainbow Six 3, Custom Mission includes two game types – Practice Mission and Terrorist Hunt. Black Arrow adds in the Lone Rush game type. Practice Mission allows you to basically replay or practice any already completed or unlocked missions. Terrorist Hunt requires you to eliminate all of the terrorists on the map. In Lone Rush, you must reach the extraction zone before the timer expires. You start with a set amount of time and need to move fast. Each kill rewards you with extra time and defusing bombs and rescuing civilians rewards you with even more time. Kill a civilian and you immediately fail the mission. This mode is literally about rushing, hence the name, so you always need to keep moving. I was expecting this to be more like Lone Wolf as seen in the PC version, which I prefer. But, no. The health system would probably eliminate all of the tension from a typical Lone Wolf mode so this arcade style timing will keep you on your toes. You need to move fast and eliminate enemies quickly. Custom Mission allows you to choose the game type, difficulty, and map. And the maps are the same maps seen in the campaigns and are unlocked as you progress through the campaigns. Unfortunately, there are no game types dedicated to rescuing hostages or defuse bombs. Terrorist Hunt has always been my favorite game type so I’m glad to see it makes an appearance and I’m happy to say it’s iteration here is pretty fun. It’s more fun in Raven Shield just due to the open maps but the concept still remains and it’s just fun running through the maps blasting away terrorists. You don’t have think all that much, just be careful and try not to die. I do wish the enemy placements had better randomization but then again, I don’t know how much of a difference that would make given the more condensed maps.

Visually, Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow basically look the same. They don’t look as good as the PC version but they look pretty good for the time they released and considering the hardware they’re running on. Textures and backgrounds can appear blurry but there’s plenty of detail in the environments and the animations aren’t too bad. NPC’s will ragdoll when killed and some reload animations could look better. Muzzle flashes look cool, you can shoot explosive barrels which produce a pretty awesome looking explosion, and it’s satisfying watching enemies run around on fire while listening to them scream in agony. Your operatives uniforms will be different depending on the map location and injured operatives will have visible blood on their bodies. Now the audio work, specifically the sound effects, are phenomenal. There’s doesn’t seem to be much music but the menu theme is memorable. I actually enjoyed the remixed menu music more in Black Arrow. The sound effects are what really steal the show here and I have to say I was impressed. All weapons fire sounds loud, powerful, and satisfying. The sounds of your footsteps will be different depending on the surface you’re walking on. Bullets will whiz past your head. Glass will loudly shatter when shot and explosions sound booming and intimidating. There’s also plenty of background sound effects that really bring the environments to life. You may hear traffic and the sounds of people in an urban setting. TV’s may be blasting a sports game or just static. In the New Orleans map you can hear what I think is this awesome jazz tune accompanied by the sounds of slot machines. The sound work is definitely one of the best aspects of these two entries. As for the performance, both games ran smooth most of the time but the frame rate would stutter here and there. When things get hectic or there’s a lot of smoke and action on the screen, the frame rate will noticeably dip.

I can say I had fun with these games but I do think the PC version is far superior to both. These console versions are purely squad-based shooters. I don’t think I would call them tactical in any way. There’s tactical elements but it’s extremely skeletal in that regard when compared to Raven Shield. However, I still think these entries are fun, despite some issues. They’re decent console shooters. If you enjoyed the Vegas games, you should feel right at home here. I’ve heard some say that Lockdown is when the series started going downhill. But if you want to look at it in that negative light, it was these Rainbow Six 3 games for consoles that started the trend unless there’s something else I don’t know about. I may suck at the original games and Raven Shield but I can see why fans would be upset with how the series changed in recent years. The difference between Rainbow Six 3 and Lockdown is that both the PC and console versions Lockdown were streamlined from the beginning whereas only the console versions of Rainbow Six 3 were streamlined, and I’m guessing that was due to the console limitations among other possible reasons. Another thing I’d like to point out is that Black Arrow doesn’t really contain any major refinements to the single player or a ton of new content. Now I never played the multiplayer so maybe there was a bunch of changes there. I think there were changes made to the leaning mechanic which apparently had more of an impact in multiplayer because I didn’t notice any difference in the single player. A lot of the changes here like the lack of the planning phase and team customization, the more linear and condensed maps, and the overall forgiving nature of the gameplay also reduce the replay value in significant ways. I definitely feel these console versions are more accessible to anyone new to the series but they also don’t represent what the Rainbow Six series was known for.

Ultimately, I would recommend both Rainbow Six 3 and Black Arrow to fans of squad-based shooters and action games. If you’ve never played Rainbow Six 3 in any form before I would say check out the PC version first. These console releases feel more like watered-down versions of Raven Shield. The campaigns across all versions are nothing special, I’m guessing it’s easier to get online games going in the PC version, and everything that makes the PC version, and the even the prequels, special like planning and customization are just not here. But if these do look interesting to you, I would recommend you pick up both. Black Arrow is just more of the same with new maps so if you like the base game, there’s no reason not to try it. You can find them in almost any retro game store, at least around where I live, and there’s usually multiple copies on the shelves. They’re pretty cheap, too. I think I acquired my copies for under five or ten dollars each. In the end, even with the online multiplayer no longer active by normal means, I would say these are good games but if you’ve played Raven Shield, expect to be disappointed.

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