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Seeking professional help truly started becoming an option, though, when I re-read my "Roommate Needed" ad to discover that, quite unconsciously, I'd written this:
"Roommate with Xbox and copy of Rainbow Six 3 needed for clean, comfortable bedroom gaming room. Close to campus, easy walk to class. Washer/dryer/hot tub. 3 freakin' Xboxes! Affordable rent, nice atmosphere. Networked! Xbox! Xbox! Xbox! Rainbow Six 3!"
It goes on for another three pages. It scared me.
So, after careful consideration, I did what any self-respecting game reviewer would do. I called my editor, and confessed my addiction. "I've been playing Rainbow Six 3 way too much lately," I said. "I need to change the disc before the Xbox decides to assimilate this one. I need you to send me a game with the power to break my Rainbow Six 3 craving."
"How about Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow?" he asked.
Arguably, Rainbow Six 3 has consumed more of my time than any other game on the Xbox platform, with the exception of Phantasy Star Online, which somehow got its claws into everyone in the building for the course of one semester about a year back and consumed social lives, grades, and waking hours all about equally. There were flaws in the original Rainbow, though, mainly its lack of the ability to play co-operatively on a single screen. Graduating from the previous Xbox LIVE champion, Ghost Recon, that let you play split screen with a friend, I was devastated to learn that Rainbow Six 3 was an envious off-line experience, meaning that one person played, everyone else envied playing. Read into that far enough, and you'll quickly understand why I now have three TVs and three Xboxes. After careful consideration, I believe that had I reviewed it, the original Xbox release of Rainbow Six 3 would have been my first five-star review after nearly five years in the industry. When I heard that Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow would support a split screen co-op play mode, I was ecstatic. This was going to be a game that I could unhesitatingly endorse. At last.
But then, after playing it, I had to begin this review with a note to my editor that read, "Four Stars". Even with a co-op mode, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow takes a step back from its predecessor, and that leaves me with a broken heart.
The "What is..."
So what is Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow? For those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, the original Rainbow Six 3 was and is a tactical shooter; slower paced, less forgiving, and more realistic than less demanding FPSers like Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Doom 3, or Halo. What that means is that the weapons are accurately modeled, for both you and your enemies, in terms of power, accuracy, and range. In other words, they can kill you about as easily as you can kill them. Placing you in an anti-terrorist unit, Rainbow's realism and attention to detail extends far beyond the gun physics, and attempts to recreate squad and team-based combat. Its emphasis on teamwork and team tactics is why Rainbow Six 3, in one form or another, has reigned supreme as the number one game played on Xbox LIVE since its release. Specifically, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow is essentially a second release of the original Rainbow Six 3 with slightly modified weapon and game dynamics, new gameplay types, and, of course, entirely original maps. In theory, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow should be nearly identical to the original, with expanded capabilities and additional maps. It should be as, if not more, fun.
In reality, this proves to be untrue.
In spirit, Black Arrow is a step in the right direction; almost every modification is geared towards making the game a more enjoyable multi-player experience. The ability to play cooperatively split screen, something that was lacking in the original, is obviously intended to satisfy the hordes of series fans that report that they, like most gamers, play to play with friends. The host of new online game types, including a few - like a version of capture the flag - that have been available to the PC players for some time, cater well to the other half of that coin, those with Xbox LIVE addictions and System Link setups. The weapon modifications are steps to even out those weapons that were too powerful, and make the online experience a bit more comfortable for an even balance of playing styles. Every element is an improvement, except in the one area that is most important. The maps. The chief appeal of Black Arrow, besides the split screen, is that it provides a variety of maps that can't be found in the old version. Sure, the other goodies add flavor and polish, but it's the addition of maps and the ability to play them with a friend that makes the real difference. And sadly, this is where Black Arrow falls short of the original.
Where the original Rainbow Six maps were somewhat branching, often allowing several paths to the same goal, Black Arrow, at least in the single player or co-op levels, are painfully linear. Aside from a few token locations thrown in to let the game's chief feature, the split screen ability, come into play, locations that allow players to enter a room from two directions at once, almost every level is a lesson in A to B navigation. For most rooms, there is one entrance, and one exit. While there might be large rooms and small rooms, ultimately any co-op players working in tangent will enter a room in a row, one after the other, and leave a room one after the other, often shooting at people from the exact same angles. No matter how nice it would be to be able to split from your partner and take on a challenge from different directions, like storming a room from completely different areas, nearly every room is the same; when it comes to entering and leaving, the guy in back has to wait for the guy in front to get his caboose out of the way.
