When Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six first arrived on the PC scene, it was a revelation for the gaming masses who were nursed on gorefest first-person shooters (FPS) like Doom and Quake. Not only did Rainbow Six challenge all of the conventions typically associated with the genre, it also set new standards by interjecting a level of unforgiving realism and strategy that was then unheard of. Despite the radical differences, PC gamers liked what they played and made Rainbow Six one of the year's most popular releases. Its subsequent reputation cleared the way for the sequel entitled Rogue Spear and, again, it was met with great approval by the fans and media alike. Being such a successful franchise over the last two years, the company responsible, Red Storm Entertainment, must have saw Rainbow Six as the ideal vehicle by which they could capitalize on the more lucrative console market. The question is, will an audience nursed on Super Mario and Pokémon take to something so unflinchingly realistic?
I can only hope the answer will be yes because the Nintendo 64 (N64) version of Rainbow Six is stunningly successful on numerous levels. On one level, never before on the N64 system has there been a game that achieves such a balance of depth, realism, maturity, and intensity the way Rainbow Six does. This is a game that may look like an FPS on the surface, but in actuality, its more a real-world simulation of squad-based tactics during 12 rescue or assault-type operations. Rainbow Six requires extreme amounts of strategic studying and planning during the preliminary phase of each mission in order to simultaneously direct multiple teams to complete various objectives. Once these plans are in place (though they can be unwisely forgone if one chooses to), players then must execute them by personally taking control of one team while the computer controls the others in accordance with the directives and parameters assigned in the planning phase. Strategy and depth are prominent because since theres no one right way to execute a plan, each player must personally struggle through constant trial and error in order to discover which approach and style best suits him or herself.
With all the planning one must undergo to be successful in the long run, one might think Rainbow Six is more work than play. And while I'll admit that I intially took little joy in the planning phase, it's hard to describe the incredible level of satisfaction I got from having a complex plan of my own creation properly executed and successfully run in achieving its goals. Also, few things match the intensity I felt a split-second before giving the go for three strategically-placed assault teams to simultaneously barge into a room, bring down all enemy tangos within, and then escorting the hostages to safety. To top it off, for each mission, Rainbow Six offers a two-player cooperative option where a pair of humans can plan and execute missions together. Dale and I had a blast on this one. Visually, this option is a little harder on the eyes since the two players must split the screen either horizontally or vertically, but its well worth the sacrifice. With two players interacting with one another during assaults, covering each others tails, and simultaneously completing different objectives when necessary, Rainbow Six brings a level of depth and dimensionality that is severely underrepresented on the N64.
Another level of success that Rainbow Six achieves is the brilliant job that the developers, Saffire, did in converting PC software to the N64 cartridge format. The same solid and subdued graphics, chattery yet understated sound, and mechanical-feeling gameplay common to the PC version is still present in the N64 port, but there are some significant differences. Menu selections and onscreen information during actual play differ due to the lower screen resolution of the N64. Further hardware limitations restrict players to assigning only a pair of soldiers per squad and only four for the entire operation (half of what was available on the PC version). Surprisingly, some of the differences actually turn out to be positives. For instance, the planning phase of the game is easily the most difficult part of the game to comprehend. But by utilizing more basic two-dimensional map layouts and the streamlined N64 controller, the process is actually more approachable, more simplified, and more easily understood compared to the PC original and does so without sacrificing any real functionality.
As excited as I am about the positives, there are, however, some severe negatives that really hurt Rainbow Six in the final evaluation. When I say that this is thorough port, I mean it. It includes many of the bugs and flaws found previously in the original. The most glaring bug that hasn't been corrected is was the way computer-controlled hostages and teammates would behave erratically by getting stuck in the environments or not following plans accordingly or by simply going berzerk. Both versions of Rainbow Six also play very differently from other FPSs in that everything from the controls to enemy AI (artificial intelligence) behave very mechanically and rigid almost to a fault. While I understand that the Elite Forces of this sort strive for precision, which Rainbow Six tries to replicate, but in doing so, the game can feel somewhat unnatural and, at times, lifeless. Lastly, no one should underestimate how difficult it is to grasp the earlier discussed planning portion of the game. Theres no training mode or progressive mission design to slowly ease players into the process. Don't count on the instructional manual for help either, as it is short on any useful information on the subject. The planning mode, which has the potential to plot out some amazingly detailed and complex plans, is offset by how much time it takes for someone to realize and comprehend the concepts necessary to actually implement them. Personally, I struggled heavily with the planning portion and it wasnt until I read through a couple of strategy and tip guides that I began to see all the possibilities.