Raven Shield Demo Review

Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield hardly needs an introduction. If you’re not one of the many fans of the acclaimed series, you’ve probably at least heard of it. The multiplayer demo for Raven Shield has finally been released to the masses. What’s it like? Read on..

Note : Updated Review with Patch information now available here.

Reviewer’s machine: AMD Athlon XP 2000+ 512MB RAM SoundBlaster Audigy ATI Radeon 9700PRO Windows XP Home Edition

Unreal

In a daring move, Ubi Soft decided to stray from the in-house game engines used by previous Rainbow titles, and licensed Epic Games’ Unreal engine instead. As proven by Unreal Tournament 2003, this engine is quite capable of mind-boggling graphics.

The graphics in Raven Shield are, in a word, awesome. The models are well made, as are the textures. The most impressive aspect of the graphics is probably the special effects, mainly the nightvision goggles, flashbang effect and tear gas effect.

The nightvision goggles makes everything go green and fuzzy (surprise, surprise), and decreases your field of vision to a small circle. Bright areas – everything from illuminated teammates to bright lightbulbs – flare up beautifully.

Get to close to a lightsource and you’ll find yourself completely blinded.


The nightvision goggles make players stand out like radioactive lollipops in a kindergarten during a power outage.

Blinded is something you’ll also be if you happen to look at a flashbang as it goes off. Whatever you were looking at will remain on the screen for a short while, slowly fading away. Depending on what you were looking at, it can be difficult telling the “ghost image” apart from what you’re really looking at. In addition to the visual effect, your virtual ears will ring and all other sounds will be muted.

Finally, perhaps the most “fun” effect: The tear gas. If you walk into a cloud of gas without a gas mask, your vision will be heavily blurred. Everything leaves motion trails when you move around. While it wears off relatively fast, the first few seconds are total disorientation and the effect is, as I said, very impressive.


Gas mask: $300. Nightvision goggles: $500. Playing Raven Shield as a Darth Vader lookalike: Priceless

One of the nice touches connected with all of these items is that they’re visible to other players.

When you activate your nightvision goggles, other players will see your character take them out and put them on. Extra items, such as grenades, are visible hanging from your belt, your sidearm is tucked into your thigh holster and if you step into gas and start coughing, your character will bring his arm up to his mouth and, well, cough. If you have a gas mask on, that’ll be visible too. Finally, whenever your primary weapon is not in use, it’ll be slung across your back.

The animations are good overall. The walking/running animations have been criticised for being too stiff, but in my opinion, they look just fine.

Raven Shield allegedly supports ATI’s TRUFORM, which increases the amount of polygons and makes everything look rounder. For a comparison of how Raven Shield looks with this feature turned on and off, check out this ATI page. There’s also some information on other features, such as projected textures and CubeMapping. Unfortunately, while TRUFORM does work, it causes certain clipping errors in the first-person weapon models, such as the M16 and G36k magazines clipping through the magazine wells.

The First Person

Oh yes, the infamous first-person weapon models are very present. There’s been a fair amount of skepticism towards this new addition to the series. Personally, I’ve never had a problem with weapon models – I’m quite fond of them, actually. And the ones in Raven Shield are most impressive. They’re a bit higher up and closer to center than in most games and they take up more space, but most of them also look really good. The animations (holstering, drawing, reloading) are beautiful.

Of course, everybody won’t be happy with them, so there’s an option to turn it off. If you do, all you’ll have is the generic reticle, which is a bit too plain for me.

The weapons themselves might also be a bit too plain for some. The demo contains only a small portion of the full Rainbow armory with three submachine guns, four assault/battle rifles, two sniper rifles, one light machinegun, one machinepistol and four pistols. Not enough? That’s where the attachments come in.

The demo features two attachments, the scope and the suppressor. All the weapons come with a 1.5x zoom level which works much like in the previous Rainbow titles. Put on a scope and voila – 3.5x zoom, with the added fun of actually looking through the scope, complete with its own reticle. The suppressor is pretty self-explanatory: You attach it and it makes your weapon more quiet. Just like everything else, the attachments are visible to other players.

The light machinegun and the two sniper rifles also come with bipods which are automatically extended when you go prone. The bipod significantly increases accuracy and decreases recoil, invaluable when attempting to provide any sort of accurate, continuous fire with the RPD light machinegun.

Lastly, the sound. Not a lot to say here either. The sounds are satisfying and varied. Each weapon has a unique sound, from the dry “BANG” of the M14 to the “click” of a suppressed pistol. EAX is fully supported and sounds great.