Since Rainbow Six 3 has such a delicate line between life and death, one-on-one adversarial matches end much too quickly to really be the ideal use of the split screen feature, so in terms of the people buying this game in order to play with their friends, Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow contains some of the most poorly designed maps I've ever encountered. Want an example? I went ahead and drew up a little diagram based on a map or two from both the original Rainbow Six 3, and Black Arrow. They're shown below. Each dot represents a single room, and each line that comes from the room represents an exit or an entrance. Curved lines (I didn't count these on the left map) show when a room has two doors that both lead to the same location. On the left is the first floor of the Crespo Foundation from the original Rainbow Six 3, and on the right is the Nuclear Reactor map from Black Arrow. Both are chosen because they are relatively typical maps from each game, though neither are the best each has to offer.
Can you see the difference? Crespo splits, backtracks, and has multiple exits in a number of the rooms. Sure, they all eventually lead to a regrouping point, but a team of two, three, or four people can spread out and coordinate, put their numbers to some use, charge a room from two doors at once, clear the right and left side of a hallway simultaneously... you get the idea. The Nuclear Reactor Map? Not a chance. Each room is entered through, mostly, a single door barely big enough for two people to shoot through at once. Even, in the rare cases, when a room has two entrances, it's because an extra door has been added to the same room down the hallway. In fact, I didn't even bother counting when a single room had two doors leading into the same room on the Crespo map; if the Nuclear Reactor had been graphed on the exact same standard as its counterpart, it would be nothing but a straight line.
Even the large rooms that have places to cover and shoot position all the guys in such a way that 95% of all the rooms are completely cleared from the cover of the doorway. So if two people are playing, the man in front opens the door, shots everyone in the room, and then is followed by the guy behind, who was desperately trying to see over his shoulder for a good shot. And if you're playing 3 or 4 players over System Link? Forget about it. Player 3 and 4 basically get to entertain themselves at the tail of the group by playing "who can find the best cover" in already cleared rooms.
My other complaint will strike a note only with a rather specific audience; the Xbox modding scene. One of the greatest aspects of the original Xbox Rainbow Six 3 wasn't something that the developer could have intended; the maps built with the Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield map editor for the PC, shipped with the game, could be converted to run on a modified Xbox, allowing those into the modding scene to dramatically increase the number of maps available for use in the game, either single or multiplayer. I've known people who have modified their Xbox for the sole purpose of utilizing the Rainbow Six 3 maps that can be downloaded and installed on your Xbox with surprising ease.
This little ability expands Rainbow Six 3 into a game with infinite possibility; new co-op, terrorist hunt, and adversarial maps will almost always be available. Black Arrow, though, as of the time of this writing, cannot utilize any of the homebrew maps. For one reason or another, Black Arrow, which ships with a rather less than inspirational set of maps (in terms of split screen), is the one with the least ability to be expanded (with the exception of Xbox LIVE downloadables, of course, which, for the original at least, have been entirely adversarial maps, with no co-operative maps at all). For most readers, this won't be a problem, since most readers probably aren't into Xbox modification, yet I find it somewhat ironic that the version of Rainbow Six 3 most optimized for Co-op play, with the split-screen feature, is the version that's the least enjoyable to play cooperatively, and seems to have little recourse in terms of solving that problem.When Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow was announced, I was hopeful it would do for Rainbow Six 3 what Ghost Recon: Island Thunder did for the original Ghost Recon, another tactical game that absorbed tremendous amounts of my time. After its release, Island Thunder became the game to buy; it fixed glitches, had new maps, new guns, and new abilities. All around, it was equal or superior to the original, and I would have advised newcomers to buy it first over its predecessor. Not so with Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow. If you need split-screen, like I did before my Xbox and TV fetish began, then Black Arrow is the only way to go, but it's disappointing. Just plain Rainbow Six 3 is a better game.
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