The Learning Cliff
Rogue Spear throws you into the near future, 2001 to be precise. The former Soviet Union is falling apart at the seams, plagued by terrorists and mostly controlled by the Russian mafia.
It is your job to keep the mess from spilling over into the west. Working as part of a secret multinational special forces group known as Rainbow, you will be called upon to plant surveillance devices, rescue hostages, kill terrorists, and blow stuff up.
All of this will no doubt be familiar to fans of the original Rainbow Six, but for newcomers to the series such as myself it can all be a bit confusing, as you are thrown in at the deep end.
The learning curve is virtually vertical, more of a learning cliff really. The game has several tutorial missions, but although they do a good job of letting you learn the basic controls before being let loose on real terrorists, they don't really go far enough.
After playing the game for about an hour I was completely baffled, and asked if anybody else wanted to review it, because it was making absolutely no sense to me.
Then I went back to give it one last chance, and something clicked. Four hours later I finally managed to prise myself away from the keyboard long enough to get dinner...
Although they aren't quite up to the standards of modern first person shooters, the graphics are crisp and detailed. There are huge open areas for snipers to enjoy, nice snow and rain effects, and lots of little touches, like characters that actually blink and breath, which help make the game that bit more immersive.
Sound on the other hand is a bit of a let down, and not even in the same league as Thief. The bad guys are mostly the strong silent type, and even their footsteps are often inaudible. Given that some of the missions force you to sneak around without being spotted, this is a little disappointing.
The range of weapons and equipment is bewildering, and often it's hard to tell why you should pick one particular assault rifle over another. But it adds welcome depth, and means you're never short of choice. The new range of sniper weapons is particularly nice, and you can even choose what type of camouflage to wear.
But what really makes Rogue Spear a winner are the missions - rescuing hostages from the Czech opera house or a grounded jumbo jet, raiding a nuclear power plant, or sneaking into a terrorist hideout to plant surveillance devices.
The range of missions is wide enough to keep things interesting, the settings are incredible, and the plot is almost frighteningly believable, taking in the Russian mafia, nuclear weapons, neo-Nazis, Islamic terrorists, and renewed war in Kosovo along the way.
"I have devised a cunning plan"
Each mission begins with a planning phase, during which you are briefed by your superiors, select who to take on the mission, equip them from a wide range of weapons and equipment, and then map out on two dimensional blueprints what each of the teams under your command is going to do.
It's pretty intimidating at first sight, but once you've got the knack it's actually great fun. Every mission has a preset plan, and although some of the missions can't be completed by following the default plan, they're usually a good place to start.
Once you've laid your plan, it's time to put it into effect. You can control any of the team leaders from a first or third person view, or you can let the computer control them all. I've finished a few of the missions by just sitting back and leaving them to get on with it, only taking over at a vital point or when I needed to bend the plan.
Unfortunately that's one of the game's problems - once you've started a mission, that's it. There's little room for improvisation - you can't save the game mid-mission, and you can't adjust your plan once it's underway without restarting the whole mission from scratch.
This can make the game a bit of a stop-start affair. If you foul up you have to check the funky new action replay feature to see what went wrong, change your plan if necessary, then start again from the beginning.
Another of the game's big problems is the AI. Although it's a lot better than in the original Rainbow Six, where your crack anti-terrorist team could be outwitted by a closed door in a narrow corridor, it still leaves something to be desired.
At times your troops behave perfectly, though they can be a little too perfect, turning on a dime and putting a bullet between a man's eyes in one fluid movement before you can even flinch.
But then something ridiculous happens which spoils it all, like in the final mission when three members of a four man team were taken down by a single terrorist.
Checking the replay, I watched in horror as the team walked up behind a terrorist and, instead of shooting him in the back, stood there doing nothing as he casually turned round, pulled a gun, and shot them all dead one by one.
In fact, the only reason one of the four men escaped is because he'd managed to get lost earlier on in the mission and had taken a totally different route...
This kind of thing happens distressingly often. Your men have no sense of self-preservation, and show very little initiative.
Enemy AI also has its problems - sometimes you can shoot a terrorist and the guy standing next to him will just stand there as if nothing happened.
Rogue Spear is a classic game let down by AI that is often either inhumanly quick or subhumanly stupid, a steep learning curve for newcomers to the series, and the lack of any ability to skip waypoints or alter a plan on the fly without restarting the entire mission.
Luckily the sheer satisfaction of extracting a group of hostages from right under the enemy's nose or bugging a phone in a terrorist safehouse without being seen makes it all worthwhile in the end. Release Date - available now
Download The Demo
Try before you buy - download the Rogue Spear demo (53Mb) from Redstorm's website. It's at the bottom of the page, below the patch.