Page To Pixel: Rainbow Six

Posted: May 11, 2011 in Page to Pixel, PC, Retro
Tags: , , , , , ,

The year is 1998. Russia circulates new Rubles to stem inflation.  President Clinton is brought up on charges of having inappropriate liasons with an intern. The Yangtze river floods, causing China to dispatch its Army to deal with it.  A hostage situation in Bern, Switzerland results in the death of a hostage. Cue the deployment of the Rainbow organization, a multinational counter-terrorism unit. They infiltrate and eliminate the threat, ensuring no further loss of life. TANGO DOWN!

Such is the world of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. Clancy had first made his mark on the New York Times bestseller list with The Hunt For Red October and several more novels featuring CIA analyst Jack Ryan. Popularizing the techno-thriller, Clancy made a name for himself combining action with detailed descriptions of cutting edge military technology and political machinations. His novels take place in what is essentially the real world, and as such his books tend to mirror both the real world political climate as well as reflecting the United States’ viewpoint and current concerns, as is seen with his early novels dealing with the Soviet Union, and moving towards the War on Drugs and later towards counter-terrorism.  There is also plenty of political commentary filling Clancy’s doorstoppers, most of which I skip over because it’s pretty annoying.

We get it Tom, filthy liberals are ruining America. GET TO THE TACTICAL ESPIONAGE ACTION PLEASE.

In Clear and Present Danger, we are introduced to covert operative John Clark (whose story was later fleshed out in Without Remorse). In Rainbow Six, John Clark founds and operates RAINBOW under his callsign of Rainbow Six. Both the book and the game were originally released in 1998.

The book concerned the formation and exploits of Rainbow (which bears some similarities to both Germany’s famous GSG-9 and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team, albeit on a multinational level) as they deal with numerous terrorist threats across the globe, eventually going up against an eco-terrorist corporation that plans to unleash biological agents to wipe humanity as a whole out. Essentially the entire plot is comprised of episodic “incidents” where the Rainbow teams have to resolve a problem with tactics and force of arms within a larger plot, which lends itself well to game design. Most of the game’s later missions (with cool operation names like “Deep Magic”) are drawn directly from the novel.

Now, Tom Clancy was hardly a new name on the gaming scene. He used Larry Bond’s naval warfare simulator Harpoon (Harpoon being a notable game in its own right) to test the scenarios in both The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising, both of which would later be released as both board games and computer games. In 1996, he founded Red Storm Entertainment with British Navy Captain Doug Littlejohns, creating Politka, set in the post-Soviet Russian Federation, and the RTS Dominant Species.

On the other side of that door: danger.

However, the game that put them on the map was Rainbow Six. In its time, it was a completely unique title – it was a 3D-Accelerated shooter (which, with Quake only two years old, was a pretty new thing in itself) that emphasized stealth, planning, and teamwork over the run-and-gun gameplay that had dominated the genre. In addition, it was also a very realistic game with humans killing humans in close quarters combat, which for its time seemed like a pretty grim theme (and, of course, now it’s hard to remember when that wasn’t the norm). 1998 was a year to brace yourself. The tactical shooter was being invented.

While the game utilized the mechanics of a first person shooter, the game perhaps had more in common with X-COM/UFO: Enemy Unknown than it did with Doom. The game allows you to spend a considerable amount of time planning the mission, telling your team where and how to enter the building, selecting specific weapon, armor, and tool loadouts, and the troops themselves. Each individual soldier has some specialty, such as assault, demolition, or surveillance (and sniping in the sequels). While you can’t improve or retrain them, you do want to keep them alive, as the generic agents they’re replaced with upon death or incapacitation are never as skilled as your named troops.

The Planning Phase

The game could not be approached the same way you’d approach a game of Quake. If you barged into a room guns a-blazing, you’d find yourself out of ammo with the contents of your cranium decorating the walls. The game made you think about your moves, and breaching a door was pretty much pure SWAT team stuff – blast the door open with a breaching charge, toss a flashbang grenade in, then run in and take care of business. You could use a heartbeat detector to find enemies, as well. Firefights were short and lethal. The fact that it required more focus on teamwork than itchy trigger fingers added to its multiplayer appeal, and the game came together as a successful blend of both.

