by Guest Writer Mike Augustine
Special thanks to Bill Grant for the screenshots
Red Storm’s latest offering in the Rainbow Six series is called Raven Shield. After offering players a military style tactical game, with their “Ghost Recon” trilogy, Red Storm is back in the counter force/urban warfare business. Let’s have a look at Raven Shield and see how it stacks up, compared to the history of the Rainbow Six series, and see if we have a winner.
Harnessing the next generation Unreal engine, Raven Shield takes the elite counter-terrorist force of the Rainbow operatives into 15 new single player missions, some new online game styles, and old favorites from the past. Installing on a whopping 2 GB of hard drive real estate, players can experience some of the most detailed and best textured maps available to date.
The storyline is basically the same as in past Rainbow titles. Red Storm isn’t changing one of the best squad based tactical shooters to hit the market. Our last journey into the Rainbow world was in Rogue Spear, set in 2002, the Rainbow team was sent to the Balkans, the Middle East, and points in between, stamping out terrorists as they went. The year is now 2005 and the threats remain largely the same. The game offers the player the opportunity to lead the team through the linked missions that form the storyline, planning the missions, and executing them to the best of one’s abilities. The player assumes a dual role, functioning as both mission leader and team leader. As mission leader, you are responsible for selecting the teams, choosing their equipment, preparing the assault plan, issuing the “Go Codes” that move the other teams through the mission, and managing the snipers and their targets. As the team leader, you’ll be personally leading a three-man squad to complete the mission. Missions change in degree of difficulty as you move through the campaign, consisting of the standard search and destroy, hostage rescue, and recon style missions of the past. Mission intensity is awesome!! Stopping an armed gang from making a London bank heist, or discovering a deadly cache of biological weapons, most missions will leave you sweating the tactical details before the action begins and living through the heart pounding action until mission completion. Red Storm has been able to add some nice graphical improvements that take the whole Raven Shield experience to the next level. How is the game set up?
The Game Options
The main game screen allows you to select what pre-game options you want to manage. Campaign, Custom Mission, Multiplayer, Training, Options, Credits, and Quit allow one to move around in the program and experience the Raven Shield world.
The campaign option is pretty much self-explanatory. One can choose one’s level of difficulty by setting the AI reaction times. Ranging in skill from Recruit (Easy), Veteran (Moderate), or Elite (Hard), the player will determine how much time the AI will take before shooting and the level of shooting accuracy. The set up screen allows the player to save, delete, or start a new campaign as they wish.
The custom missions will be familiar to past Rainbow players. Choosing from one of four mission options, this is a great way to practice and hone your killing skills. Practice Mission allows one to play out a mission exactly as it plays in the campaign. Lone Wolf pits you against the terrorists, as you make your way to an extraction point. Terrorist Hunt is strictly a last man standing style of play. Hostage Rescue allows you to practice protecting a defenseless hostage as you escort them to an extraction zone. Just as in the campaign, you can choose from three levels of AI skill and (except for the practice mission mode) set the number of adversaries you will face.
Raven Shield also offers an excellent Training option. One can play out several scenarios, from room clearing, to hostage rescue, or explosives uses. There is also a shooting range to allow one to familiarize oneself with the weapons you have available. New players to the Rainbow series will be grateful for the training options Red Storm provided.
The program also has an Options interface that allows the player to optimize the visual, aural, control, game play, and multiplayer aspects of the game. Settings will, of course, vary depending on machine specs and personal preferences, but it is widely scalable.
The Planning Computer
The heart of the pre-mission work occurs in what Red Storm refers to as “The Planning Computer”. This is where you, as the mission leader, will receive all the necessary mission intelligence, plan the mission, select the Rainbow operatives for the teams, determine what weapons or tools they’ll need to complete the task. Rainbow operatives specialize in five skill areas, assault, recon, sniping, demolitions, and electronics. The crucial factors of successfully finishing your mission are often times determined in this part of the game. Assigning the proper operative to the proper team is vitally important. Not only are operatives processing different skill levels, their leadership, self-control, stealth, and powers of observation factor into your team assignments. As you move through the campaign missions, your operatives get better and they improve their skills. This makes careful planning of the missions more and more important. You don’t want to lose one of your best snipers or demolition experts in a sloppy raid or walk them into an ambush on the way to the target. Raven Shield has smoothed out the command interface and it is now much easier, and much more intuitive, to plan your teams’ actions during the missions.
