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Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield
Requirements:
  • Windows 98/ME/2000/XP
  • Pentium 3 800Mhz or greater with 128MB RAM (256MB for XP)
  • DirectX compatible 32MB video accelerator or greater
  • DirectX compatible sound card and 16x CD-ROM drive
  • 1.7GB hard disk space or greater

  • Official website: http://www.raven-shield.com

The counter-terrorist theme seems to be quite popular in the current climate of PC games, what with Counter-Strike being the most popular multiplayer game and the huge success of the Rainbow Six series. However they are not for everyone, as walking in and blasting everything is sight is hardly the point of these games. A lot of people find the tactical planning and patience required to perform well in these games is just not worth it. It's ironic that in many circumstances, these games require better reactions and target acquisition skills than the hardcore first-person blasters!

Enter Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, weilding a very friendly interface, superb graphics, enjoyable gameplay and as always, an equally cryptic name. Yes, Raven Shield has once again elevated the bar for special operations games, bringing it alongside Splinter Cell in terms of enjoyment.

For those of you new to the Rainbow Six series, you are a member of an elite special forces unit that is dispatched to "solve" critical situations around the world. I say solve because gunfire is not always necessary, missions can vary from terrorist takedowns to stealthy infiltrations. Hostages and bombs might be present to add more to the mix, and you might be up against anyone from a chaotic gang of uzi-toting madmen to an organised, neo-facist terror network. Unfortunately, it's the latter than you face in Raven Shield.

I was pleased to see that Raven Shield has not altered the classic Rainbow Six feel - the menus are typically easy to read and everything is presented in a nice orderly fashion. The briefings haven't change, they've simply been upgraded - videos now play where static pictures used to be, and point out the locations of interest throughout the mission area. As always, opinions and advice are available from various advisors, and news reports on your previous missions are readable. Revamped is the word, and it has done the visuals a world of good. Functionally however, everything is still as it was in Rogue Spear, the previous Rainbow game.

Custom auto-aim
Not the most elegant death
The heartbeat sensor in action

As for the planning stage of each mission, things couldn't be better. I have to admit that in the original Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear, the planning section just didn't interest me, simply because it was too fiddly and annoying. Not so in Raven Shield, everything is clear, easy to use and providing you have set up your controls properly, a simple plan can be up and running in a few minutes. There are no guarantees to its success though, and I had to revisit the planning stage a few times to prevent my entire team getting massacred in a doorway, for instance. Failures in the action phase (where you dish out the pre-prepared punishment) actually encourage me to fine-tune my plan to make it perfect. If one team member even catches his arm on a thorny bush, it's back to the map to modify his waypoints. What can I say, I'm a perfectionist!

If all that is not for you, then you can simply load an existing plan (one exists for each mission upon installation) so you can leap straight into the action. You may feel like you're being lead around on a leash if you do this though, and you're missing at least a third of the fun.

I'm sure you're all waiting to read about the new weapons and equipment, but i'm going to have to delay that for a second while I mention the graphics and sound. I don't normally pay much attention to these unless they're special in some way, and both are in Raven Shield. The graphics are for the first time I believe, heavily modifiable. Shadows, light levels, smoke complexity and model/texture detail are all changeable. Gore level can be adjusted and you can choose whether to leave bodies on the floor or not. Any system should be fine with Raven Shield; I really cannot envisage a problem unless you're on a GeForce 2 with a poor processor. If you possess more than a 1Ghz and a GeForce 3 you should be fine.

On the sound front, things really caught my attention during the training missions, when I tried an MP5 on full auto. The sounds compared to Rogue Spear are just levels above, with the gunfire and explosions being crispier, clearer and generally more impressive. Ambience is not overused in missions, and while the voice acting is acceptable, the accents of various characters are quite unexpected. The psychologist during the briefings has a particularly amusing accent, occasionally forcing me to actually read the text to understand.

The standard rifle scope...
...now with thermal vision!
Being the best demands the best, and Raven Shield caters for this need by making available some of the coolest equipment i've seen in a special forces game. Top of the list must be the heartbeat sensor, which if used properly, can give you the advantage in nearly every situation. They consist of a pair of goggles that visually show the position and rate of heartbeats nearby, allowing you to calculate which are valid targets for takedown. If you fancy a different approach and happen to have a marksman with you, give him a thermal scope for his rifle. This is excellent for support team members, since they can provide covering fire and with a quick toggle, guide you to anybody (or any body) within range.

On the weapons side of things there is a large selection, topping that of any previous Rainbow Six game. Sub-machine guns, assault rifles, sidearms, sniper rifles and explosives are all selectable and in all honesty I didn't have a clue what half of them had over the others. Generally, one or two weapons with a silencer will suffice for most missions, with the occasional shotgun for those close encounters. The type of ammunition seems to make more of a difference this time round than in previous games, which I realised upon being peppered in the ribs by a terrorist with what appeared to be a small pistol. Heavy armour is this case was a good choice, but reloading and other movement intensive actions are compromised if you decide to use it.

Throwables include the standard frag grenade, flashbang and smoke grenade. New on the list is tear gas, a similar to a smoke grenade but heavily debilitating to anyone not wearing a gas mask. Breaching charges are still in, and claymores are also back, but this time appear to be a tad more powerful (they annihilate doors quite nicely). If you find yourself on the receiving end of a flashbang, the effects are extremely nasty indeed. Your vision blurrs, white noise with ringing in your ears can be heard, and generally you're about as effective as a jellyfish for about 10-15 seconds, plenty of time for whoever threw it to pop in and dispatch you. Note that grenades work both ways - they are equally as deadly to your team as the enemy, and you are not the only ones with them. Many a time I have found a grenade land neatly at my feet, generously donated by a terrorist in a first floor window.

The final element on my list is the ability to control team members. This has been vastly improved since Rogue Spear, and is unbelievably simple to use. By pointing your crosshair at an item in the game world, a door for example, and holding down the action button, a menu will appear with various options available to your team. Selecting one of these options might reveal another menu for a more detailed action. Via this method, ordering your team to open a door, lob in a flashbang, enter and clear the room is a piece of cake. The artificial intelligence of your teammates is such that they will work out which side of the door to be on before executing your order, and they will cover each other and you while you move around. I was really impressed by this feature, and it allows you to take a backseat approach to the mission if you so desire. Your squad is not insuperable however, so you will need to give go codes, orders and even apply some D.I.Y. if you want to achieve success.

Peekaboo!
Much improved briefings
The team control menu
Who needs a scope?
Slightly weird death poses
Custom hud options

During the installation process, I remember thinking how they could possibly make another Rainbow Six game and not have it classed as a rehash of previous ideas with new missions. I am pleased to say now that I have been proven utterly wrong, and that Raven Shield is an extremely good tactical first-person shooter. It has the style, the looks, the feel and the functionality of it's previous incarnations and tops it off by just being so damned enjoyable. The attention to detail is astounding, right down to the triple click on the breaching charge detonator, and the controls are designed so well that it's difficult to get frustrated. You can take control of your squad and do the work yourself, or pay more attention to the planning and let the A.I. carry out your orders, it's entirely up to you.

Raven Shield is not quite the perfect 5 star game, but it does come close, and I had a hard time choosing between 4 or 5 stars. In the end it has one feature missing which was present in Rogue Spear; the Defend game type in multiplayer, and the fact that it will steal 1.7GB of your hard disk minimum forced me to choose 4 stars. The inclusion of an editor and an improved multiplayer interface partially make up for this however, and unless you despise first-person games, I encourage you whole-heartedly to try out Raven Shield, as you will not be disappointed one bit.