Review: Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard HD (iPad)

A Very Accomplished Mission

When Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard was released way back in March this year for the iPhone, it was met with a mostly positive reception by critics.  Nevertheless, one of the most common complaints was dissatisfaction with  its cluttered interface, which was difficult to use in an effective manner on the iPhone’s small screen.  This is no longer the case in Shadow Vanguard HD, as the iPad’s glorious 9.7 inch screen is large enough to incorporate all the touch buttons in a neat and tidy fashion.  Given how frequently you rely on using these buttons to issue commands to your squad or to sneakily feed a snake cam underneath a door, this change really makes a massive difference.

But that’s not the main reason why you should buy this game: Shadow Vanguard is quite simply one of the finest first-person shooters on the iPad, and it’s also one of the best games available on the App Store.  Shadow Vanguard is best described as a curious mélange of old and new: it takes some gameplay elements from more recent Rainbow Six games, but still retains the feel and overall presentation of the games that kickstarted the mega franchise.  Shadow Vanguard sports a compelling, first-class singleplayer campaign and console-quality multiplayer modes, all in a very presentable package at a very affordable price.

Tango Down!

The detailed briefing screens do a great job of capturing interest.

Shadow Vanguard‘s singleplayer campaign should be instantly familiar to fans of the Rainbow Six series.  You are the leader of the Rainbow organisation’s Alpha squad, responsible for combating terrorist threats around the world.  Making tactical use of your squadmates and their skills, you must infiltrate and shoot your way through 11 action-packed missions.  Shadow Vanguard makes use of current events (such as the upcoming Olympic Games in London) and a well-researched political backdrop to provide a compelling narrative. Before each mission, you receive an in-depth briefing from your commander, telling you the ins and outs of the operation and the context surrounding it. While this feature isn’t revolutionary, it is flawlessly voice-acted,  and the fact that the game makes you aware of the wider issues and the implications that a successfully completed mission would have gave me all the more reason to stay glued to my iPad for the next mission.

It’s refreshing to see such attention to detail in a mobile game.  The progression from mission to mission is logical, and although the plot twists are a little predictable, they’re not delivered in a way that ruins the story.  The emphasis on story is far greater than earlier Rainbow Six titles, but the use of cutscenes and dialogue isn’t laid on so thick that it detracts from the series’ main selling point of tactical insertion and special operations; it’s still quite down-to-earth and plausible.  The way in which the narrative is delivered during a mission is very familiar to how it is done in something like Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for the Nintendo 64, and I found it very engaging.

The Touchscreen Commander

On top on the superbly executed presentation, the gameplay in Shadow Vanguard is also very high in quality. The game borrows elements from older and newer titles in the series. The mission setup is similar to that found in the original Rainbow Six and Rogue Spear (in fact, some missions are reimagined renditions of classic operations). At the same time, a key number of gameplay changes have been made so that Shadow Vanguard plays and feels like a modern title. This may disappoint purists (for example, I was saddened to discover that you can no longer intricately plan your mission before it starts, and a regenerative health system is present). Nevertheless, tilting the balance in favour of action and pace has its benefits. For example, the cover system makes engaging hostiles far more tactical, as the enhanced view gained through the switch to third-person mode makes it easier to select targets and choose your next spot of cover.

Controlling your squad is as simple as pushing a button.

This is complimented by the superb integration of touch controls. Buttons at the side of the screen can be used to tell your team to move to cover or storm a room, but it feels so much more natural to just touch the box or door you want them to interact with. Moreover, the use of touchscreen is just cool and never feels gimmicky. One of the tools at Alpha Squad’s disposal is the snake cam, which, at the tap of an on-screen button, allows you to peek into the next room and see where enemies and hostages are positioned; tapping them will let your team know who you want taken out first. Elements like these are very intuitive, and while the squad command options are limited (your squad are surgically attached to you it seems), the touchscreen commands really make Rainbow Six easy to play on a portable device.

And that’s not all. The singleplayer campaign is fully playable in cooperative mulitplayer with two friends. The plus side is that you don’t need to focus too much on commanding your team, although giving any sort of command is difficult due to the lack of built-in voice chat. Therefore, playing with friends in local multiplayer is the ideal choice. There’s a competitive mode as well, but it’s an arcade-like experience, as the emphasis is more on running around than staking out a piece of cover (you can’t actually enter cover in multiplayer for some reason). This works in something like Gears of War, so omitting such a key feature is puzzling, but the experience is still a mostly enjoyable one.

Open and Clear!

There are only a few niggles with the controls. The game features a very hyperactive aim assist feature, which is perhaps a little too accurate: the cursor locks on and sticks to the target, and I would have much preferred a bit more freedom. Iron sights can also be used, but not in cover. These minor gripes aside, Shadow Vanguard is one of the most accessible iOS games around.

Pulling off shots like this is harder than you think due to the sensitive aim assist feature.

Graphically, Shadow Vanguard is a bit of an odd game. While the visuals are quite sharp and the environments pretty detailed, the character models are a little dated. It’s still one of the best examples of a good looking game on iOS, but it’s baffling that characters don’t possess moveable digits and mouths, especially when voice-acting is such a key part of the game.

In fact, the voice-acting is one of Shadow Vanguard‘s strongest points, not leaning too much on the usual Gameloft stereotypicalisation of characters. This is more than likely because Rainbow Six is a franchise owned by Ubisoft and thus the creative control is still in their hands. The background music suits the game’s atmosphere perfectly, and it will usually change in sync with the action taking place on the screen. This well-executed area tops off the excellent all-round experience that is Shadow Vanguard.

The Final Verdict

Rainbow Six: Shadow Vanguard is one of the best iOS games available  and is comparable in terms of quality to many console titles. The campaign is well-structured, and the overall presentation is executed superbly. Furthermore, the combined console-style/touchscreen controls are intuitive and easy-to-use, thus proving that touchscreen/mobile devices are capable of hosting wholesome titles. And although the competitive multiplayer is a little standard and loses the tactical aspect that makes the single-player side of the game so enthralling, being able to play cooperatively is an excellent addition, as it allows for more diverse tactical approaches to completing missions. When you throw in the fact that Shadow Vanguard is a mere £4.99, there’s just no excuse not to download it. It’d be a strategic blunder not to.

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