Summary: The newest title in the Rainbow Six series is on its way, and it's powered by the latest Unreal engine technology. Read our preview and find out what else is new with the tactical shooter genre in Tom Clancy's Raven Shield.
Estimated Release: November 2002
A true successorThe tactical shooter games based on Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six have been wildly successful, representing the cream of the crop when it comes to ultra realistic, close combat simulations. Every game in the series from the original Rainbow Six to the latest, Ghost Recon and The Sum of All Fears, has been well received, with many of the titles getting translated over to console format and even Gameboy platforms. Art is just a reflection of life; the Rainbow Six games' counter-terrorist theme is even more pertinent in today's world, leading to increased interest in the titles. Raven Shield represents what Ubi considers to be the third installment to the Rainbow Six series. A new terrorist threat has emerged, and the Rainbow team will be traveling to England, Norway, the Caribbean, and Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval to thwart the doomsday plot.
Is it real? Or is it Memorex?The most significant change to the series is that Raven Shield is using the Unreal engine. If it's the same one as UT 2003 or Unreal 2, no one could say - Epic is not in the business of numbering their builds as they license out their technology. The important thing here is that this is the first Rainbow title using a licensed engine. Along with it come all the benefits of recent Unreal Engine technology, including better lighting effects, soft dynamic shadows that bend and stretch in relation to the position of light sources, and exquisitely detailed character models.
The game animates smoothly than ever before, both watching your teammates from a third person perspective, and the feel of the game itself from the first person. In previous Rainbow titles, you dealt with a somewhat clunky feel from the engine; the Unreal engine gives Raven Shield a better game feel. Death animations from characters have been enhanced greatly as well. Bodies use real physics as they fall, so there's no more clipping through a table if a character falls on it. His body will hit and slide off of any geometry it falls on. Shooting someone on the stairs will result in him crumpling and rolling down to the bottom. Seemingly no two bodies crumple to the ground in quite the same way. The demonstration of this type of physics calculation on bodies is an indication that the engine is based on rather new Unreal technology - Epic was giving similar demonstrations of this at the most recent GDC this past February.
Not just a show-offThe extra geometry checks are more than cosmetic - they affect the gameplay in a very real manner. If you and your team are advancing through a narrow hallway, and someone is too close behind you, you will not be able to lie prone with a teammate's body blocking you. The same thing applies if you're standing next to a wall and try to lie prone perpendicular to the wall. Your legs will not be allowed to clip back through the wall.
Another thing that's new about Raven Shield is for the first time in a Rainbow Six game, players are given a first person view of their weapon. That is, you can now see the gun model in front of you and see yourself reloading the weapon. This seems like such a trivial thing these days, but the reason you never saw the gun model before is because having that gun up there eats a non-trivial amount of CPU cycles. Rainbow Six's developers have prided themselves on using any extra CPU time to put into the AI of the enemies, which they brag is "always on," unlike other games where enemies are run by scripts that activate when players cross a certain threshold or area.
The first person weapon view also affords players a look at the ultra realistic reload animations for each of the game's 57 weapons. For example, there are two different reload animations for an MP-5 submachine gun. If the player empties out his entire clip, then the bolt of the weapon locks forward, just as in real life. This means that when a new clip is loaded into the weapon, the character will pull back on the bolt to load a round into the chamber and ready the weapon for firing. If the player reloads before the weapon is fully empty, then that final locking and loading animation is skipped b/c there's still a round in the chamber. So what? The practical upshot of all of this is that leaving one bullet in the chamber saves you a small amount of time on the reload.
Artificial courage (and cowardice)Much of the demonstration we got from Ubi involved discussion of the character AI, which they believe separates Raven Shield out from the increasingly crowded genre of realistic shooters. Ubi was quick to point out that the terrorists (and hostages) in Raven Shield will act in unpredictable and varying manners depending on their own predispositions, and changing situations in the game which will affect their fear sense. Bust into a room, guns blazing, and some terrorists will run right at you with their own weapons firing. Some will cower, throw down their guns and surrender. Others still will try to escape from the confrontation, hide in another area and snipe. Kill enough of a tough guy's comrades around him and he may change his mind about making a last stand and surrender instead. The point is that missions will play out differently every time.
The improved AI extends to your teammates. As you move forward and lead a team, the men bringing up the rear flank will periodically scan around behind you. This animation is not just cosmetic. Whatever your teammates are facing is all they can really see. The AI does not detect everything in a specific radius around them - their sight detection is limited to the field in front of their eyes as they scan about. This is a great improvement from previous games like Rogue Spear where threats coming up from the rear were a big problem. Your AI teammates are much better at intelligently moving forward and creeping around with you and will also approach blind corners more carefully than before, stacking along the wall to minimize their exposure around the corner before it is checked out.
