The History of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six

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When one of the world’s best-selling novelists decides that he wants to get into video games, people pay attention. That’s what happened in 1996, when the late Tom Clancy – king of the techno-thrillers – co-founded a game studio called Red Storm Entertainment. Two years later, the company would launch the first game in a franchise that is still going strong to this day. That game was Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six.

Eight games, six expansions, some 15 million sales, and more than 16 years later, we’re eagerly looking forward to the release of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, due sometime this year on Xbox One. But while we look forward, let’s also take a look back at this series that virtually defined the tactical first-person shooter.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (1998)
In a market flooded with arcadey first-person shooter experiences, the original Rainbow Six was a shocking departure. Extremely tactical and brutally realistic, the game required an intense planning stage before each level. With having to plot out waypoints, issue commands to A.I. teammates, and manage loadouts, this planning phase could last longer than the real-time level experience itself – especially considering how a single bullet could take down just about anyone. The result was a challenging and addictive hybrid of strategy and action.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear (1999)
The success of the first game paved the way for a quick sequel. Though not very different from the original in terms of gameplay, Rogue Spear was notable for more fully embracing a multiplayer component. This led to a range of expansion packs featuring new single- and multiplayer levels, as well as a new system allowing players to create their own maps.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3 (2003)
The first game in the franchise to appear on Xbox, Rainbow Six 3 was a console-optimized version of the 2003 Windows release Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield. Though it abandoned the tactical planning phases of its PC predecessors, this version had something they didn’t: Xbox Live. The game’s intense competitive element proved a perfect fit for the fledgling online service, whose persistent friend lists and matchmaking made multiplayer simpler than it had ever been.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow (2004)
When it became clear that this newfangled Xbox Live thing was doing pretty well, Red Storm followed up Rainbow Six 3’s success with a sequel designed exclusively for Xbox. Though it included a new single-player campaign, the real draw here was a slew of new multiplayer maps and a handful of new game modes. Black Arrow also introduced community features that made it easier for players to work together. Today, clans are virtually expected in shooters, but in 2004 they were still something of a novelty – at least on consoles.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Lockdown (2005)
The success of the Xbox versions of Rainbow Six 3 prompted a bit of an overhaul for the whole series. The planning phase of the single-player campaign – deemed too unwieldy for gamepad control – was abandoned entirely, and multiplayer continued to gain traction. For the first time, Xbox players retained a single character online, who would level up over time in an RPG-like fashion. Yes, this is another thing we take for granted today. You can thank Lockdown for helping to make that happen.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Critical Hour (2006)
Unfortunately, Lockdown was followed by a rare misstep for the franchise. Though it aimed to bring back some of the tactical elements of earlier games in the series, Critical Hour was savaged by critics, who accused the game of having been rushed to market. A woefully short campaign, buggy online play, and lackluster presentation raised concerns that the franchise’s best days were behind it.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas (2006)
Luckily, it took barely half a year for the series to make a definitive statement to the contrary. Launching on the still-new Xbox 360, Rainbow Six: Vegas debuted to near-universal praise. It supplemented the ever-more-significant multiplayer element (featuring some compelling new modes, most notably the asymmetric Attack and Defend) with a cohesive story mode, featuring a robust four-player co-op option. And that’s not even mentioning the spectacular set pieces and cinematic presentation. Vegas was, in a lot of ways, everything Critical Hour wasn’t, and it revitalized the series in a big way.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (2008)
How do you follow up such a well-regarded game as Rainbow Six: Vegas? Very carefully. Vegas 2 refined the gameplay and features of its predecessor without making many huge changes. One of the biggest, though, was the introduction of a completely user-created main character (“Bishop”), complete with a leveling system brought over for the first time from the multiplayer side. With a story set before, during, and after the events of the first Vegas, this one maintained the high standards of its predecessor’s campaign mode, adding seamless drop-in co-op as well as a couple new multiplayer modes. It wasn’t radically different, but it was almost as universally praised.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege (2015)
Seven years will be the longest we’ve had to wait for a new Rainbow Six in the franchise’s history… and we’re not even sure when in 2015 Siege is launching. Will it be worth the wait? Well, that depends: Do you like to break stuff? If so, then yes. Oh, most definitely yes. Siege is poised to provide “an unprecedented level of environmental destruction” in service of its stronghold-focused gameplay. Riffing on the Attack and Defend modes of Vegas, Siege will let teams heavily fortify structures to defend against attack… and then, of course, let attacking teams blow those fortifications to hell. From what we’ve seen of the game so far, blasting holes in walls, ceilings, and floors will be par for the course, meaning nowhere will be safe to hide. Furthermore, the game appears to offer something akin to the planning stage of the earliest games in the series, which will no doubt make longtime fans particularly happy. We know little about the story so far, but honestly? If we can blow this much stuff up, does it really matter?