With The Division out today, Ghost Recon Wildlands sneaking out before the end of the year and Rainbow Six: Siege being the best multiplayer shooter in months, 2016 could be a great year for Clancy-philes.
But if you’re not already up to date it can be daunting to look at picking your way through nearly two decades of games for the tactical gems so we’ve rappelled through every Rainbow Six game to find the ones worth your time and effort.
A couple of ground rules:
-No expansion packs.
-No entries on either mobile or handheld platforms.
-No games released only in South Korea (Sorry Rainbow Six: Takedown)
-Where games differ between console and PC versions, unless specified we’re talking about the PC version.
This brings us to a nice round number. Without further fanfare, let’s pass judgement on our favorite series of Tom Clancy games.
1 of 9
9. Rainbow Six: Lockdown: Rainbow Six Lockdown manages to take years of goodwill built up by the Tom Clancy games and flush it all away.
Whereas before the game had emphasized tactical choices and depth, here the levels were largely linear. The ability to play as multiple different operatives earlier in the series is replaced with you controlling just the iconic Rainbow Six squad leader Ding Chavez, and the whole game is streamlined to strip out several of its more interesting features and replace them with run & gun gameplay.
Lockdown puts you between a rock and a hard place: play the console version and put up with enforced shooting gallery levels where you control the team's sniper as he puts down bad guys or play on the PC version and lose all of the storyline related cutscenes. Like the war-mongering super-computer in 80's hit movie Wargames you'll probably come to the conclusion that the only way to win here is not to play.
2 of 9
8. Rainbow Six: Critical Hour: After the many failings of Lockdown, Rainbow Six: Critical Hour was an attempt to pull the games mechanically back to the popular early games. You could almost say it was the series'... Critical Hour.
It actually manages that goal in a lot of ways: putting an accuracy penalty in place for being injured or moving slows the pace of combat down again and the panicked mess of close quarters combat that everyone knew and loved is back in place.
Sadly, its biggest crime is that there's very little to do. There are just a handful of missions in attendance and each of them is a reworking of an earlier mission from Rainbow's history. While trying to recreate the Rainbow Six franchise's heyday, the game forgets to bring any personality of its own, and in a series filled with high notes comes across as distinctly mediocre.
Poor reception to the game cancelled plans to release this in Europe, and put the series to sleep for a little while.
3 of 9
7. Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow: This Xbox exclusive set out to address some of the issues of the Rainbow Six 3 port on the platform. Primarily this involved increased online functionality for the Xbox Live service as it started to pick up momentum.
In addition to adding a couple of online modes, it "fixes" the problem of lean-walking which, as you might have guessed, involved walking at a slight lean to improve your sight lines. This was hyper accurate and it was tearing Xbox Live lobbies apart as everyone took the fight to each other at 45° angles.
It's still missing too much of Rainbow Six 3's PC features to be considered in the same breath, but it was the closest console owners of the time were going to get and the community ate it up.
4 of 9
6. Rainbow Six: Vegas 2: From here it's nothing but hits. Depending on how you feel about slotting terrorists and the underlying jingoism inherent in defending the American way—I'm pretty fine with it—we've hit the classics.
I mention the jingoism because nowhere in the series is the "Yes 'MERICA" vibe more overpowering than it is here. Duty, honor and the American way are all on the line as you blast your way through the highlights of Vegas not used in the original. Sadly, they've cut the ability to have 4 player co-op, and now you can only bring a single friend along for the ride.
The A.C.E.S system rewards you with unlocks based on your style of play and means there's a continual drip-feed of unlocks whether you're playing the campaign, terrorist hunt or the adversarial modes.
Unfortunately the only thing it adds beyond the progression system is a sprint button. If Vegas was the series' two steps forward, Vegas 2 was one step back.
5 of 9
5. Rainbow Six: Sorry, but it's true. For all of the 15 years I've spent idolizing the game, the original Rainbow Six just isn't that great anymore.
I'd still recommend soldiering on through it though just to see how many great ideas the relatively novice team from Red Storm brought to the project. The planning map, mission briefings and loadout screens are all excellent.
The biggest problem with Rainbow Six now is that it's long in the tooth in a genre that has always aged poorly. Beautiful level design is largely abandoned because of a limit to how many terrorists can be scattered throughout the area, while advances in AI now make these attempts from 1998 appear clownish as your soldiers will walk into walls, get stuck in doors and occasionally gun each other down in the panic of battle.
The graphics have aged so poorly now that your team look like blue-clad zombies shambling towards their enemies. Overall the game is like an aging war hero: its accomplishments were tremendous, but the glory days are long behind it.
