And suddenly those graphics don’t look so second rate anymore. The screen is awash with blinding light and brash colour – it might be a make-believe casino, but as far as capturing the Vegas style goes, the Calypso is right on the money. Tense shoot-outs in the halls follow, your men moving swiftly between the one-armed bandits, gunmen pouring forth from every door, even dropping down via rope-lines from the floors above. There’s no longer room to be blasé – Vegas wants to make you sweat for every room cleared, every corridor breached. A journey through a central atrium, making your way up the stalled escalators and battered service-stairways is an education in how the vertical plane presents just as many threats as the horizontal, with goons shooting at you from the floors above, while others take position behind cover and try their level best to blast you out. They’re making use of the environment, working together to outflank you. The evil gits are even using smoke-bombs and flash-bombs. Surely this isn’t the cakewalk you expected at the start?
Nope. In fact, there are times when it’s even a little too hard. While checkpoints and the new health system make this a more forgiving Rainbow Six than some past efforts – and it’s certainly a less hardcore tactical shooter than the wilfully sadistic GRAW – there are still plenty of occasions where Vegas throws you through long stretches of such withering gunfire that even staying sharp every single second doesn’t guarantee your survival. For some reason these frequently come directly after in-game cut-scenes (shown in a GRAW-style Picture-in-Picture helmet camera for convenience), meaning that there are some plot-related announcements you’ll have to suffer time-and-time again, though at least you can be blasting terrorists while you do so. As a whole, however, Vegas is a superbly balanced challenge – always tough enough to keep the tension ratcheted sky-high, but not so tough that you feel like throwing down the controller.
In fact, by the time I’ve blasted my way through a high-class Chinese-themed casino and taken the battle out into the neon haze of a stunning reproduction of Fremont St. I’m a little bit in love with the game. What started out as an ugly duckling has transformed into a gaudy gold and scarlet swan.
I think that this is the Rainbow Six equivalent of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory – the game where everything comes together and an always promising series turns a corner. It’s accessible, it’s enjoyable – it bends over backwards to ensure you have fun. You have to dig the environments, which perfectly capture the ludicrous excess of the Vegas casinos while providing fantastic environments in which to engage hostile forces. I love Gears of War to death, but there’s something special about seeing someone sneaking around behind a tasteless rippled glass partition two floors above and putting a bullet through their head, or swinging through a window into a restaurant and taking down three gunmen in a second.