After you’ve formulated a plan of attack, armed your operative teams, planned their way into and out of the mission area…it is time to start the action! The Unreal engine has allowed some of the best, most atmospheric, maps ever created, to be the settings for your combat. Deep shadows, nice lighting effects, object textures, and the sheer detail of the maps fill the eye with a “you are there” sense of foreboding. Moving around in this realistic looking environment gives one a sense of dread and helps build the tension level that this game thrives on. The maps range in content from oil refineries, prisons, warehouses, businesses, to banks. All feature multi-level threats. You soon learn to not only look down into the dark shadowy alleys, under stairways, and around corners, but you’ll be looking up at windows, catwalks, and any other possible spot that might hide a terrorist laying in wait to take out your team. I love the sheer sense of suspense that this game builds. When gunfire erupts I often find myself flinching in my chair. My wife finds this hilarious, but these are the moments of surprise that we all play for. Raven Shield has them in spades!
The 3Dcharacter models are improved as well. A quick glance at a teammate will show you how many grenades he still has, since you can see them on his belt! All the equipment assigned to your teams will be viewable on the 3D models. No more magically appearing weapons! The characters still have random, real life movements too. Watching them breath, nervously glancing around, and shifting their body positions all lend a sense of realism to the game play. Red Storm has added rag doll physics to the bodies, who will tumble down stairs or collapse in a heap if shot. No more strange episodes of finding a Korpse on a stairway with his feet pointing straight out, giving new meaning to the term “stiff”. I have seen some funny body contortions with the new feature, but it is a nice new addition to the game.
New to the Rainbow series is a first person weapon view. Controversial at the inception, Red Storm allowed the option to be toggled on and off, if the player wishes. I originally had mixed feelings about the new look. Since one doesn’t actually aim with the weapon, I felt it took up needless screen space and wouldn’t offer enough information to the player to make it useful. Red Storm once tossed around the idea of using the iron sights, something that one can now do in the new Viet Cong game, but opted not to. The current gun position may not be the last and the development team is looking at some other options. I’ve changed my mind after playing the game and think the inclusion of the weapon view adds immensely to the experience. If you run a magazine dry, the receiver remains open, and if you reload your weapon you can watch as the gun gets recharged right before your eyes…. it DOES add to the sense of realism one experiences. Aiming with the iron sights would someday be nice, but not totally necessary.
Other weapon effects have been added as well. Using smoke grenades will help provide valuable cover when crossing open ground under fire. Flash bangs and gas grenades will now give multiple effects. Sight, sound, and balance are all affected. You can render bad guys impotent by proper deployment of these tools. I have a special fondness for the new gas grenades. I’ve been able to use them as an effective barrier to pursuing tangos, buying precious time and distance from my enemies. In online multi-play, against human opponents and playing against people who understand the proper use of gas grenades, one can find oneself trapped in a room or building, while being flanked, and unable to respond. I know. I’ve been there. You can either sit and wait for the inevitable assault or run into the choking, blinding, cloud of gas. Talk about having limited options!!!!
Weapon selection is nice. All the weapons from the last Rainbow title are present, plus nine new ones. They are the:
- SR-2 Machine Pistol
- Micro-Uzi Machine Pistol
- Mac 11/9 Machine Pistol
- USAS-12 Automatic Shotgun
- MTAR-21 Bullpup Sub Machinegun
- TAR-21 Bullpup Assault Rifle
- Type 95 Bullpup Assault Rifle
- 23E Light Machinegun
- VSS Vintorez Silenced Sniper Rifle
In the past, each weapon came in many different versions, either scope mounted or silenced. The Raven Shield team has broadened the ability to customize each weapon by adding weapon attachments to ALL the weapons. Attachments include sound suppressors or thermal scopes (sniper rifles only), high capacity magazines, and mini scopes. One now has over 150-weapon configurations available to choose from! Some complaints about strange attachment and weapon combinations have been raised, but one has wide options to choose from now. My old favorite, the MP5SD5 SMG is here. As in past Rainbow games…recoil is modeled and effects accuracy. I’m not a weapons or ballistic expert, but the overall feeling between using heavier caliber guns and the lighter weapons seems believable to me.
