3: Raven Shield (Ubisoft for PC)
by Eric Johnson
Tom Clancy, rambling technofetishist and best-selling author of detail-laden military thrillers and three outstanding video game franchises, has become one of the most reliable names in video entertainment. A new jewel has been added to his crown with the release of the third installment in the stellar Rainbow Six series. For the uninitiated, Rainbow Six is an intense and super-realistic squad-based tactical shooter that puts you in command of the world’s finest counter-terrorism unit. Do not mistake it for your standard-issue first-person shooter, this series features some of the most brutally-realistic, challenging, and ultimately rewarding gunplay available in the industry.
Missions involve leading coordinated strikes against terrorist cells; sometimes rescuing hostages, taking prisoners, or defusing bombs. This gets tricky because the people you control are no better at getting shot than you or I, and it usually only takes a single round to put you on your ass, permanently. Bringing everyone home intact involves some serious planning, so before every mission you get the opportunity to create, from scratch, your SWAT-style deployment. What weapons should be used? What doors should be breached, which rooms cleared first? Preparation may take hours, or you could just go with one of the pre-assigned plans. Such detailed micromanagement can be a selling point or an intimidating Achilles Heel for those hungry for action. For me, the planning makes the game intensely cerebral and intensely visceral at the same time, a rare feat that should be respected. Raven Shield follows the formula closely, adding some absolutely amazing graphics (the first application of the Unreal II engine in a great game), and some minor gameplay elements that allow your team to react more fluidly in the field and that inject even more stunning realism to the game. Add to that a devoted online multiplayer following and the promise of many expansion packs (one already on the way) and you get a great game and a great investment that should still be popular for a couple years.
Unfortunately, despite the timely subject matter, Raven Shield never sends you to the Middle East; instead you combat neo-Nazis in Europe. It’s a disappointing cop-out with an excessively safe and bland villain, but it doesn’t take away from an excellent and highly-recommended game.