ControlAlso new to Raven Shield is the ability to peek around corners only a little bit. Hold down CTRL and mouse over to the left and you can peek a little bit or a lot - while most games' peeking function is binary (you're peeking or you're not), you have analog control in Raven Shield. You can even use it to peek in the up direction over the top of low walls or into windows as you are crouching, another new feature. Think that isn't enough? You can also open doors a crack at a time. Click to open a door and you'll be able to use your mouse wheel to slowly pry the door open, and swing the door back and forth. See a terrorist through the crack in the door? Pop him in the head and then shut the door again.
Team ControlThough teammate AI has improved a lot, there are still instances where it's better to take more control over your comrades. In order to do this, Ubi has included a context sensitive order menu that is activated with the space bar. Lead your team up to a door and hitting the spacebar will pop up a menu of options - Open, Open/Grenade, Open/Grenade/Clear, and Open/Clear. Your team will intelligently stack or flank around the door and follow your order. Did you choose Open and Grenade? One man will open the door and another will toss a grenade in. Open, Grenade, and Clear will have your men charging in the room after the grenade goes off. This menu system of control is similar to what Sierra offered in SWAT 3, and makes a welcome appearance now in Raven Shield.
The zulu code is another improvement that lets you as team leader, coordinate an on-the-fly change to the mission if something didn't quite go off as planned. Recall that in Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear, before the mission you would draw up a specific plan of attack to coordinate your team of commandos. You'd initiate certain parts of the plan by yelling out ALPHA or BETA so each of your fire teams would do certain things at the same time, like having one team throw in a flashbang through one window while another team would follow by storming in the door on the other side of the room. In previous games, these types of coordinated actions were only possible to plan through the pre mission interface. But if the hostages were not in the room you first anticipated then you had no ability to coordinate a two or three pronged attack in a different room. The Zulu code and the context sensitive team control menus let you coordinate such an attack within the mission itself.
To do this you use the spacebar command menu to open up the context sensitive team commands. But instead of clicking on one of the options for them to do it right away, you can right click which tells them to "go on Zulu." Do this for each of your fire teams and when you call the Zulu code, the various teams will execute everything at the time you ask them to.
Heartbeat SensorAlthough the Rainbow Six games bill themselves as definitive shooter simulations with ultra-realism, one of the liberties the game takes with realism is the use of the heartbeat sensor. In previous Rainbow Six games, you'd get a mini map at the bottom of your screen, and the heartbeat sensor would show the locations of live targets (friendly and foe alike without differentiating) on that map. In Raven Shield, you no longer get a mini map, but the heartbeat sensor is still in the game. When you wear it, you see from the first person view little pings from your viewpoint that represent a person's heartbeat through a wall. The sensor allows you to view which heartbeats are pounding faster, and which are slower. Although it's not a hard and fast rule, generally the hostage heartbeats are faster because they are under stress, while the terrorists' heartbeats are slower. This isn't the case 100% of the time though, as some terrorists will be jumpy or nervous and also have a fast heartbeat represented on your sensor. Another advantage to this new style of heartbeat sensor is that you can tell relative elevations of the people in the room. Heartbeat closer to the ground? Maybe it's a hostage being forced to lie on the ground…or maybe it's a terrorist sitting on the floor watching TV.
GrenadesThere are several different kinds of grenades in the game - flashbang, tear gas, fragmentation, and smoke. The latter two are pretty self-explanatory in how they affect the game, but when you get hit with a flash, Raven Shield introduces a number of unique effects to the player both visually and aurally. Depending on the degree to which you got flashed (staring right at it? Turned away?), your vision will go all white and then fade back in slowly, just as you remember from Counter-Strike. However, your audio goes out as well, fading back in slowly with a ringing sensation. Also as your vision comes back online, your crosshair is unstable from dizziness, floating about, and the viewpoint is fuzzy, leaving a trail effect on the screen as you mouse around. The tear gas has a similar effect, creating a blurry view on the screen as you "tear up." It will also force you to stop moving once in a while to cough if you get caught in a gas cloud. The developers were so hardcore about getting the effects just right that some of them allowed SWAT trainers to actually flashbang and/or tear gas them to see how it really feels!
Overall there are a lot of great new enhancements to look forward to in Raven Shield. Fans of traditional shooters will like the change over to the Unreal engine, as it gives the game a more fluid feel. Longtime fans of the Rainbow Six games will love all the new enhancements and appreciate the extra time put into the AI of teammates and foes alike. If all goes according to plan, Raven Shield will solidify the Rainbow Six franchise as the definitive tactical shooter simulation.
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