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Classic Game Review #3

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The name Tom Clancy is synonymous with both the techno-thriller novel (with spinoff movies) and the tactical combat game. It wasn't always this way. I cut my teeth on the excellent early nineties 'Nam saga, SEAL Team and later with the flawed but playable SpecOps and limited but entertaining Delta Force titles before I'd even heard of Rainbow Six. And while technology gaps got between R6 and my PC at the time, the flagship title for my spanking new Pentium III at Christmas 1999 was the eagerly awaited Rogue Spear.

This is where I first saw a tactical sim be all it could be. RS and it's true successor, the [Ghost Recon], are still the tactical shooters that all others want to be. And rare is the game that, like the Empire Strikes Back movie, outdoes both its predecessor and all sequels. Okay enough name dropping. I think my geek credentials are assured. So what was so great about RS? Everything. The game had an engaging, believable plotline, tactical depth, an interesting approach to replayability and excellent graphics.

For those not familiar with the Rainbow Six mythology a brief history: John Clark, a CIA man from Clancy's Jack Ryan books, is assigned to head a multinational anti-terrorist unit modelled on the British SAS. Members of Rainbow Six are the best of the best, recruited from US, NATO and other allied 'good guy' countries' own hostage rescue teams. Their main job is counter terrorism - storming hijacked airliners, defusing bombs and occasionally capping a shadowy target. The first game in the series, based on the book, has the Rainbow unit chasing down a shady bunch of eco-terrorists aiming to use biological warfare or something to bring about a resurgence of the planet's natural state...or something.

Lost? So was I. It's a Republican wet dream, sadly written at the time Osama bin Laden was planning real attacks on US embassies and navy ships. The silly story (and shoddy pathfinding) of R6 meant that it's sequel had a lot to improve upon. And while the third title in the series goes after the even more far-fetched neo-Nazi global conspiracy, it is Rogue Spear that dares to call a spade a spade. The bad guys are a bunch of Central Asian Islamic radicals who have exploited the fall of the former Soviet 'stans to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. No hokey yellowcake or test tubes here. You won't be kicking down Al Gore's door in the dead of night. It's a believable premise ripped from today's headlines. There is something eternally gratifying in going after terrorists with a background and motivations that seem plausible, and a good story is one of the five pillars of gaming.

This excellent premise is woven into a string of fifteen or so linear missions. Before starting a job you can select up to eight squad members from your international team and outfit them with relevant equipment. Weapon modders have added much over the years but the original lineup is still impressive. There are demo and door charges, shotguns, machine-pistols, silenced weapons, assault rifles and shotguns; sniper rifles, frag, smoke and flash grenades; black or green nomex ninja suits, urban, woodland and desert camouflage BDUs. Even after six or seven years I'm-hard pressed to think of a more comprehensive arsenal. You can also play the training missions as many times as you want, raiding rooms and blowing in doors at the Hereford Killhouse to your heart's content. I spent much of the first two weeks doing just that - honing my planning and assault skills before tackling the actual story missions. I suggest anyone else who wants to play for the first time does the same, because the missions are tough.

And what a variety of missions they are. Assault museums and theater houses. Sneak into holiday homes and plant bugs. Storm a 747 or a supertanker (by the way I've been to Athens international and its flatter than that, guys!). Sound like stuff you've done before? Not unless you've done it the R6 way. Before each mission you're given the choice of planning your assault or taking the default route. Trust me, you should plan. You're given a schematic of the building or target in question, and allowed to plan team movements, time and coordinate assaults and perfect your, ahem, perfect rescue. This ensures that in terms of replayablity the missions take a long time to get old.

Sure, there's multiplayer with staples like team deathmatch co-op, but the real meat of replayability is in the near endless variations of approach to each mission. Do you take six team members or eight? Do you need a sniper? Two teams of four or four teams of two? Simultaneous entry from multiple points or a quiet sneak in the back door? Blow it open or pick the lock? Flash or frag? This planning even extends to the training missions and you can sit back as Clark and watch your team carry out your assault or jump in to be the team leader as one of the squad in first person mode. Perfect plan sucked? There's a replay movie function to see where you went wrong.

My only real complaint is that the enemies are superb marksmen, even with inaccurate weapons like the scorpion machine-pistol. Too frequently they'll hear you, wheel and plant one in the eye even before you get off the shot you had lined up for them. And when sticking your head around the corner it sucks to get capped for the third time today by Johnny Deadeye in a window a hundred meters away with a pistol. But this difficulty serves only to underscore the difficulty facing real counter terror teams. To get all the hostages and team members out alive you need a perfect plan. And if you plan carefully enough, it won't matter how accurate the bad guys are. There is an auto aim function to help cover the accuracy problem by zeroing you on the nearest hostile target in your field of view, but to get more pleasure I suggest toggling it off and playing with a mod that reduces enemy reaction time and marksmanship.