The game was a critical and commercial success on the PC, winning numerous awards in a year that produced such high quality games as Half-Life, Grim Fandango, and StarCraft. It was soon ported to the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and even the Game Boy Color (cue a big WHAT), although those versions tended to streamline the planning segments and skip more to (ridiculously difficult) first-person shooter action. In addition, the game had two well-received sequels in Rogue Spear and Raven Shield. Between the two sequels, however, Red Storm and the Tom Clancy license were sold to Ubisoft, and the series has been…different since then.

After Raven Shield, Ubisoft decided to take the game in more of a mainstream direction with the Rainbow Six: Vegas series. In my personal opinion, this is where the series found its downfall. You received a regenerating health bar, in a series where formerly a single well-placed bullet could kill or incapacitate you. The planning phase was removed and, rather than managing a team, you were placed in the shoes of one viewpoint character. It didn’t sit right with many fans, and while Ubisoft probably gained a few fans, they also lost plenty with the generic shooter paste the series was turning into.

“Why is there a tiger in the bathroom?”

This is a shame, since the thing that set Rainbow Six apart from other shooters was the fact that it took an intelligent and realistic approach. The tactical realism was what set it apart in the first place, and for Ubisoft to mold it into the Call of Duty style was, in my opinion, disastrous.

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Comments
  1. Martin Watts says:

    Excellent post, Chad!

    I have the Nintendo 64 version of Rainbow Six, and even now I consider it a pretty good game. It has nothing on the PC version, and you’re right that the planning was less of a focus but you could still go into quite a lot of detail.

    One of the best features was its cooperative multiplayer. Either having 2 fireteams (one headed up by your friend) or having 4 Rainbows working individually was pretty darn cool. It certainly made storming a room a heck of a lot more fun!

    Also, I have to agree with your last point. I really don’t see why Ubisoft had to alter the series. Rainbow Six 3 was an excellent realistic shooter that sold well and one that played brilliantly on home consoles. It is very disappointing that this series, much like Operation Flashpoint, is being butchered.

    • Chad M. says:

      Yeah- I love the fact that it’s tough as nails and you have to actually be careful! The first 3 R6 games were games that MADE YOU SWEAT. Ubisoft is trying to make more money off the series, but I feel they’re doing it in a way that alienates fans of the originals. Which is always disappointing.

  2. Gregg B says:

    Very depressing Chad. The planning stages of Rainbow Six were the bits I most fondly remember about the game and yet that’s exactly the sort of shit that can only make it in an indie game these days (Frozen Synapse, Subversion). What the hell happened?

  3. Armand K. says:

    I just can’t ever bring myself to play a game with Clancy’s name on it. Flaunt your “it’s like x-com” all you want, it’s not happening!

  4. Gregg B says:

    Anything that says ‘it’s like xcom’ on it, instantly gets my attention Armand.

  5. killer7 says:

    I’m playing in these days with Rainbow Six Raven Shield… for me, the best Rainbow Six.

    • Chad M. says:

      Just so we’re completely clear, I didn’t mean to imply that it’s in the same style or even genre as my beloved X-Com. Rather, I meant to say that the focus on tactics and planning makes it closer to X-Com and other tactical games than Doom or Duke3D (or any other game of the time).

  6. Max says:

    Clancy’s a dolt, true Armand, but don’t hold that against the first three R6 games. They were brilliant masterworks, and it was Rainbow Six that began the genesis of what is considered popular online gaming today. From 1999 – 2003 all serious ladder players/clans played either Rogue Spear, Raven Shield or Ghost Recon.

    The genre today has more in common with these than it does Quake, Unreal, Half-Life or Halo.

    All those who have ever played a tactical/realistic shooter right through to what Call of Duty has evolved into today owe a great debt to Red Storm Entertainment.

    Good times, thanks for the hit of nostalgia, Chad.

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