It’s 3am. How did it get that late? You realise you are shivering cold, it’s January and the heating went off hours ago. The buzz from those beers you had is long gone and has been replaced by a sudden urge to pee. Did you fell asleep in front of the TV? Quite the opposite. You have been in a state of advanced concentration for hours, absorbed by the online world of Rainbow Six: Vegas.
Vegas was the first game I ever played online. It was a tough initiation. That guy in the balaclava and MP5 could be just down that corridor, or right behind you, or next to you on the sofa! It was important to entertain a certain level of paranoia, every corner was a threat after all, but get too spooked and you would panic fire a ragged outline around the guy taking steady aim around the corner as he coolly slots you in the head. It had a very unique pace which mostly came from its excellent cover system.
Primarily, Vegas was a first person game but if you ran up to a corner and held the left trigger the camera would pan back into third person giving you a view of your soldier pressed against a wall as well as the space in front of them. You were constantly moving between these two viewpoints, one which gave you a wider field of view and the other which let you react faster to threats directly in front of you. Cover gave you the chance to get the drop on opponents but if they were concentrating on your location then they could shoot you before you got your weapon to bear. It was tense, sometimes excruciatingly so.
Game modes had the usual deathmatch and team deathmatch as well as a survival version (where you only got one life before being dumped out) but by far the most popular was Attack & Defend where the attacking team had to take a package from one point in the map to an extraction point at the other and the defending team had to stop them. When searching for lobbies you could be sure to see Attack & Defend in Calypso Casino in the first 5 spots at least and at one point I knew that map better than my own house. Let’s just say if I got a job there I wouldn’t need to ask where the toilets and fire exits were and I wouldn’t be surprised by the big hole at the bottom of the escalator.
My personal favourite mode was survival. As the match started all mics were turned off and all the chatter gave way to silence, then BOOM and the first guy was out. Once killed you could hear and be heard by all players which meant the game would grow more and more tense as downed players starting giving hints (and false hints) to the remaining players. What would start out as a silent stalk would descend into chaotic direction and misdirection. It was exhilarating.
An interesting take on team survival was the ludicrous Mike Myers variant where one player would take on the rest armed with a shotgun. The other team only had pistols and could only use them in the last minute of the match. Mike would usually win but sometimes the heroes would live to see the sequel.
I have plenty of good memories of this game. Talking to strangers online went from awkward to normal and even pleasant. Game hosts would generally require all players to have their mics plugged in even if it was to test them with a friendly hello in the game lobby and any annoying behaviour was given a swift boot. Maybe I was lucky but I don’t remember coming across any discrimination, bullying or vitriol. However I do recall the laughter at my lucky from-the-hip pistol headshot in Casino Vault and the guy with the lazy Southern drawl telling me he should have waited to get married and was there really any rush for me to?
Nowadays I don’t have the opportunity or desire to play shooters online. A lack of skill and patience and a reluctance to buy the latest games means I am well behind in terms of ability and friends so I will never get the same experience again but that’s OK. Rainbow Six: Vegas was a game that came early in the 360 life cycle and was part of the online boom for console players. It felt like a special time and it was a great game. I loved it.