Once More Unto The Breach
Bringing one of the finest tactical action games ever to grace the PC - Tom Clancy's Rogue Spear - to the GameBoy Advance may seem a frankly ridiculous idea. However, the new handheld incarnation of this apparently unstoppable franchise is far better than you might imagine. Ubi Studios have obviously gone to a lot of effort to cram everything they possibly could from the original game onto the cart, right down to the familiar Rogue Spear theme tune which greets you in all its orchestral glory when you first load up the game. Naturally a change of vantage point was necessary, but this has been worked around with a carefully considered top-down view. You can see a fair distance around your team, and a manual-aiming mode enables your viewing radius to increase, as if peering through a rifle scope. It was hard to get used to the cartoonish style of the graphics at first, but the variety of textures across the environments coupled with the wonderfully detailed animations soon help any misgivings to disappear. And while the visuals might not be as realistic as in its PC forefather, Rogue Spear is still very much alive. Both ambient and functional sound effects (such as shouts from team-mates and enemies) convey the tense atmosphere of the original admirably, and the music is nothing short of excellent. It's likely that you will hear an enemy before you see him, whether he's yelling at a hostage to shut up or actually shooting at you. Should the latter be the case, a visual aid in the form of small red arrows indicating the direction of your assailant will appear, and if you're particularly slow to react your AI team mates will kill him for you.
Save the change in viewpoint, the conversion is extremely faithful. As you no doubt know by now, Rogue Spear follows the exploits of a team of elite special forces troops known as Rainbow Six as they battle terrorists in situations considered too delicate for the involvement of the UN. The handheld version of the game takes in fifteen missions spread across eight different environments based on maps from the PC original, with objectives varying from rescues and reconnaissance to full-on assaults. Up to four people can also play on any of these maps in deathmatch and co-operative modes, accessible via a single cartridge. One thing that has been stripped from the game though is the somewhat confusing planning phase. This is replaced by a rudimentary team selection screen, where you can pick specialist team members such as demolitions experts or snipers and choose their uniform. The developers made the right decision in axing the planning stages, and while it lends the action phase more of an arcade feel, it by no means detracts from the completeness of the experience. Controlling your team is perhaps more laborious than I would have hoped for though, with even simple functions often requiring the use of three-button combinations. Unfortunately this renders the game less than intuitive, and you may have to refer to the manual. But once you're used to the complications, it becomes obvious that this was a necessary evil in order to fit in all the moves you would expect. Despite your detached viewpoint, stealth still plays an important role, and to this end you are able to hide behind crates, crouch to render your footsteps silent, and creep beneath windows without detection - the tension this creates within the tiny game world is astounding.
Rogue Spear is a first for portable gaming - an engaging tactical shooter with a real sense of tension. It's a superb addition to the series, and although it can occasionally be more difficult than enjoyably challenging, you'll still get a great deal of play out of it.