Player movement has been enhanced as well. New to the Raven Shield game is the ability to slowly open a door with the mouse wheel. This is invaluable if you want to peek into a room, or crack open a door to toss in a flash bang or frag. It is also really nice to watch your team open a door and frag a room before rushing in to clear it of any remaining baddies. There is also a new underhanded grenade toss option that gives the player another tactic for delivering the smoke, gas, or fragmentation grenades. The old stances are there as well…one can play standing erect, crouched, or prone. All affect your aiming accuracy. One can peek around corners. One can also run, although this affects your ability to aim well and greatly increases the amount of noise you make. Making noise is dangerous.
I can’t emphasize how important sound has become in this game. The sounds are very well done. You’ll need to be as quite as possible moving through the missions. As in real life, if the bad guys hear you, you will have lost the element of surprise. Nothing will ruin your carefully made plans faster than bumbling too quickly through an area and being discovered by some terrorist out on guard duty. You have to pay attention to the sounds you and the teams are making and you have to listen for the sounds of the terrorists too. Hearing someone run up a flight of stairs ahead or behind you might be cause for some panic if you’re on a strict “No Contact” recon mission. The AI will respond appropriately if they hear gunfire or explosions, so the risk of premature contact on a mission will have an impact on your mission’s possible outcome.
The AI in the game is better than I have seen before. They will seek cover before returning fire, try and flank your position if possible, pursue with a vengeance, and use grenades viciously. One of the pleasures I’ve had in following this Rainbow series has been watching the evolution of the AI. I’ve been frustrated countless times in past Rainbow games by tangos that killed me without even raising a weapon, or even facing me! It was during the Ghost Recon trilogy that I thought realistic AI behaviors were finally achieved. Elite levels are very difficult to play against. They have better accuracy and fire faster than the other levels. If you think you can stand your ground “Rambo style” and fight it out, you won’t have a good Rainbow experience. The best rule, if you find yourself under fire, is RUN LIKE HELL for some cover. Red Storm is famous for their brand of game play they call “one-shot, one-kill lethality”. No hit points or graduating body damage in this game! It is an extremely unforgiving environment, if your playing style tends to lean towards the foolhardy…I hope you’re playing on the other team.
The real strength of the Rainbow series has always been the multi-play aspect of the game. There is hardly anything more satisfying than playing with (or against) humans in a squad based, realistic, combat environment. One has the option of either LAN or Internet play. Unlike past Rainbow issues, Raven Shield forces you to create a Ubi.com account to see any servers. I’m not happy about this. I prefer a direct IP to IP connection. The only reasons I can think of for Ubi to require us to join through them are all negative ones, from my point of view anyway. This may be a minor gripe for some, but it really bugs me.
Online play is divided into two different styles of action. Playing an adversarial mode allows one to choose between five games.
Survival: A free-for-all melee with the last man standing declared the winner
Team Survival: Same as above, except the last team standing is the winner.
Bomb: The Green team must prevent bombs from being detonated; Red team must blow the bombs.
Hostage: Green team must recover AI hostages and escort them to an extraction zone, fighting off the Red team as they go.
Pilot: The Green team must escort a downed Blackhawk helicopter pilot (played by a Green team member) to an extraction zone. The pilot is only armed with a pistol. The Red team will try and kill the pilot.
The second mode of online play is cooperative and has three styles of games.
Mission: One can play single player games with human team members against AI enemies.
Terrorist Hunt: Just what it sounds like.
Hostage Rescue: Save the hostages and provide them escort.
My online experiences have been somewhat less than satisfying. Although the minimum specs for online play are listed as a 56K connection, I have serious lag issues if more than four players are connected. Playing missions against the AI also seems to cause serious lag. The issues I have been experiencing are, by far, worse than any previous Rainbow or Ghost Recon title. I’ve always considered the Red Storm net code to be some of the tightest multi-play code available. I can’t say whether it is the new game or routing through Ubi, but it hasn’t been as smooth as I was expecting. I have received numerous reports from broadband users that aren’t having lag issues, so it seems limited to dial-up.
There has been one patch issued already, but it doesn’t address any game play issues. Ubisoft added a CD key to each disk for security checks. Unfortunately, several buyers had issues with the CD key and weren’t allowed into their game. I appreciate companies’ intentions to protect their product, but it is bad public relations and a needless hassle for legitimate consumers. It leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and reflects on the game, undeservedly so. I also think the CD key patch has screwed up online play even more, with bad lag already an issue, it is much worse post patch. Several of us wonder if the key check function isn’t being accessed several times during the game, causing the stutters. I don’t know?
The Rainbow line of tactical, squad-based play is legendary. It isn’t for everyone, but if you crave a realistic combat experience, Raven Shield won’t disappoint.
I think Raven Shield is a great addition to the Rainbow Six line of tactical shooters. It offers enough new improvements to the game, both graphically and in game play, to warrant a big thumbs up from this reviewer. The AI is challenging, the campaign missions don’t feel contrived or impossible, and the user interface allows much better team control than in the past.
The Rainbow series was always mod friendly. Raven Shield is no exception. There are already new map packs to download, and more are sure to follow. Weapon modders are busy making their own contributions to the game too. There are sure to be official Red Storm releases as well. Longevity is a nice feature in any game and the mods allow the player and endless variety of options to test.
Before I end, I want to share one of the best ways to get maximum enjoyment from your online game experiences. This will be true whether I’m talking flight simulations or shooters.
Avoid public servers…at all costs. Find (or form) a group of like-minded individuals and set up a regular play date. You will be rewarded with a much deeper and much more satisfying level of play, protected against those that would cheat or use some kind of hack to gain advantage in the game. I have limited gaming time, so what time I spend online I want to be of the best possible quality. I don’t want to play against someone using auto-aim, someone who has bumped up his body armor, or experience any of the (all to numerous) complaints that fill the forums of the public servers.
It has been my great pleasure to belong to such a group. For over three years, we join every Saturday night for some online play. Always a Red Storm title, too. Cooperative or adversarial…..we do both with equal relish. Egos are set aside and trash talk fills the air. It has become a kind of “boys night out” or “virtual poker night”, except that we’re busy trying to kill our virtual selves. Getting killed isn’t a problem either…the banter between the other dead combatants is hilarious and often more fun than the actual mission we were just in. Insults can fly as fast and as furious as the bullets. It is a time to share personal experiences, troubles, seek advice, and get caught up with friends, and these guys have become very good friends. We call it, simply, “The Saturday Night Fights”.
Hey! I said we had fun, I didn’t say we were witty. Or deep, for that matter.
Playing with the same people for so long has been instructive in other ways. You learn someone’s style of play so well that you can often tell who is who, just by watching how he moves in the game. Since about half of us are on dial-up, we don’t use voice comms. For many, this would be less immersive or limit the way they experience the game in other ways. Not for the hardy souls of the SNF. It has forced us to become more observant of each other and we have learned some effective ways to use this to our advantage. For example, if I’m with someone and we’re approaching a door….I’ll be the one doing the opening while my partner covers. No words are exchanged, none are needed. We’ve done this a thousand times.
Some in our group have matching personalities and styles of play. They make great natural teams. Fear takes on new meaning when you are the last member of your team and being stalked by King Cobra and ZeroG. This pair move and cover like old pros. You can’t take out one without getting hit by the other. If I’m on their team…I stay the heck out of the road.
Some guys are much more suited for blow the doors off, full speed ahead, cram it down your throat, assaults. Greb, Hemi, and the Marshal fill the bill for this kind of action. Defending against this dynamic trio will leave you breathless, but more often than not, your dead. You find yourself falling back for new cover as the full court press comes down on you like a ton of bricks. It is great fun to watch them or fight them.
Some players develop a certain fondness for a particular weapon. In our band of brothers, JR can knock you out of the best cover with a well-placed grenade. If you see grenades lobbed towards your position, you can bet money on who is using them. If frags won’t do the trick, then he will teach you a thing or two about squad spacing as you move over open ground. Master of the heavy weapons, you don’t want to wander, exposed, into his heavy machinegun’s killing ground.
Some players are technicians. Fluke and the sniper rifle were made for each other. It is thrilling stuff to make a dash for cover across open ground while he takes out AI enemies exposing themselves to fire at you. If he is providing the cover…you’re almost bullet proof. If he is hunting you…you don’t feel safe anywhere.
We mix and match the players and the games. It is always exciting, funny, and a sure bet for a great evening of entertainment.
It doesn’t get any better than that.