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     " There is an awful lot here to love... "

      Title: Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 by Ubisoft

      Format: Xbox 360 Tactical Shooter

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: What is easily the most successful tactical shooter of all time gets an update a scant year after its initial launch. But can anything coming that fast really make a sequel worth while? Read on, my Monkeys, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: If there was one universal piece of criticism about the first Vegas, it was that it fell a long way short of the graphical quality we were seeing in other games of the time (way, way back then). So it's no surprise that one of the most touted improvements in Vegas 2 (V2) were the graphical ones...and they did deliver. Jumping from one of the least to one of the more impressive titles on the system, the Vegas franchise now sports much more detailed models, exponentially more lush environments, and way more intricate animations. It still might not be the prettiest game in the genre, but it's now near the top of the heap. 4 out of 5

      Playability: If you've played Vegas, most everything here will be immediately familiar. If you haven't, the short version is that the Rainbow 6 franchise has long been the defining tactical shooter in the industry. So what's a tactical shooter? It's a game that requires you to sneak more than charge, peek more than pounce, and aim more than spray-and-pray. Vegas 1 expanded on this with a number of really innovative features, including the first really effective take-cover system (though launched at the same time as Gears, Vegas' is better) and a well-balanced multiplayer gear set-up that offered fairly reasonable and balanced equipment trade-offs.
          So what's new in Vegas 2? The answer is not a whole lot, though what has been done does add quite a bit to gameplay. The first, and both most noticeable and most requested, addition is a sprint button--which allows for short bursts of speed at the times you need it most. This is huge for the franchise, as it breaks up the slow, monotonous movement that has plagued the series from the start. The second most noticeable improvement is the addition of drop-in, drop-out, functions in co-op play. No longer will you have to start a new co-op campaign or quit a game to bring in more friends on a terrorist hunt--now they can hop in and drop out without disrupting your game. The third is a penetratable cover system, very similar to Call of Duty 4, that allows you to shoot through light cover with high-penetration weapons. Also added is a muchly improved AI teammate control system, a number of subtle multiplayer improvements, and a very cool new experience system.
         For those of you familiar with Vegas 1, you know that though the very concept of a functional XP system was novel, the actual execution was a little shoddy. Yes, you had incentive to play because at every-other level you got new goodies, but those goodies were typically either anti-climactic or way over-powered. They also really only rewarded gamers dedicated enough to play the game obsessively on-line in certain types of multiplayer, since that was really the only time you got XP. The new system, which is arguably one of the best in gaming, breaks down the concept into two separate categories and allows you to earn points for both, both on-line and off, in all three modes of play: singleplayer, co-op, and adversarial multiplayer.
          Best of all, there is real balance between the two categories and what they reward you. The first set, called ACES, offers rewards for scoring different types of kills (i.e. at long range, at extremely short range, through cover, with headshots, etc.), and tracks your progress in three different categories: Marksmanship, CQB (close quarters battle), and Assault. Each category has different weapons related to their genres (i.e. sniper rifles, shotguns, and machine guns, respectively), which are unlocked as you progress. It's great for a couple of reasons, most noticeable that it encourages different types of play (you can't, for example, unlock light machine guns by sniping) and gives you real incentive to use different tactics than you might normally. Honestly, the only drawback to it is that there are only 20 levels to each of the categories, and since you're gaining XP in them every time you play, it won't take you very long to burn through them. With any luck Ubisoft will add more levels in some of the future downloadable content.
          The second category of XP is your actual Rank (Private, Corporal, Sergeant, etc.), which you earn for kills (both your own and your team's) and by accomplishing objectives. Now, the down side to Rank is that it moves as slowly as a slug on roofies (and, no, the apparent hypocrisy of complaining about one advancing too slowly and one for advancing too fast is not lost on me), but it's actually not a concern since the only thing Rank unlocks is outfitting/costuming and Gamerscore the dedicated have something to grind away on and the casual won't really care anyways.
          But, despite all the improvements, not all the bugs have been fixed. The enemy AI, in both Terrorist Hunt and Campaign, still has unforgivable spawns--often dropping in either after you've already cleared a room or right in the middle of your team. The AI also still knows where you are at all times, regardless of how quiet you've been in getting there, and the new penetratable cover system gives them even more opportunity to simply shoot at you through walls, even though they shouldn't know where you are. And, probably most annoying of all, the weapon damage and hit locations still suffer frequent issues. These rear their heads in some painful ways, as head shots periodically go ignored, terrorists take dozens of rounds to the back but still turn and one-shot kill you, and weapon damages become unbelievably random.
          Still, those periodic glitches not withstanding, we're talking about a game that was already great that is now much improved. 4.5 out of 5

