It’s amazing that the second disk is still readable by my Retro WinXP machine. It has been heavily abused in 2003 and the years after that. Rainbow Six' third installment, Raven Shield (or simply RvS), is quite a departure from the crude looking Rogue Spear. For once, the gun you’re shooting with is rendered, and the game is operating under the Unreal 2 engine now. But the most fundamental change is the focus on action, rather than the planning.
Mind you, the planning is indeed still a big part of the core game, as each mission should be thoroughly prepared, and multiple teams can be deployed optimally at various extraction points in the map. However, when it comes down to business, RvS plays more like a blend of FPS shooters and its tactical predecessor, and that is a good thing. What’s not such a good thing is the crappy AI of your bot colleagues. The amount of times I’ve heard off the man! and cursed cannot be counted - and death of a teammate is permanent, given you want to finish the campaign with at least one Rainbow member standing.
Tactical shooters (thankfully!) play out very different compared to Unreal Tournament or DOOM: you approach slowly and carefully or you’ll hear the defeated tune quite often. This third Rainbow Six installment hits all the right notes on both tactics and action on my account. Still, one has to “watch your back”: especially on the higher difficulty settings, terrorists are trigger-happy and one shot usually kills. It’s not to say that I do not enjoy that. However, carrying a whole SWAT team with me and doing all the work myself is kind of a drag (literally). I don’t want people to die, so usually just before killing the last few enemies, one of my team members gets himself killed, and I can restart the level - again.
The decline in tactical gameplay of tactical shooters is a sad truth, according to Wikipedia:
[…] Even traditionally tactical shooter series like Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon have seen their sequels drift away from tactical realism towards cinematic action centered themes, as can be witnessed by, e.g., contemporary Rainbow Six sequels which completely do away with the series' iconic pre-action planning stage (last encountered in Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield), or the overly futuristic settings of Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, which provides players with invisibility cloaks and shoulder-mounted anti-tank rockets while failing to adhere to simple tactical realism paradigms like one-shot-one-kill.
Fortunately, there is one immense draw in playing this game - even today - and that is cooperative multiplayer. Setup a local network, invite some friends, and enjoy the game it’s meant to be played. I’ve had countless hours of fun doing exactly that back in 2003, when we as students had time but not the money to buy multiple games. Now, we don’t have time but do have money. Guess which alternative is better.
If a friend is killed in battle, you can still switch to ghost cam and help him out by instructing or warning. I did not mind dying first and had just as much fun helping out that way. I usually died first anyway, especially in the bank level where my reckless shotgun charge usually caused my friend to roll his eyes. We both knew what was going to happen (Off the man!) but that didn’t stop us from having fun. I double-dipped for this very reason by buying another copy through Steam: you’ll be needing multiple valid serial keys for the local network mode.
Reinstalling and playing the game through the missions again (of which I know most enemy placement by heart) was a very nostalgic ride through memory lane, which did leave a bit of a bitter aftertaste. Not because of the game, or it’s lackluster sequels that never managed to reach RvS' heights (Rainbow Six Lockdown, its sequel, is the first game to completely remove the planning phase. It was developed with an unfortunate focus for console gamers…), but because playing it single player now simply sucks compared to playing with friends. It makes me miss those uncomplicated times where we biked to the nearest game shop as soon as the first expansion, Athena Sword, was released. Finally, more maps! The second expansion, Iron Wrath, is now freely available as a mod. I don’t think we ever managed to go through all these missions.
We were too busy having fun with sniper rifles in the now levels or with shotguns in the bank…