Rainbow Six 3 on the Xbox gave me some of the most fun I've had on Xbox Live. I got together with a few buddies and we played through the game in co-op and competitively against a few other small teams. It was a real laugh, helped by my inability to open doors properly and a tendency to get shot in the back of the head by my ever more immature growing team-mates. As with all online games, the novelty wore off and seeing as I passed over Black Arrow, Lockdown is my first look at the series in some time. Either the series has become very bad or I was deluded in the first place. I think it's the former.
To give you an idea on how bad Lockdown is (in single-player at least) I'll run you through my first fifteen minutes with the game. The menu music is dire and it continues through a rather cheesy intro FMV that introduces all the members of Team Rainbow as if the player is really meant to care about them. The mission screen is nice enough, giving me the required info on what I'm about to do, but it ends with a warning to Yocoby (a female member of the team) asking her to watch her temper, as the big boss man doesn't want her to tear the city apart. It was here that I realised this wouldn't be like the Rainbow Six series I remembered. It had changed - changed into a game that is obviously trying to have some more mainstream appeal with cool edgy characters, who also obviously have no place in a crack assault team.
So, we go into the first mission (I had an eye on Yocoby as the city could have been torn apart at any second, knowing her temper) and head through a series of car parks taking out mindless enemies as if this was your usual run-and-gun shooter. It felt very un-Rainbow like, but my team and I had to rescue the president, so I put my issues aside for the team's safety. If only they could have repaid the favour. A few minutes later they stopped for a break, obviously tired - their out-of-game likeable personalities had no doubt been up to no good the night before, but it all adds character to the game. So, we sit there. I'm not a mean guy, so I allow them a few moments and then order them to move through the door into what I expect to be another car park.
The problem is that they can't move. Yocoby in particular is stuck at the side of the staircase. The two guys then randomly move up the stairs and start having some kind of seizure, jigging about, jerking their bodies while stood on the staircase. "The enemy must be smart. They've gassed the room," I thought to myself. But no... there was no sign of gas. So, my team out of action, I moved on by myself. After the next mid-mission load the team reappeared, but it didn't take long for one of them to become stuck again - this time on a car. We moved on, leaving him behind, only to die moments later when a guy hidden somewhere fired what must have been a missile at us. Still, we knew where the shooter was going to be next time, so going back to the checkpoint and taking him out wouldn't be a problem. Oh, there wasn't a checkpoint. Back the start it is then.
As you may have worked out, my initial experience with the game wasn't good. I'd love to say that it got better, but it didn't. The game plays out over sixteen missions with sniping sections interspersed into the action. These sections do offer something a little different, but they infuriate as much as the standard team-based stuff. Enemies are often impossibly hard to find and you'll find yourself having to replay these sections many times in order to get through them, with the invisible RPG-firing enemy taking out your team with annoying frequency.
There's the expected multiple vision modes, plus an all new mode that allows you to sense heartbeats (in the Xbox version) and motion (in the PlayStation 2 version), and you can command your team-mates to move to certain areas or open doors in a variety of ways, but even this doesn't work as you'd like. Team-mates often simply ignore commands and you're forced to open doors yourself, potentially walking into a dangerous situation. The new vision modes also make things a little easy, giving you a clear idea on the position of enemies in rooms you haven't entered yet. The PlayStation 2 version also has a rather obvious blue square around enemies that makes spotting them a little too simple.
Online the game fairs far better, particularly on Xbox with its 'Persistent Elite Creation' feature. This allows you to create a character, customise him/her and then take him online. All stats are tracked and medals can be earned which in turn give you points which can be used to upgrade your skills and weapons. Team and solo multiplayer modes are present and the online component is generally fun, if somewhat laggy. The PlayStation 2 version has none of the Persistent Elite Creation stuff, but does have a Rivalry mode that puts players against each other in objective-based games.
Presentation on the whole isn't too hot, with some rather rough visuals and overly rocky soundtrack. While previous Rainbow Six titles have generally looked pretty poor on the PlayStation 2, the Xbox versions have looked pretty smart. Lockdown doesn't. The Xbox version runs smoother and looks more polished than the PlayStation 2 version (which also lacks a 60hz mode), but it really looks worse than previous games in the series. It's a big disappointment.
If played as a new game, not part of the Rainbow Six series, Lockdown isn't totally awful. The campaign is lengthy and the gameplay is fairly fun and simplistic. Problems with team-mate and enemy AI, plus some surprisingly rough presentation just aren't in keeping with the series, and while online play is fun or a while, previous games in the series feel better to play and can now be bought at a budget price. Lockdown is obviously a new direction for the series, but I hope Ubisoft has a rethink before the series makes its inevitable next-gen debut.