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Cries of "It's just Rainbow Six Vegas 1.5" were heard across the gaming community when Ubisoft announced its follow-up to Rainbow Six Vegas, and in many ways the community was right. Vegas 2 is incredibly similar to the previous game, but with a completely new storyline, new locations and a few additions to the gameplay, anyone who enjoyed fragging and clearing in the original game will have a brilliant time doing the same this time around.
Vegas just can't get a break. Not content with being the centre of a huge terrorist attack in 2006's Rainbow Six Vegas, the location returns in the sequel. It's not quite as coincidental as it seems though, as the story of Vegas 2 covers a time before, during and after the events of the first game. Still, for many, returning to Vegas will feel a little too samey, even though there are far more daylight and outdoor missions this time around.
Being one of the new-wave of shooters to use a cover system, Vegas 2 is somewhat more strategic and slower-paced than your standard FPS. The gameplay pretty much relies on you moving from cover to cover, hugging it tightly as you peek out to take down enemies with headshots. Using a press and hold cover system, Vegas feels a little different to the other cover-based shooters on the market and being able to freely aim all around you while snug to a wall gives you the ability to handle distant and near enemies.
As in the original, you are lead in a three-man squad, able to issue numerous commands to your two team-mates while in battle. A simple point and click movement command means you can tell your guys to go to any visible location, and this becomes context sensitive when you're aiming at a useable item, such as a door that can be entered, a wall that can be climbed or a bomb that can be disarmed.
This is just the beginning of the squad control options at your disposal though. A key command is the toggle for how your team-mates engage with enemies. When cleared to fire at will they'll shoot at and take down any enemies they spot, but if told to hold-fire they'll wait until shot at or until you give them the order to storm a room and take down the enemies. A neat tool to help in these room storming situations is enemy tagging, essentially picking out up to two enemies that your team-mates should target first. By sending them to another entry point you can set up an attack from two angles and clear a room in seconds.
As in the previous game you'll usually have a few options when you need to storm a room. Doors are the most obvious, but look around and there's often a way to gain access to a higher location, either for sniping, a fast rope entry or a super slick entry through glass windows. Some of the commands sometimes cause confusion - I had one team-mate stuck behind a truck for a while - but on the whole everything's been thought out very well and it all comes quite naturally once you're in the groove.
Just as the locations in the original game proved to be brilliant for fire-fights, the same is true in Vegas 2. Whether you're fighting in a casino, a strip club, in a massive convention centre, on roof-tops, car parks, junk yards or any of the exciting locations seen in the second half of the campaign, they feel tailor made for thrilling shoot outs. The problem is that it does all feel like more of the same, and not really a sequel the "2" in the name suggests.
New to the campaign are a handful of additions, but they really only enhance what we already had. The ability to fire through certain objects adds some tactical depth to finding cover, being able to run makes moving from cover to cover a little easier, the new thermal scan gives you a useful overview of the enemies in the area and the riot shield allows you to storm into tight spaces without being punctured by bullets. All great additions, but none really change the way you play the game.
Something that is more than a neat addition is the omnipresent A.C.E.S. system. Similar to Call of Duty 4's online ranking points system, this points system is carried through the campaign and multiplayer game modes, rewarding you for your performances with new equipment and rank increase. It's split into three areas: Marksmanship, CQB and Assault. For example, a long range kill earns 3 Marksmanship points, while a headshot earns 1. A blind fire kill earns you 3 CQB points, as does killing a visually impaired enemy, and killing someone with C4 or through cover will earn you 3 Assault points. These are only some of the ways you can score points, and all the time you're working towards a new level and new items.
Multiplayer is where you'll get the most out of Vegas 2, not only because it's incredibly good fun but also because there are so many game modes. Two players can play through the campaign in co-op, either via split-screen, system link or online. Co-op in Vegas 2 is a far slicker experience than in the original, with the levels feeling designed for an additional human player and the all the trimmings that make up the campaign being present - in the original game the cutscenes were missing in co-op. Up to four players can tackle the terrorist hunt game mode, pitting you against swarms of enemies - something we found to be a real challenge on the game's hardest difficulty.
On top of the cooperative game modes you've got competitive play for up to 16 players (14 on PlayStation 3). With your character customisable as you see fit - weapons, armour, clothing and face mapping - and more equipment becoming available as you gain more points in the A.C.E.S. system, the multiplayer has the same addictive quality as Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4. Whether or not the community will take to it with the same enthusiasm as they did with CoD4 remains to be seen, but with a mixture of straight up deathmatch-style game modes and objective-based matches people are likely to be playing right up until the next game's release. The maps this time around are also more varied, with something on offer whether you're playing with the full quota of players or just a few friends.
Vegas looked great back in 2006 but without a huge improvement to the visuals Vegas 2 feels a little disappointing. It's still a next-gen game through and through, but we'd have liked to have seen a proper step up from the original game. At times we noticed the frame rate bog down a little, but it's rare and doesn't last long. Audio work can't be complained about though. The surround effects work brilliantly, the guns all sound great and the musical score fits perfectly. There's plenty of ambient sound too, really immersing you into the game.
While Rainbow Six Vegas 2 feels more like an add-on than a proper sequel, that shouldn't stop you picking Ubisoft's latest up. The gun-play is excellent, the production values are top notch and the multiplayer game modes will keep you coming back months down the line. As long as you're not expecting a complete overhaul of the gameplay seen in the original, Vegas 2 will provide plenty of terrorist hunting fun.