Did anyone see that?", I ask the reprobates at PC gamer Towers. Sadly they're all too busy being mean about someone on the internet (are your ears burning, BTW?) to notice. So this is as much for them as you, readers. Read on.
It was one of those moments of pure FPS AI hilarity. In Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 you're the leader of a tanked-up SWAT team. The singleplayer game relies on an AI team of two to track through the levels with you: you can give general instructions where you tell them where to stand and fire, or more precise orders where you tag enemies and give context-specific instructions like "open that door and clear the room."
They're handy things to have. When pressed up against a low wall with bullets pinging off the cover, using the team to distract the enemy is a reliable tactic.
Vegas 2 is set in the less glamorous side of the Strip: warehouses, convention centres, refineries. It's in one of these nondescript areas that my moment happened, exposing the difficulty of making an AI-based shooter. I set the team to stand at a door and await my orders, and then moved around to the far side with thoughts of being awesome in my head.
My plan was to use my special camera to look under the door, tag my enemies and set up a dual attack from both sides. The AI would take care of the selected guards and I would move in and clean up the rest. Except when I was in snake cam view I accidentally brushed an order button. The "throw a smoke grenade here" command was given, targeted on the other side of the door.
My team sprang into action: they entered the warehouse, moving through with skill and precision. They were 'weapons clear', meaning they could engage any NPC they came across. I was still behind the door, wondering what was going on and why enemies were dropping like flies.
My team cleared the warehouse without any help from me, which would be an amazing example of the game's buddy AI were it not for the next bit. With everyone dead, they returned to the order I'd given them, walked up to the door I was waiting behind, opened it and hit me in the face with a smoke grenade.
Now I love that story, as it demonstrates how far AI has come, as well as its limitations. Vegas 2 makes a good stab at making a game where the emphasis is on NPC team-members, but the truth is that its real beauty lies in the multiplayer modes. When you free yourself from the singleplayer shackles and the hand-holding it entails, there's a far more interesting game to play.
And that's largely due to the mechanics. Shooting in Vegas 2 is great fun. Meaty guns and a cover system that enables you to walk up to a wall and flatten against it: you'll enter third-person mode and from there you'll be able to fire blind without exposing yourself too much, toss a grenade over, or lean out for an accurate shot. It's a manly feeling to kill someone without looking. You have power.
In an odd decision, awards have been added for kills, which makes what was once the hardest of hardcore shooters into something more like The Club. I'm sure there are people out there who'll detest the idea, as it undermines tension, but any game handing out rewards for shooting a 'visually impaired' opponent is all right by me.
The pursuit of XP is actually more compelling than the slight story that sort of hangs in the background hoping you'll spot it. With XP you can customise your character's armour and unlock more weapons, kit and clothing, all to be used offline and to show off how far you've come online. In singleplayer it's fun, but with friends those skills - not readily available in other shooters - elevate the game.