Karma

Together with the Unreal engine, Ubi Soft also use the Karma physics engine. Remember all the cool death animations in the previous games? They’re gone (apparently) and in place are realistic physics. Instead of playing a pre-made animation when dead, the model will interact realistically with the environment. This means that if you die at the top of a set of stairs, you’ll drop and then fall down the stairs. Stand with your back to a wall and you’ll end up slumped against it.

It’s not perfect, though. Sometimes the term “rag doll physics” are taken a bit too far and the corpses will end up in some particulary painful-looking positions, such as with the feet by the head and the legs bent around the back. Apart from the overly bendy pelvic area, the Karma engine works fine, so you won’t find anyone with their legs bent forward at the knees.”


The Karma engine does its job. Also note the blood mark above the corpse.

Evolution

So what about the actual gameplay? Well, I played for about seven hours straight last night, so I guess I like it. In short, it’s a combination of Rogue Spear, Ghost Recon and America’s Army: Operations.

It’s slower. Much like in Ghost Recon, the old Rogue Spear tactic of strafing back and forth maniacally while firing on full-auto won’t cut it, it’ll kill you. Accuracy on the move is pretty bad, so most of the time you’ll want to slow to a walk or stop alltogether before firing. The end result is more tactical movement, less running around at full speed and extended firefights as people peek around corners, let off a few rounds and jump back behind cover. The old reticle bloom (reticle expanding to simulate recoil) is gone and instead we now have “real” recoil where the entire screen shakes and the weapon moves upwards. The weapons are also more lethal than ever before. Just a few rounds from the MP5, or even a pistol, is enough to end your life – especially if you’re clipped in the head. The high-powered rifles, like the M14, will take you down with one shot to the chest. If you get shot, your vision will be temporarily blurred. Get hit in the leg and you’ll have to limp around for the rest of the round.

To help you avoid getting shot, you have several new moves at your disposal. For starters, you can now go prone, thus presenting a smaller target while increasing accuracy. As mentioned, it’s also required to go prone in order to utilize bipods. You can also control your posture “manually” by pressing the Ctrl key and moving the mouse around. This is the so-called “gradual peek”, allowing you to lean around corners and duck behind cover as fast or slowly as you’d like.

Speaking of gradual, there’s also gradual opening of doors. If you’re not happy with hitting Space and slamming the door wide open, you can use the mousewheel to open it slowly. During a fast-paced multiplayer game, it’s arguably better to just get the dang thing open as fast as possible, but this feature will definitely be of use in some situations where one player opens the door slightly, another one tosses in a flashbang, the first one closes the door and then they both barge in after the flashbang detonates.

Finally, you have a new and very entertaining way of decending ladders. By pressing the right mouse-button while decending, you will place your feet on the sides of the ladder and slide down at mind-boggling speeds. This can be very useful since you’re completely defenseless while climbing ladders.

Since the flashbangs are quite effective now, they’re used a lot more often, and the gas grenades are pretty popular too until the opposing team wisens up and starts wearing gas masks. The fragmentation grenade, however, is somewhat disappointing. It’s still very deadly, but the range has been decreased so much that you can almost stand on top of it and still escape without a scratch.

The heartbeat sensor is also in, with a makeover. Instead of being a handheld device that makes enemies pop up on the map, the heartbeat sensor is now a pair of goggles which make heartbeats show up as pulsing circles. The sensor is less accurate than it used to be, but still very useful when tracking down hostiles or scouting ahead.

Shackled Time

The demo comes with a whopping two maps. The first one is a pretty large prison map. It has several multi-story buildings, a big basement, a load of routes and a somewhat tall “sniper tower” (with one of the longest ladders I’ve ever seen in a game).

The other map is a remake of the old City Street Large. It’s pretty much the same, but it’s larger and has more cover.

There are also some small, low holes here and there where you can only get through when prone.

Both maps provides the teams with plenty of ways to get to the enemy and both are quite balanced.


Equipment and weapons are visible to other players.

Red & Green

The demo offers two gameplay styles, Survival and Team Survival. Anyone familiar with the Tom Clancy shooters should know what these are, for everyone else it’s Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. In Survival, everyone’s spawned randomly around the map and has to hunt down the rest. In Team Survival, the two teams – Red team and Green team – start at pre-set locations and the last team standing is the winner.

To help plan the assault on the opposing team, Raven Shield has a so-called drawing tool. Hitting F4 will bring up a full-screen, top-down photo of the current map. Here you can simply click and drag on the map to draw a line. On the left side of the screen are several colors to chose from, and at the bottom you’ll find a bunch of icons that can be placed on the map with the right mouse-button. Whenever someone on the team interacts with the drawing tool, the entire team will be notified, and everybody can see what the other teammates are drawing. In this age of voice communication software and well-trained squads, this might not be incredibly useful, but it’s a fun addition nonetheless.

