I could never really get into the original Rainbow Six games for the PC. I was always a fan of first-person shooters. But as intriguing as the realistic, tactical approach was, the games' slow pacing (to be more "realistic" of course) and emphasis on pre-mission planning was a little overwhelming—although indeed that complexity was part of the appeal for many of the series' early fans. When the series got a big overhaul with Rainbow Six 3 for the Xbox, I finally enjoyed it—a lot. The pre-mission planning was scrapped and the action was more fluid; the squad tactics were easy to use thanks to an exceptionally well-designed interface, and the gameplay had a punch to it that the previous incarnations had been sorely lacking.
Generally, with videogame sequels, one expects to see some margin of improvement from one iteration to the next. But if there has ever been an example of how to completely bastardize a fantastic game, it's hard to sink lower than the utterly lousy Rainbow Six: Lockdown. A backwards step in every single respect, Lockdown abandons the core elements that made Rainbow Six 3 and its expansion Black Arrow such fun, challenging and rewarding games.
The most obvious and most surprising disappoint is the graphics. While Rainbow Six 3 used a modified Unreal engine to render crisp, vibrant graphics with fantastic lighting, Lockdown's graphics are muddy, blurred, and blocky. Although the game does implement a few nice reflective effects from time to time, the overall look is a noticeable step backward. This problem is made worse by the obtrusive heads-up display, which supposedly mimics some kind of mask or high-tech visor a la Metroid Prime. However, in this case, the distorted viewing angle and cluttered interface proves more awkward than advantageous.
However, though it's a backward step aesthetically, I would have been willing to overlook it had the gameplay been improved. But this is far from the case. The squad interface has been completely redesigned—for the worse. Gone are simple and useful commands like "Open, Flash and Clear" or "Breach and Clear on Zulu." Instead, There is simply an "open door" command that sets the team up for a simple Open and Clear. It is now possible in seemingly arbitrary instances to send squad members to "scout," but the command lacks any substantive functionality. And while it is still possible to breach doors and perform context-sensitive commands, the logical and simple setup of Rainbow Six 3's elegant squad interface is absent.
As if the dumbing down of the squad tactics weren't enough, the remarkably easy gameplay and horrid artificial intelligence make matters worse. The Rainbow Six games have always been about some level of realistic simulation, and I have no reservation saying that this has been completely and totally abandoned in Lockdown. Enemy combatants stand still like deer in headlights, get stuck behind objects, shoot point-blank at walls, and essentially display a level of behavior that makes "artificial stupidity" a more apt descriptor. In Rainbow Six 3—while perhaps not the greatest AI on the block—enemies at least took cover, leaned out from behind objects, retreated, charged desperately or shot blindly. Not an ounce of such behavior is seen in Lockdown. What's more, the element of one-hit kills is completely gone, making the game feel a lot more like a cheap version of the very good game Star Wars: Republic Commando than a realistic tactical action game.
In the spirit of this abandoned realism, the game has introduced some on-rails sniper sequences in which players shoot hostiles from afar while the rest of the Rainbow team advances. But this new feature feels out of place, essentially being a boring, frustrating trail-and-error drudge.
Adding further to this debacle is the ridiculous "heartbeat sensor." I had often thought a mirror or wire camera would have added nicely to the gameplay, but the heartbeat monitor is just too outlandish and detracts too much from the suspension of entering a room. It has a limited charge, but recharges reasonably quickly so it can be used far too frequently. Essentially the display shows an x-ray display highlighting the location of all hostiles in a room, making entering a room even easier it already is with the dumbed-down difficulty. The absence of a real challenge drains the gameplay of any suspense, something that had previously been such a hallmark of the series.
Even the team preparation is worse off. While the weapon selection had already been oversimplified for the previous Rainbow Six, it's even more simplistic here, and as a result the weapons lack the distinctive feel they had before. While there is plenty of firepower, most of the weapons feel rather similar to each other, and many of the more unique weapons from Rainbow Six 3 are absent.
I could go on, but it seems redundant when the point is obvious. Rainbow Six: Lockdown is a total undoing of every element that made Rainbow Six 3 such a fantastic game. Its only saving grace is a "persistent elite creation" mode for online play that mimics some role-playing elements. It's possible to build a character, buy and sell items, and train the character in new abilities. However, with the simplistic, arcadey gameplay, even online play has lost much of its appeal. Red Storm and Ubi Soft have such a great track record that this game is a truly unwelcome surprise. If there's a lesson to be learned, it's a simple one: if it ain't broke, don't fix it!