I’ve always found it funny that so many people elope to Las Vegas to get married in one of the city’s many chapels, because ten years ago, Vegas is where I learnt to fall in love.
I remember Vegas as a place of neon lights, slot machines and armed terrorists, where rolling firefights, scripted action sequences and the art of poking a little fiber optic camera under a door returned my faith not just in the Rainbow Six series, but shooting games in general.
Rainbow Six: Vegas is one of the most important shooters ever made. It was a bold reinvention of the series that showed not only that there was a market for AAA single-player tactical shooters, but also that you can experiment with a series safely, as long as you remember what made it so great in the first place.
The franchise was in disarray after 2005’s Rainbow Six Lockdown bombed and the general consensus was that the series had lost track of its roots. The hardcore fans wanted Rainbow Six 3 again, while thousands of angry forum posts complained that the series was too slow, too hard and didn’t have a gravity gun. What they got was a run and gun blaster that left many dissatisfied.
A year later, Rainbow Six: Vegas breached onto the scene, clutching a realistically modeled Glock 18 in its hands and urging you to pay attention. Vegas was a “real” Rainbow Six game, with just a handful of bullets delivering you to an untimely game over screen. This and many other features signaled a return to realism, a series hallmark, although the game itself was a reinvention of the Rainbow Six series that had come before. The biggest up front change was doing away with pre-mission briefings and even the concept of separate missions to keep the pace consistent, but it also made bold steps with concessions to the difficulty including a regenerating health system and a forgiving cover system.
The loss of the planning stage drew a lot of ire from fans, myself included, but I found that the core loop of planning and executing was still there, except instead of plotting an entire raid of an embassy in one fluid sequence, it became more granular. The scope of my plans tended to stick to the act of breaching and clearing the next room, and no further. It was quite satisfying, hanging outside of a window on a rappel and marking terrorists from above as they argue amongst themselves about how best to execute a female hostage who’s sobbing on the ground between them. There’s an element of danger you didn’t really get with the sterile planning phases of the original, and you were often forced to act using imperfect intel or a flawed starting position because time is of the essence.
Assisting you in your mission were a pair of hyper competent AI teammates (or perhaps three other real people in co-op mode, with competency varying depending on your friend group) who you could order around, covering your flanks or breaching rooms for you with lightning efficiency. AI had been improving rapidly in shooters, and for perhaps the first time you had teammates that were frequently better in a fight than you were instead of the ineffectual AI companions you had been following through FPS games up to that point. Sadly, this is something that hasn’t caught on with modern shooters entirely, with your special forces colleagues usually still being awful in a firefight.
A fairly cohesive story powered Vegas’s myriad set pieces and procession of casinos, luxury hotels and filthy scrapyards. The locale and recognizable landscapes giving a backdrop that felt meaningful to a story that was, ultimately, about shooting people and saving the world. Previous shooters might have had a strong storyline, but most of the story was told via loading screens and optional dossiers; in retrospect Rainbow Six: Vegas feels like one of the first times a shooter truly felt like a “blockbuster” movie, with that momentum of a speeding train you couldn’t escape from as you dealt with threat after threat.
That may not feel remarkable now, after recent Battlefield and Call of Duty campaigns have tried to recreate that same feeling with varying success. Its influence shouldn’t be underestimated, though. Without Rainbow Six: Vegas’s casino shootouts, tense bomb defusals, and stealth assaults, there wouldn’t have been Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, particularly its iconic stealth segment Ghillies in the Mist.
Vegas wasn’t a niche game, by any stretch. In the early days of Xbox Live, this was the game to play, and it taught me everyone I know about shooters now. It made me care about kill/death ratios, and taught me that sometimes, it’s faster to pull a sidearm than to reload your main weapon.
These tenets became crucial to the modern military shooter, and now many of the design choices that Rainbow Six: Vegas made have been internalized as deeply as press spacebar to jump, or right click to aim. Not to mention it popularized the cover system. Gears of War also brought in cover mechanics earlier the same month, but Rainbow Six: Vegas did it right. It feels easy, with a press of the left trigger moving you into cover on the nearest object, pulling the camera back to give you a better view. Gears might get most of the credit today, but Vegas was vital to establishing cover systems as a key facet of shooters.
Rainbow Six: Vegas is an odd beast now, but it’s aged well. The multiplayer servers are down, and the AI voice recognition, talked about so much around the release, often ended up with you getting flashbanged. But it’s a key part of first person shooter history. No Vegas means no slow motion breaches and AAA blockbuster moments in your favorite shooter, and worst of all, perhaps no Titanfall 2 for everyone to seemingly ignore today in favor of lesser shooters.
Vegas is an invaluable part of FPS history. Go and experience it.
Jake Tucker is a freelance journalist and the founder of Videobrains. He’s on Twitter @_JakeTucker.