I dig Tom Clancy’s work. I was when I watched the film adaptations of Patriot Games, Clear & Present Danger, and well after the fact, The Hunt for Red October that I developed an interest in military technology and geopolitics as themes. Nothing close to the level of someone like Mr. Clancy of course, but I found the international backdrops to be great jumping points for fiction and the real-life tech interesting since it was so grounded compared to my typical diversions, which were usually set in the far flung future. It taught me a lesson I think hobbyists like me should remember: If you’re a science fiction fan don’t forget to come back to the present every once in awhile. We have amazing things right in front of us that deserve to be learned about in equal measure.
Unfortunately I don’t do well with any novel that exceeds about 450 pages, and Clancy’s usually break the 700 mark. As a result I’ve only dabbled in the actual source material all this comes from, and the closest I’ve come to researching current military technology was when I was temporarily obsessed with Top Ten and Future Weapons on the Military Channel.
There were always video games though, and though I never played the original Rainbow Six my interest in tactical shooters was piqued with the release of the sequel, Rogue Spear, on the PC. I just liked the idea of a S.W.A.T. team-esque theme so I decided to give it a try.
For a primarily console gamer in the late ’90s the game was a revelation. Choose your team of operatives, all possessing different stats and specialties. Choose their gear and split them up into teams if desired, then plot exactly how you wanted them to progress on the map from drop zone to objective. All of this depended on the particular scenario that was laid out before you. You had an initial briefing (“Terrorists are holding hostages in the museum!”) and then a schematic of the area in question to use when plotting your team’s course.
I couldn’t believe how much was left to my imagination. I was assessing entry points, enemy routes, objective locations, and all the things my team could do when they arrived at each. I could throw flash bangs, go in guns blazing, have another group enter a different door first to distract everyone, or whatever else I could think of. Every move my team made from A to Z and back to A again was under my control. It was like I was the handler for a real group of crack counter-terrorism operatives.
Of course, if you want to get your hands dirty and play as the team leader barking orders you can do that too. At that point the game is much like any Rainbow Six installment. Through a first person view you can direct the team however you like. This obviously lends to injecting some action into the game and it’s never a bad thing to be in control because plans go awry, so being able to deviate everyone from your initial plan on the fly can be crucial. There are solo missions as well that often involve supreme stealth, which are some of the more riveting gameplay of their type that I’ve ever played.The funny thing about Rogue Spear is that most of all I enjoyed the planning aspects of the game. I can’t completely put my finger on it. Maybe it’s because you control a hero in numerous games. In this one you were a puppet master of sorts. You were above having to steer polygonal models where you wanted them to go and pulling the trigger for them. You simply told them exactly what to do and they did it. You had authority.
Of course this was 1999. The AI was far from perfect and to rely on them executing your plan to a tee was probably a fool’s errand past the first few scenarios and like I said, things can go wrong. These are simple AI constructs, not rigorously trained NAVY Seals or Army Rangers who could be told an objective and fill in the blanks themselves. The game did its best to allow you to fill those blanks, and it was extremely fun and the game had great atmosphere. The preparation stages had great sound design from the music to the voiced briefings, and you really felt like a lot was on the line. It was a very cool hybrid of strategy and shooter.
***Rogue Spear doesn’t appear to be on the most visible PC game services like Steam and GOG. If you really want to experience it you can acquire a copy for $5-10 on PC. Console versions not recommended, although a more current and accessible option would be to try Rainbow Six: Vegas or its sequel, both available on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC***