This is not really a discussion of specific game mechanics (although there is some in there), but rather the philosophy of what the R6 games should be, looking at my own history of the games and what I enjoyed from them.
I remember when I first got my old workhorse PC back in the winter of '97 - up until that point I was a console man through and through. I'd played them all and up to that point had owned every major console at various points in time, from the 32X to the Game Gear to the Saturn, the NES to the N64, PSX and the rest. I was, and still am, an avid games player. But I got older, and on the purchase of my computer, a whole new world was opened up to me. A world of depth, of strategy and of intricately crafted labours of love from programmers really straining at the bit to put their work into motion. I'd come from platform games and paper-thin RPGs into dark, nasty FPSs and unbelievably complicated RPGs with their fair share of political intrigue and drama - strategy games with so much to process and understand going on at once that you had to be very well versed in their nuances to stand a chance against a trained foe. For a games player who always wanted to feel as though what they were doing was not some niche, childish pursuit where the learning curve involved was simply honing your reactions and memorising button sequences, the world of PC games was a revelation.
It was in late '98 when my brother came back with a demo of a game he'd be aching to get hold of ever since he saw one of the operators stood on the front of a demo disk of a magazine carrying the game. Memories of the Embassy siege of 1980 were flashing through our minds as we installed. The world of counter-terrorism? In first person? We get to choose the kit, plan, and execute the mission? Synchronising multiple teams? How could this be any better?! The first mission, the demo mission, was an embassy siege. It was as though the designers had been listening to our dreams. I remember now as how I watched my brother move into position outside of the door to the rear of the embassy, the opening, the punishing accuracy, the one shot kill - the revelation in gameplay and immersion... this was the first game where the deadliness of firearms was really highlighted. It felt vulnerable and what's more, real.
Back then, I looked upon the planning and kitting out phase as privileges, I still do. They are all part of the immersion, the enveloping of you into the counter-terrorists' world. Here we were pouring over the types of ammo, the decision to go with a certain SMG, silenced or unsilenced, the weight of armour to move in with, where to attack from, should we all go in at the ground floor or have one team work its way down from the top floor to the ground floor, while the others work up? Where were the terrorists likely to be? How were we going to get to the hostages as quickly as possible? A flash or a frag into this room? Do multiple teams storm this hall? From what doors? And so on and so forth. I poured over it. The planning was as much a part of the game as the shooting. The shooting was, for me, the part where you got to see all your hard work come to fruition and your foresight and strategy rewarded. It was immensely satisfying to get the hostages to the extraction zone with not so much as a scratch on any of your team. This was, and still is, the reason I play the R6 games - they reward strategy and quick thinking. It was the satisfaction of knowing you'd done the job well and applied some of the most fundamental principles of room clearing and hostage rescue.
After buying and completing the game MULTIPLE times due to its non-linear nature, different fireteams and different firearms, turning off the fail-objectives to try storming Yellow Knife, re-doing certain missions as stealth challenges... let's just say, I got my money's worth from the title. And Eagle Watch. Now I make no pretensions to say that R6 was the height of realism - it most certainly was not - but at that time, there was nothing like it at all. It was in a league of its own, and this did not contribute to its greatness, for it was brilliant all on its own. A truly great game.
Fast forward to '99. I'm watching a late-night TV show about games and guess what comes on? Rogue Spear. Some exclusive footage of the first mission. They talk about the improved ballistics and the addition of snipers. It looks fantastic. It seems somehow more real... It was an improvement. When it was released, I bought it. The winter-camo clad operative on the cover with the blacked out face... the memories of installing and starting the first mission. The planning and the kit selection had been expanded... this was the game I'd remembered playing, but improved, expanded and refined. This was a true sequel! I scanned through the new operatives, took in their back stories, chose the appropriate members... The sniper in the gardens to the rear, flashbanging the main entrance hall... It was all so visceral, so new, it felt like the game had come on lightyears. The situations felt, again, tense and realistic - the opera house, the water treatment plant, Zero Gambit... The dacha in snow, trapping the mob bosses... Brilliant. And Ebony Horse, my single most favourite mission of any R6 game, ever. It's fair to say I had a blast playing it.
