When the Xbox received a unique Rainbow Six 3 game last year it was hugely successful and that can primarily be put down to the fantastic Xbox Live support it featured as well as the developers thinking outside the square and coming up with a style of gameplay suitable for consoles that was different to the PC versions. Black Arrow is aiming to continue this success but with a few major changes and new additions that Microsoft have made to Live since last year. What has resulted is a very solid tactical action game, that won't break the bank.
Whereas the focus in the original title was on oil and countries continuing to provide it to the US, the expansion pack (the game does not require the original game to play however) is set sometime after that conflict in 2008 and is focuses on terrorists getting the materials to build a nuclear weapon and ultimately launch one. Again it is up to Rainbow to stop them but for those of you who have played through the original, there is still a few surprises and shocks in the gameplay aspect.
Like in Rainbow Six 3, you take command of four elite operatives assigned to you to take down the terrorists and save the world again. Considering how popular the structural change that the franchise had for the console edition, it is of no surprise that it has been retained. You once again play as Ding Chavez, the most famous of the group and if Ding dies no matter what the mission ends. So rather than being able to take control of all the units, you instead have to give orders to the AI characters. Keeping Ding alive is your primary objective and sometimes because of this you may find yourself using the other characters as fodder to get a task completed quickly.
The campaign for Black Arrow is completely new but there are some areas throughout that veterans may see as a little too close to some of the missions in the previous game. Tasks range from rescuing hostages, disarming bombs, assassinating a target and generally keeping the world a peaceful place. Set across ten missions you will find yourself in areas brand new to the series and also in a lot more hairier situations than before. For instance in some missions towards the end you as Ding will be asked to proceed alone while the others take care of some hostages which adds more suspense. Even though the two styles of stealth and Rainbow really don't mix, the developers have continued to try and they are a lot more tolerable this time and do mix the gameplay up.
Although Black Arrow on the surface can seem easier than the original game because of a few changes to the heads up display, the AI has been tweaked a little and will no longer just stand there trying to shoot you. It is still possible to pick them off from distance, but this is now harder to do due to more strategic positioning of enemies such as hidden in an alcove or behind a chair. The HUD has changed colour and is now easier to read. It still tells you whether an objective is above or below you and in which direction. It can be argued that this makes the game too easy, but the fact you know where to go lessens the frustration of tasks such as running around a hotel looking for a laptop to hack. If you do get stuck there are codes available.
The team members are the same which featured in last years game and still contain their sharp wit. They react to enemies automatically and often point out tangos quicker than you do. If they sense a danger rather than wait for you to give an order they will protect themselves which allows you to focus on completing the mission rather than trying to guide some poor AI to the end. Only Ding has to survive each mission giving an even greater focus on the action for the player. They can still be commanded via the voice communicator or with the controller.
The introduction movie to the game shows this wit and quick thinking in action and overall the presentation of the game is vastly superior to last years game. During briefings, videos now play showing the terrorists in action and also the current conditions from camera feeds or police video. Although it doesn't really help too much, it does add a layer of authenticity not seen in Rainbow before. You still choose your own loadout but the other characters have minds of their own and choose their own weapons. However there are items which they will follow you on such as a gas mask if it is required.
As mentioned before throughout the campaign many new places are visited including the recent host of the Olympics, Athens. You will find missions in London, Milan and others with highly detailed areas. The map featured in the HUD helps greatly throughout these levels as they are quite large and you can get lost easily. The overall graphics level has been retained from last years game, but considering it featured highly detailed and impressive graphics this is not an issue. The game still looks great to play and still includes the rag doll physics and other small aspects which made last years game so pleasing to the eye. The music is still an upbeat political themed style and the voice actors return from the original game and put in a solid performance.
The Xbox Live component which made last years game so popular has returned along with all the brand new features which were recently added to Live. You can play co-operatively online in deathmatch and team deathmatch as well as modes which very much resemble the ever popular counter-strike. However for those who don't have the online service, Ubisoft this time has included the split screen play which first featured on the recently released PS2 port and allows you to play co-operatively through the missions on the same console. Some new single player modes such as lone wolf have also been added to extend the games life past Xbox Live and the campaign mode.
Rainbow Six Black Arrow proves that in the time after release the Rainbow franchise has lost none of its stunning gameplay even with the price being cut in half due to the game really being a standalone expansion pack to last years game. However for half the price eight months later, ten missions, online play and new features such as split screen prove that it should be one of the most recommendable games to any Xbox owner, and it is.