What it still does well is the briefings. Game briefings don't get better than this and you can read information reports on everything from the layout of the building to the suspected identities of the terrorists and even the personal lives of the hostages inside. It's lovely for building your own stories in your head, because while it doesn't make any difference to the game itself, I want to convince myself that the hostage two of my best men died for is a good person, you know?
6 of 9
4. Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear: This might be an incremental update released to capitalize on the success of Rainbow Six, but when you're the best, why try harder?
The graphics are beefed up from the original and a host of new motion-captured animations were added to the game, while the added graphical grunt means that outdoor levels finally look right, something that never really comes together in the original.
They've also added the option to bring snipers along for overwatch. There are only a few levels where your own dedicated eye in the sky is useful, but when your sniper reaches out and takes out an enemy while you're under fire, it's always a great moment.
The game also introduces the most tactical of features: the lean. Finally you're able to take a stealthy look through a doorway without getting immediately shot as you frame the place. This helps with the game's best level which sees you assaulting a passenger plane. Years later I still get nervous thinking about it and later the series would revisit these hostages.
Rogue Spear feels like the game Rainbow Six wanted to be, and it's still fun to play today.
7 of 9
3. Rainbow Six: Vegas: Rainbow Six: Vegas has been locked in an ideological war for nearly a decade. I hold it responsible for taking the franchise to a darker, more arcade-inspired, future.
It's bloody fun though.
Those arcade elements are much of why Rainbow Six Vegas is so fun, especially the noise and fury of Las Vegas, all flashing lights and spinning slot machines.
There's the persistent elite creation system which lets you create your own unique armed assailant, customizing each piece of clothing and armor before leading your three man team into battle. Each of those teammates can be replaced with a human player, meaning you can play through the entire campaign as a foursome.
It's weird to have an entire Tom Clancy game limited to a single place, but the game still feels incredibly vast.
Another big addition is the cover system; which snaps you out into third person and let you gun down enemies with ease. Many of the old guard saw this as making the game too arcadey and making the player too powerful.
But at its heart, Rainbow Six Vegas to be a worthy successor—a game with its own ideas and interpretations of the core tenets of the series.
8 of 9
2. Rainbow Six: Siege: Rainbow Six: Siege took a while to win me over. The initial concept was a hard sell: instead of a single player campaign against terrorists this would be a five versus five multiplayer shooter.
This wasn't your standard Counter-strike romp though. There's enhanced destruction meaning that not only can you blast someone through a wall with a shotgun, you'll also blow a hole in the wall for the rest of the short 4 minute round. Shoot enough holes, or lob a grenade, breaching charge or one of the many other explosives, and you can make a hole big enough to run through.
The level design in Rainbow Six Siege is absolutely top notch to accommodate for you being able to make your own entry points in 90% of cases. For every smartly planned room there's a tiny little detail that makes me smirk too: the porno magazine in a toilet cubicle is crass, but the pair of kicked off heels under a desk is much smarter, a tiny visual detail you only notice after you crawl under that desk to escape a hail of enemy gunfire.
A standard match of Rainbow Six Siege is a series of mind games as you try to out-think the enemy team in short 4 minute bursts. When someone dies, they die for the rest of the round, so it encourages patience, planning and eventually, short stints of brutal controlled aggression.
Rainbow Six Siege is a masterpiece because is understands that rather than gunning down hordes of enemies it's the quality of the opposition that matters and there's no finer opposition than a living, thinking, human to try and outsmart.
9 of 9
1. Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield: Many people like to point to Ubisoft as the reason Rainbow Six started on its darker, arcadier, path but then Ubisoft also brought us this: Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield.
This is doubling down on everything the original game did right: the tactical map now contains 3D models, you can tell your team which way they should be looking while they're doing the ol' mean and shooty thing, and the shooting actually feels solid.
The improvements are across the board: the maps have more debris to use as cover when you move past and your friendly AI is much better—rather than all getting jammed in a doorway they'll now keep a fairly solid perimeter around you, often noticing if an errant terrorist sneaks up behind you.
You need the extra support, because the AI does a passable job of acting intelligently here: checking out the sound of broken glass or hiding behind a desk to better pepper you with gunfire. Bullet penetration is a thing now, something that later becomes one of the core tenets of the games' CQB battles, and although you aren't blasting through walls yet, desks, sofas and miscellaneous debris are all fair game.
The negatives here are slight: because the AI is better and the levels are more cluttered you realize that in every Rainbow Six up to this point you've been controlling a fridge freezer with a gun. Sadly, you're still controlling a fridge freezer with a gun, and moving through the levels slowly and carefully is the only option.
If you play only one game on the list, I'd suggest it was Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield. It feels like the game with the best grasp of what makes the series special: Long sessions reviewing information and planning, painfully tense periods skulking through the game's levels and, when your plan inevitably goes sour, brutal firefights that last only seconds but leave someone dead at the end.