What I identify the most about my enjoyment of R6 is that it offered you the choice - not only was there a robust and enjoyable shooter in there, but there was a complicated and intricate strategy game to play involving kit choices and where your operatives went in a mission. You could make a mission either unbelievably hard for yourself or, with good planning, run through with every tactical advantage available to you, hitting like a whirlwind. It was this choice - the game was unafraid to make you fail. It was HARD. You couldn't just get through with skillful aiming alone. You needed to know what it meant to do things tactically. The original set of R6 games had made the design decision to not just punish you for lazy, careless fire and movement on a mission (punishment with aiming) but also lazy and careless planning, that would result in casualties if you didn't do it right. From Raven Shield onwards, these punishments on the tactical side were diminished more and more. Raven Shield features some unbelievably punishing aiming (reticule bloom) and the addition of recoil makes it that much harder. But on the tactical side? That much more ineffective. As a combination of R6's downright devious and head-scratchingly bizarre enemy placement, as well as their superhuman attributes, the tactical advantage in any situation was completely diminished. Coming in through the backdoor? The tangoes there will already be waiting crouched behind the kitchen table ready to snap shoot you! Going in quiet? No matter - a tango can still snapshoot you if the initiative is in your favour. Tactical advantages were diminished to make way for better shooting - shooting that was highly punishing. Now, Raven Shield got the basics right - the planning was in depth and appropriately made, the kit selections and armament were expanded and detailed enough to warrant some concern over their choice, but the missions themselves were broken in terms of how the game mechanic operated. A combination of staggeringly poor AI (on both sides) and un-realistic shooting made the fundamental game feel decidedly odd. I also believe the missions were fundamentally unexciting - nothing wrong with how they were rendered - but we had nothing like the grandeur of the opera house, long sightlines of 747 (and it's resonance with much counter-terrorist activity) or the pure atmosphere of going to Kosovo.
Even the last mission lacked the finality of what should be expected of a R6 game. Huge mistakes were made on the side of immersion - whereas each mission in the previous games had it's own set of enemies, the guys in Raven Shield looked the same from mission to mission - even though they wore the same outfit, to see guys walking around in T-shirts, and all talking in the same strange accent (in English!) on the Alps missions was ridiculous and completely took you out of the moment. Ok, so you occasionally got guys in suits, some guys in Hawaiian shirts and sometimes even guys with what looked like the Combine symbol on armbands... you get the point. It was all so homogenous - you didn't get the feeling that each mission was a separate operation perpetrated against different targets of opportunity by different groups. It felt un-realistic in its portrayal. It felt like a shooting gallery of different sized-rooms in different themes.
Worse still, a lot of the feeling of participating in a counter-terrorist mission was lost as the game was slowed down to a crawl. Real counter-terrorism is lightening fast. The first R6 got this exactly right. The constraints on shooting made Raven Shield a game of lining up the shot rather than breaching rooms quickly and tactically - the hyper-sensitive AI of the enemy meant there wasn't much time for slicing and dominating the room. It was open door, shoot a couple, move in, secure, move on. Even the AI doesnââ‚¬™t storm as you would expect when you watch them - they too open the door and take shots. This is not how counter terrorism is conducted and standing in the doorway GETS YOU KILLED. This is how it happens. The broken game mechanic of RvS in this respect destroyed a lot of the speed and tension that the other games had and made them feel authentic. Tactics went out of the window. It was just about accurate shooting. And that's the trend R6 has been going in.
Without digging up the corpse that is Lockdown, we can safely say that Lockdown eliminated any tactical aspects the series once had. It destroyed the planning, eliminated much of the nuances of kit choice (no ammo choice? No armour choice?), no snipers, one team, no choice of insertion, no go codes, no co-ordination, pathetic AI... It was a travesty. Looked nice, but was a travesty. Although the game is nice and fast, the rest of it is so broken as to remove any feeling that room clearing is anywhere near as tactical as it should be. But we all know the faults with Lockdown. We don't need to go into depth on why it failed.
