From Paper to Pixels: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

Countless iterations after its original novel-to-game translation, how much integrity has Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six retained? Is it still the tactical shooter once envisioned in the pages of his best-selling novel? Or is it merely a shadow of its former strategic-self?

On its glossy, now high-definition surface, Rainbow Six’s digital equivalent isn’t too dissimilar from its press-printed cousin. Both headline weapons, terrorism and tense high-strung hostage situations (the elements of the latter are something entirely exclusive to the novel, it seems). Naturally, they share a similar premise: dispatch an elite team of counter-terrorism operatives to a variety of worldly locations to disable – though usually kill – some of the nastiest people civilization has to offer.

Beyond these surface similarities, though, it’s difficult to find any fundamental likeness. Whilst there may have been over a decade ago, Rainbow Six has seemingly mutated into something entirely independent of its literary groundings. Note ‘mutated’; not ‘evolved’.     

In Clancy’s reality, aggressive action isn’t the go-to solution. Psychology, in the form of Doctor Bellows, is. The likes of Clarke, Chavez and Price are, in effect, back-ups – if the team can get hands above heads without a cartridge hitting the floor, they will. Presumably, Rainbow Six Vegas’ deployments are set subsequent to any form of diplomatic effort. That is, of course, assuming that there is any at all.  

By omitting such a strategic possibility, Ubisoft has denied the player of the most effective resolution. A non-combative approach would incur the least risk, drain the least amount of resource, and, without a life spent, secure the most desirable outcome. And as the franchise has increasingly deviated from its 1998 blueprint, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how Rainbow Six differentiates itself from its contemporaries in any substantial way.

Whilst having the ability to negotiate your way out of every potential massacre would drive marketing teams to the brink of insanity, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to grant the player its limited use. Why doesn’t Ubisoft allow me to negotiate in an effort to save lives? At least for the sake of stacking the odds in my – and the hostages – favor.

The novel is, primarily, hours of information-gathering and planning, quickly followed by seconds of swift-strike action – it’s not a 15 minute roam through a vast complex manned by stationary guards. And in stark contrast, I’d find it difficult to define Ubisoft’s most recent illustration’s as anything other than a ‘let’s shoot terrorists in the face’ fest. Rainbow Six is entirely divorced from the tension and anticipation of its paperback predecessor.

As a reactionary force, Rainbow isn’t infallible. They make mistakes; they lose lives. Again, however, much of the novel’s depth was sacrificed in its conversion. As often as you might have heard ‘failure is not an option’, in the case of Rainbow Six, it literally is not. This, obviously, removes the player from any consequence of failure – there’s a retry or checkpoint awaiting every error. If a single hostage is killed, why shouldn’t I be allowed to deal with the consequences?

After re-visiting Rainbow Six Vegas 2, little about it seemingly belongs to Tom Clancy. It’s a dry, emotionless trek through a series of corridors, with enemies quite literally standing around waiting to be shot. There’s little tension, little consequence and little reason to care.

Give us consequence; allow me to succumb to the ‘Oh Shit!’ of that moment. Allow us to plan our assault down to a hairs detail. Allow us to collect intelligence – via heartbeat sensors, building blueprints, air support – to determine the best course of action. Let us play the novel – let us be Rainbow Six.

Next up, Dmitry Glukhovsky’s Metro 2033.

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