It takes a few outings to start to see the campaign emerge and like GR, the story is drip-fed to you in briefings before each mission. As it unfolds you start to see a grand conspiracy of nuclear-terrorism that starkly reflects our own modern day fears. Interwoven are a few 'side quests' - non story-related missions that serve to add variety and give the game a sense of time and place. One such job has Rainbow making its way through a shelled-out Kosovo suburb to rescue downed US pilots from Serb nationalist forces. This game was made in 1999, the year of the Kosovo action. Granted it was only one mission, but five years after 9/11 we're still waiting for a tactical shooter to do Afghanistan any justice. The final takedown is a piece of pure magic that culminates in atmosphere, storytelling and tactical variety.

Using Red Storm's own proprietary engine, all this tactical depth is delivered with solid graphical panache. While not cutting edge at the time, the character models and maps were very high-end and still serve the game well today. The skins and weapons are excellently rendered (and as with GR, modders have created many more since). This is old school, pre-Ubisoft and before consoles were ever considered as a market, so you can't see your weapon ahead of you, only the reticle. The original GR, built on an updated version of the same engine, looks familiar after Rogue Spear. Character animation blew me away at first, with friendlies and tangos motion-captured into lifelike movements. Rainbow members stack up beside doorways and storm in with weapons ready; snipers quietly set up and keep their rifles trained; sneaking has assulters moving at a slow, careful crouch through darkened corridors. An angry terrorists stalks confidently around toward you; a surprised one runs in panic to tell his mates only to drop, dare I say ragdoll-like when your bullets catch him in the back.

There was an expansion, Urban Operations that eschewed a cohesive story for a few more maps and missions. However I get the feeling that multiplay was the focus of this and RSE were satisfying demand for outdoor Counter-Strike style maps for the competitive gaming community. Still, these maps were pretty and have been put to good use in the countless campaigns scripted by talented modders. Modders have also built new missions and maps from scratch over the years. One of the last I played had me raiding bin Laden's mountain hideout in the waning months of 2001.

If there's one game I'd like to see ported intact to a modern graphics engine it's this one. With a couple of less realistic yet more immersive flairs, for example Call of Duty's visible first-person weapon and animated iron-sight aiming, this could be repackaged and re-released as a timely reminder of what kind of threats we face today (hint: it's not Hillary Clinton) and bring some much needed plausibility back into the storytelling of combat games. Seven years after its release, I still give the game five stars. A great story, solid graphics and near limitless tactical replayability, RS was also shipped completely bug-free: a level of polish and craftmanship hard to find these days. The latest and highly simplified R6 title, Lockdown, is pretty has hell, but silly by comparison. If ever there were a case study for gameplay over graphics, it would be this enduring title. For those who've never played Rogue Spear, it's not too late to raid the bargain bins and find out what Red Storm games were like before consoles mattered.

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Oh wow. I had totally forgotten about SpecOps until you mentioned it there in the beginning. Yeah, that was a fun game back in the day.

As for Rogue Spear I totally agree. It raised the bar from RB6 the original in terms of realism and detail. The mission planning is something I love doing and I wish more TacSims had this feature. I remember playing multiplayer with my friends over dialup. Now I still have dialup but I can't play games.... what happened? ;)

Anyway, it's too bad the more current games in this series went the route of "run and gun" instead of focusing on the core gameplay that everyone loved. Read the Tom Clancy book Rainbow Six and you'll want to play these games all over again. :)

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Rogue Spear and Urban Operations...thats where I was blooded in FPS. Loved those game sooo much.

GR was the next big thing I looked to after RS and UO...a cahnce to play a serious FPS outdoors.

Brillieant! If you loved GR and never tried RS and U - get them ASAP.

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Nice one Budgie, I stuck it on the news page at agr-s.com.

I loved RS/UO, after cutting my Tactical Shooter teeth in Rainbow Six, RS/Urban Ops was a real treat, had some great great games, even on dial-up modems back then remember!

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What do you fancy next - Shogun or Brothers in Arms?

BIA isn't really old enough. Shogun's definitely a classsic, these days. :thumbsup:

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awesome review Budgie. Brought me right back to my formative gaming days.

God I love Rouge Spear.... I wish I could personally say thank you to all the RSE guys who had a hand in it.

Edited by JTF-2

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Rogue Spear and Urban Operations...thats where I was blooded in FPS. Loved those game sooo much.

Me too, thats the first FPS game I played, and the first multiplayer FPS game aswell.

I met alot of cool friends there too.

Ah those were the days. And yeah, firefly, im on dial up and most games just play like plain crap, what happened? ;)

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