So what is the dream R6 game? It is one which recognises that the tactical aspect is the one that made the game so beloved AND successful. It is one which recognises the need for planning and an immersive atmosphere generated by authentic, detailed briefings and intel, with an over-arching plotline that fosters excitement and sense of finality. It positively requires kit choices that MAKE A DIFFERENCE to how the mission is carried out. It means intricate planning with go-codes and varied insertions, with multiple teams. It is one where once again, the tactics make a difference. When in a mission, the pace should be lightening fast if you're compromised - terrorists should not hang around waiting for you if they hear gunshots - it should be a race to the hostages once shots are fired. Diversionary charges, high explosives, dust, smoke, all kinds of debris should be flying around during an assault - it should be a sensory whorl, an attack on the eyes, and a loud and exciting trip through the eye of a storm. Operatives should bark out clearance, they should shout GO, at hostages, and at you. There should be an atmosphere of professionalism but also of absolute chaos. Assaults are loud and over within 15 minutes (in most cases). They are controlled chaos. When going in quiet, the atmosphere must be one of unbelievable tension, where up to the point the first shot is fired (you are compromised), then the whole scene erupts into the one described above. Ballistics should be as realistically modeled as possible without compromising gameplay (i.e. bullet dip, but no wind, but ALWAYS appropriate penetration - make that JHP count in hostage rescue!), they should be realistically deadly. It goes without saying that AI should be realistically competent, and understand room clearing. Hostages should react with FAR MORE unpredictability if not appropriately contained. Likewise, suspects should be wiley and always need to be watched if not secured (or finished off).
To prepare you for all this, there should be training. Not just training that runs you through the various controls, but one which trains you in the basics of room clearing, working with a team and firearms. You should not be able to just go into a mission without at least some idea of what to do when you run into a room with armed men inside. You should be always mindful of the tactics, to the point where they are ingrained in your mind. The punishment for not being hard and fast should be death. But hang on! I hear you cry. This all sounds so inaccessible to the newcomer! How do we get new people into the series like this? It will scare them off, be too complicated and difficult! I say, that's rubbish.
The previous R6s gave us the choice. Don't like the planning? Here are a few pre-made ones that are perfectly acceptable. The kit choice was all made. It gave you the choice of doing it - it did not arbitrarily take it away from you. What, can I ask, is the point in doing that? It benefits NOBODY to take it away. Those that didn't like it can go on with a pre-made one, those who liked the planning can make their own. It makes absolutely NO sense. Likewise, limiting kit choice as though the average player is a moron and can't tell the difference between weight/noise/protection is just grossly insulting. As a 5 year old I could have told you the difference between heavier armour and light armour... so what's the difference?! In terms of assaulting rooms, the tactics are NOT highbrow. You simply have to get used to them. You should not expect to be able to beat a game, or a mission, on your first try through. You NEED to learn the game mechanics, and in this case if they are realistic enough, the mechanics of room clearing. Which are SIMPLE but require practice to learn. Which is where the training comes in. At what point did FPSs, particularly tactical shooters, become the baby's choice of genre? At what point was the decision made to make games blithely simple in this genre as though everyone who plays them can't handle anything more complicated than run and shoot? How come strategy games, which sell HUGE amounts, don't have to make such concessions to their players? Is the assumption that FPS gamers are stupid somehow? Where did this come from? The huge sales of games such as Operation Flashpoint and other tactical games (not least the previous R6s) should put paid to that impression.
A dream R6 game would be one in which it is recognised that people who play tactical games find the combination of tactics and the authenticity of the atmosphere generated therein to be the most immersive and exciting environment. We don't need Hollywood back-chat. We don't need nicknames and dual-wielding. We don't need big bad guys with monobrows. We don't need clichÃ©d personalities. We don't need outrageous accents and personalised armour with unique armpatches (in singleplayer) and we especially don't need ARGUING. There is no more an immersive atmosphere than when the APPROPRIATE and realistic military terms are used and also where the operators with you behave professionally and REALISTICALLY. It has always been the realism of the surroundings, the terrorists motives and their behaviour that made the R6s so involving and impressive to play.
If you've read all this, I'll give you a medal. At the end of the day, when all's said and done, we just want something that feels tactically sound, that feels somewhat realistic, and is immersive as a result of the other two factors. All 3 are interdependent on each other. Compromise one, it affects the other. It should be;
Those are the 3 things that made R6 the game it is, and so popular. Compromise immersion, the game no longer feels authentically realistic or tactically impressive. Compromise the realism (doesn't have to be ABSOLUTELY realistic, just feeling authentic enough) and the tactics seem ineffectual and the immersion flies out of the window to hollywoodsville. No tactics and you have game where the realism is ineffectual as you NEED tactics to survive and the immersion is gone as you no longer feel like counter-terrorists, instead just a run and gunning superhero.