      Story and Drama: If you actually cared and tried to follow the story in Vegas 1, V2 will offer you the "other side" of the tale. Operating as something between a prequel and a traditionally separate point of view, Vegas 2 gives you the rest of the Vegas terrorist invasion through Field Agent turned Trainer then turned Field Agent again Bishop (and, yes, you only call him by the one name. He's like the Cher or Madonna of the Special Ops community).
          It's actually a pretty decent story (and about time, given that this franchise is based on Tom Clancy books) that gives background and insight to some of the stuff that really didn't make much sense in Vegas 1. It's also told in a much smoother narrative than other Rainbow games. 3.75 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: If there's one thing the Rainbow series has always worked hard on, it's the multiplayer. Not only have the games come with a slew of options including co-op, deathmatch, and objective based games, but they've always tried hard to give you some choices for character customization. Vegas 2 follows that mode, offering several very entertaining adversarial game types and two different co-op options.
          The co-op component is really strong, including both an option for bringing a single buddy in on your campaign and a four-player AI hunting game. Both game types are loads of fun, as the campaign is plenty strong enough to revisit at least a second time and the Terrorist Hunt missions are insanely replayable. Truthfully, the only drawbacks here are the persistent presence of the game's really annoying AI spawns, the fact that the campaign only allows for a two-player maximum (especially strange given that you have two AI teammates that could easily have been replaced with humans), and the fact that there just aren't enough maps.
          The adversarial modes are also a hit, though much less consistently so. The standard Deathmatch/Team Deathmatch options are fine, though a bit dull, and don't seem to work consistently. This is due in large part to the design of the maps and their placement of spawn points, which really encourage spawn camping and random deaths from people appearing behind you. The objective based games, which are mostly mods of capture the flag, control point holding, and assault/defend games, work much better and are really a blast...though if you're playing with random people on-line you will find your level of fun directly equivalent to the competency of your teammates.
          Overall, the multiplayer package comes together with something for absolutely everyone, and when combined with the rank system gives you a really engrossing reason to keep playing. If the couple of spawn bugs had been worked out better, and more maps had been included, this would probably be the best multiplayer experience ever...and it's certainly one of the best as is. 4.5 out of 5

      The Verdict:

       All in all, Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 is easily one of the best console games I've ever seen. The gameplay is solid, the multiplayer is diverse and inclusive, and the XP system is among the best ever. All that said, it does suffer from two really noticeable issues. The first is that, at the end of the day, it feels less like a sequel and more like an expansion (even though there is more than enough game content here to justify the $60 asking price), and the second is that a number of problems from the first one--most noticeably the spawning issues (both AI and player)--weren't resolved. Still, there is an awful lot here to love, and more than enough to keep you happy for a good, long while.

      The Good: The graphics look great, the gameplay is sweet, and the multiplayer is fantastic.

      The Bad: A lot of the old problems haven't been resolved. The spawns are crap, the gun damage stays inconsistent, and the AI is omnipotent.

      The Overall Ugly: You will curse, you will scream, and you will get angry at the glitches...but in-between those moments are hours and hours of absolutely phenomenal gaming.

      What it's Worth: Market

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