Here’s one that’s been on the backburner for a little while. Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six franchise has finally come to iPhone, courtesy of the folks over at Gameloft. Released mid-March, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard made its debut with gusto as the $6.99 game shot up the iPhone’s top grossing apps list, peaking at #6 a day after its release. Around the same time, it was also noted at #27 on the paid iPhone app charts.
Traditionally a PC and console title, only a handful of mobile or handheld iterations have been made for the intellectual property. A “tactical” first-person shooter, Gameloft does a decent job of translating the title onto iOS with a fairly forgiving ingress into play for those new to the franchise. That said, long running fans of the series will likely have qualms with the general clumsiness that stems from its mobile, touch controls and low amount of screen real estate.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Rainbow Six series, players take on the role of an anti-terrorist group dubbed “Rainbow.” Unlike other first-person shooters of the time (1998 marked the first Rainbow Six release), the game was not, and is still not, a “run-and-gun” shooter. Giving commands to non-player teammates, users must use tactical leadership, stealth, precision, and cover to cautiously complete varying objectives.
In terms of Shadow Vanguard, this still holds true as players sneak about in 11 different missions — a few of which are recreations, such as the “Embassy Hostage Crisis,” from the original game — to stop the machinations of various terrorist organizations. To paint a picture, players take damage in a Gears of War or Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare fashion, meaning that as they get shot, their screen will splatter with blood and should too much “appear,” they die, healing only when damage ceases. As is traditional with most Rainbow Six titles, the amount of damage players can take is significantly less than other FPS titles.
In order to mitigate this, players are given a number of tools to be more tactical in their approach to each mission. The first is that players must make use of two NPC teammates; one a hacker and one a demolitions expert. Each can be given contextual commands based on what is present in the environment. For example, the demolitions expert (assuming he’s alive), can blow up certain objects (such as anti-aircraft weaponry for a secondary objective) or disarm bombs. Both, however, can be told to take specific positions behind cover, breach doors, or use flash bangs that disorient those it hits for a short time.
Sadly, the commands are not wholly sophisticated. One of the frustrations was that it didn’t seem possible to give commands to each NPC independently. When telling them to take cover at a position, they would both go to it, disallowing users from strategically setting up, say, an ambush. The AI can also often get in the way. Sometimes soldiers will take the most direct route from Point A to Point B, with Point B being a position the player tells them to go to, except that said route is right through enemy fire, getting them killed. They can be revived, but this is not only annoying to have to do frequently, but it can also get the player killed very easily.
Another headache involves the AI clashing with the cover system. Players are supposed to take cover behind objects and walls and shoot from there. However, getting behind cover is a contextual button press that requires the user to be near the cover itself. What gets irritating is that friendly NPCs will often take cover at a spot the player was heading to (as they follow the user by default). When this happens, the player cannot use the cover and ends up standing out in the open frantically pressing the contextual cover button. One can surmise what happens next.
To contrast these issues, players do have the ability to sneak about, sliding snake cameras under doors to scout out the best points of entry as well as use silencers to carefully neutralize hostile targets without alerting others. Moreover, when friendlies are used to breach doors and take out targets, they are actually very effective. It is a little less exciting for the player, but the game makes up for this by granting them access to the occasional mounted machine gun and explosive devices.
Another praise for Shadow Vanguard is that it is very user friendly for newer players. Objectives are clearly marked with arrows, and HUD pop-ups of text directly in the environment. Moreover, it never feels out of place as the game justifies it as a holographic display on the character’s visor. It is almost impossible to get lost, and with all the voice work, the audio and visual cues do an excellent job of keeping the game moving along.
On the downside, traditional players of either Rainbow Six or any other PC or console-based FPS is probably not going to enjoy the game all that much. As with most iOS shooters, the control is a dual-touch set-up with a virtual analog stick on the left to move and an invisible movement control (done via swiping) on the right for looking. Even with the sensitivity all the way up, players still have to use multiple swipes to turn and move around, making the fluidity of play very jerky. Additionally, and perhaps the biggest control irritant, is that the fire button is placed awkwardly high (it is the blue bullet icon seen in the posted screen shots).
For most iOS dual-stick shooters, of any sort, this is look control. On a console FPS, this would be where the right analog stick is placed (which is used for looking as well). As such, traditional FPS players will consistently place their thumb in that exact place to look around and will constantly fire shots by accident. Without a silencer equipped, doing this can compromise any stealth one previously had. This can be gotten used to, but is a very hard, and frustrating, habit to break. As a side-note, the screen, overall, also feels very cluttered with icons and contextual commands.
Touching on the noted equipment, players also earn experience, and in turn, rank, during each mission. Experience is garnered by each kill, with more awarded for head shots and less for teammates making kills. In addition to this, bonuses are offered for completing special criteria such as not alerting enemies to Rainbow’s presence, clearing all hostiles, and completing all secondary objectives. As rank is earned, users will then unlock bonus equipment that can be added to their arsenals to increase things like accuracy, magazine size, and so on. Also, different weapon loadouts will become available.
Through the Gameloft Live service, players will also be granted some nice multiplayer options. With this, users will be able to connect to two types of multiplayer modes including Deathmatch and Co-Op. With these, players can participate in games of a last-man-standing, well, deathmatches or play with up to two friends through the game’s single player campaign using local wi-fi, Bluetooth, or online connectivity options.
Overall, Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard is a great tactical shooter… for an iPhone game. However, the fluidity of the FPS just doesn’t feel like it translates all too well to mobile touch controls, and as a shooter, in general, just isn’t going to be as appealing for traditional Rainbow Six, or FPS fans. The controls just don’t have much finesse with a touch screen — at least not like a mouse and keyboard, or even a console controller does — and the small amount of screen real estate leaves a lot of the game feeling cluttered at times. That said, the clutter can be forgiven as it is justified by the previously stated visor-HUD concept, and the game itself is pretty forgiving to new players. In the end, for and iOS shooter, Shadow Vanguard can be fun, but due to the platform, it just doesn’t have the same feel as other shooters on more traditional ones.