If you're into shooters where you can just run around firing at everything in sight, then move along, these aren't the droids you're looking for. The Rainbow Six series is not one where a lone hero single-handedly takes on an army of monsters and aliens, saving the Earth from nasty invaders and getting the pretty girl. In fact, the Rainbow Six games don't sport a single hero at all, per se. And if you just go in, guns blazing, you're pretty much guaranteed to lose in your missions in near-record time. But if you're looking for a slightly more realistic alternative to typical first-person shooters, then it's hard to do much better than a Rainbow Six game. And the latest installment in this series, Raven Shield, certainly doesn't disappoint.
As fans of the series will already know, this is not a game where you can pick up 'health juice' to regain health points from all the shots you've been hit with, and packs of ammo to constantly keep reloading when you've emptied out your umpteenth clip on the enemy army. In the tactical world of Rainbow Six, as created by Tom Clancy and developed by Red Storm Entertainment, is tactical squad-based combat at its best, and it doesn't bend the laws of nature too badly. All it takes is one good shot to kill or be killed. Shoot someone in a vital organ, and they die... get shot, and the same happens to you.
For some, this method of gameplay will be frustrating, if not unbearable. But for those who eventually get tired of the near-invincibility their characters enjoy in typical FPS games, Raven Shield is as good a game as they're likely to come across... though not a perfect one.
As in the Clancy novels, terrorism is a huge factor in the Rainbow Six games, and you are put in charge of an elite squad, and take the role of the final negotiating option. Think BlackOps or Wetworks troops and you've got a pretty fair idea on what's going on here. Through many different locations and following shifting mission parameters, your team will be forced to make realistic combat choices, all within a tactical squad-based design, and face enemies taken right out of the front-page news.
Ok, so Raven Shield isn't Mission Impossible, but missions are how the game is broken up. There's a background story, of course, but the odds of you caring much about it are slim to none, and it will have all-too-little bearing on how you play the game. This was something of a disappointment, believe it or not, as I've found myself most engaged by games where the action is all tied to some overall ongoing tale (Deux Ex and the Soul Reaver games serving as examples of this). The story should be more than just an excuse to have some nifty cut scenes, it should be the reason you're doing what you do in the game. In this game, however, the only theme you really need to "get" to play the game is "get those bad guys!"
As you succeed in completing each mission in Raven Shield, you're presented with the next one that you and your chosen team will have to face. This requires either some careful planning or a willingness to accept the game system's recommendations. If you choose to fully customize the gaming experience, you'll have your pick of team members, uniforms, weapons, items, and even attack plans.
Now for some, this may seem daunting, particularly when it comes time to plan out what path squads should take in executing the mission. And so many newer players will probably end up choosing to go with a game system-recommended plan. But what's nice about this is that it gives the game a bit more lasting appeal than it would have otherwise. Even if you've completed all the missions, you can still come back to them and see how you might have done so differently if you had taken another approach and/or chosen team members with different skills.
... you've gotta do it yourself, right? Well actually, Raven Shield gives you the option of planning things out and then letting the team take it from there. As a spectator, you'll see the action unfold, but you won't be directing it, yourself. This is great for armchair generals (much like the manage mode of sports sims) but who's kidding who, few action gamers are going to buy Raven Shield just to see a poorly acted movie, right? So more important than this particular game mode is how, exactly, gameplay is in Raven Shield.