As always when playing with a team, there’s the possibility of ‘blue-on-blue’ – friendly fire. To help counter this, Raven Shield has several new features. One is a Ghost Recon-esque IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) system. Whenever you aim at a teammate, the reticle goes green and the player’s name is displayed. If you’re the kind who prefers to shoot first and IFF later, there’s the radar. The radar displays all teammates in your vicinity and what level they’re on (higher, lower or same). If you still catch a bullet from someone on your team, a small window will pop up asking if you want to penalize the player. By hitting ‘Yes’, the offending player will be forced to observe the next round. If you think the teamkill was accidental and don’t feel like punishing the player, you just click ‘No’ and everything continues as normal.

The game is played in rounds, just like the past titles. The difference, however, is that there’s no chat screen between the rounds. Instead, a transparent menu appears on the screen where you can chose your gear, watch the scores, switch teams and so on. There’s a ready button, and the game launches when all the players are ready. If not, it will still launch when the count-down reaches zero.

This is one of the downsides about Raven Shield. The Rainbow games have always been about socializing for me, and I’ve probably clocked up more time at the chat screen that in the game itself. In Raven Shield, there’s no way to turn off the count-down between rounds, and it doesn’t go higher than 60 seconds. This leaves little time for chit-chat. In addition to this, the text can be hard to see sometimes as it overlaps with the transparent menu.

Other than this little annoyance, the new system works great and eliminates the need to load the map prior to every round.

Ubi.com

Before you get this far, you have to find a server to play on (or host one yourself). New hosts will find themselves looking at a DOS-like command prompt until they realize that the ‘Dedicated Server’ option is on by default. Did I say dedicated server? Ah yes, Raven Shield is the one and only Rainbow Six game with dedicated servers. The host has a plethora of other options to set up as well, including a ‘Force First Person Weapon’. Since the new first-person models both decrease the framerate slightly and block your vision, the host can opt to force everybody to use them to avoid players gaining an advantage.

>The promised in-game browser is also present, but this is also where most of the problems appear. Not surprisingly, the browser uses the Ubi.com matchmaking service. You don’t have to download the Ubi.com software, but unless you’re playing a LAN game, you have to have a Ubi account and log in. Naturally, this means that if there’s trouble with Ubi, there’s trouble with the game. This was obvious the day the demo was released, when there were some server problems and several people had trouble getting into servers – me included. The following day, however, it all worked. The readme states that 56k modems are “supported, but not recommended”, and that high-speed internet access is best. Still, I’ve had no problems playing with my 64k ISDN and the lag is no worse than in other games I play. When you first start playing, it might still appear laggy, though. Most games have client-side animations, that is, when you hit the fire button, the gun on your screen fires. Then that information (you firing) is transmitted to the server.


The tear gas effect is truly disorienting

In Raven Shield, it’s the other way around. When you hit the fire button, the information is sent to the server first. Only when the server gets this information does the gun on your screen fire. This means that there will almost always be a small delay between hitting the fire button and actually firing. In return, when the weapon goes off on your screen, there’s no delay between firing and hitting something, preferrably an enemy. The delay is also so small on any decent server that you’ll quickly get used to it and eventually not notice it at all.

Some people still have problems with Ubi.com and the occational “Cannot log in” bug still appears. In Ubi’s defense, this is one of the very few games where you can hop on a public server with total strangers and still get a fair amount of good teamwork, rather than a bunch of guys playing Rambo. I guess that says something about the Rainbow Six online community..

Mission Complete

Some hate it, some love it. There have been a fair amount of complaints about Raven Shield not being similar enough to Rogue Spear. I’m thankful this isn’t what we got. While Rogue Spear was, and still is, a great game, I don’t care much for sequels if they just feel like mission packs with better graphics.

I see Raven Shield as a new chapter in the long line of tactical shooters with Mr. Clancy’s name on them, and I love it. It has enough of the old Rainbow in it for me to feel right at home, and at the same time it has so many new things to keep it fresh and interesting. The feel of the game is still Rainbow, but it’s also darker, grimmer and heavier – more mature and less run-and-gun. Slower, without being too slow. This very small multiplayer-only demo has been out for just a bit over a weekend and I can already tell that this will be my favorite game of the year 2003. It gives me that warm and fuzzy feeling, heck, playing it with some friends for the first time the other day was just like the very first AGR-S Rumble, complete with shaky hands and lots of fun. If you’re a fan of tactical shooters, I suggest you give the demo a go.