Gamers love to decry publishers pushing out franchise installments on a yearly basis, and there are good precedents for that view. With a product as good as "Rainbow Six Vegas," though, it's hard to muster up the kind of righteous wrath that can only be expressed in pithy comments and animated GIFs on a message board. Without a doubt, this sequel is more of the same; a few additions to the gameplay and front end do not a new experience make. However, Ubisoft managed not to screw anything up from the amazing original, which pretty much makes this the best tactical shooter out there by default.
Three things separate "Rainbow Six Vegas 2" from its predecessor. The first, new maps for both single- and multiplayer, should come as a surprise to no one. They're generally well designed, with a variety of environments on the multiplayer side and enough branching paths to offset the linearity on the campaign side. Second, the addition of a sprint function is welcome and makes bounding from cover to cover less painful. Finally, the experience system has been expanded with parallel rewards for specific roles (dropping guys from long range nets your marksman points, for example) and is integrated into single-player as well as online.
Even though these few additions are the only things that distinguish the sequel from the original, this is an amazingly fun game to play alone, with friends, or with strangers online. The generic plot (mercenaries, terrorists, WMDs, blah blah blah) won't impress anyone, but playing through the story is an enthralling experience nonetheless. Figuring out how best to assault an entrenched enemy is as much fun as the excellent firefights themselves, and the maps are smartly designed to offer plenty of options.
Squad controls and interactions are simplistic, as they always have been since Rainbow Six moved to consoles, but at least the AI is good. Story mode really shines when played cooperatively, though. Nothing else (on consoles, anyway) can forge a few friends on their couches into a squad of brutal military efficiency like the brilliant gameplay here can. After finishing out the campaign, co-op terrorist hunts offer even greater challenges to your tactical acumen. Simply put, there's no better cooperative first-person shooter (FPS) experience anywhere.
The adversarial multiplayer channels "Counter-Strike" in all the right ways. Matches are quick, bullets are lethal, and good teamwork defeats twitch reflexes every time. The reward system is genius, and offers plenty of incentive to keep playing for a good long time. Here again, map design allows enough creativity in your tactical approaches to engage more than just your trigger finger.
"Rainbow Six Vegas 2" is a hell of a package. It's sort of a shame that so much of it is recycled from the last game, but nobody stops eating their favorite food because it's similar every time - and this is the Kobe beef of tactical FPS.
Concept: That most elite of fictional Special Forces has to save the world from terrorists...in Las Vegas...again.
Graphics: I'll take this title's smooth frame rate over a few more polygons every day.
Sound: Excellent voice-overs and snappy sound effects play their part well.
Playability: Firing and moving is perfect. Controlling your squad, not so much.
Entertainment: Amazing co-op, good single-player, outstanding team-based versus modes - what's not to like?
Replay value: High.