Most fans of the stealth shooter genre will at some point have checked out the Rogue Spear series, the original Rainbow Six pretty much lead the way for some of the more popular stealth shooters we know and love today. It comes as no surprise then that the next installment of action will has been released as Black Thorn, a standalone product with new enhancements.The decision to make Black Thorn a standalone game, and not just an add-on, was probably a good one, there are a lot of gamers who have probably missed out on the first couple of games making this a good entry title into the Rainbow Six series. In Black Thorn you come up against a new unknown terrorist organisation who are recreating terrorists acts from the past and it’s up to you and your squad to foil there plans and get to the bottom of their motivation. Incidentally, the game has been slightly delayed while the dev team made a few changes due to the 11th September attacks.Like the other games in the Rainbow Six series, Black Thorn is all about careful mission planning and team co-ordination. At the start of the game you are given a selection of troops which you can equip as you see fit depending on the mission type. The troops now have more equipment at their disposal, there are 14 new weapons to play with over the 9 new campaign maps which will challenge your mission planning skills. The missions are played out in a variety of locations including South America, Holland and even Thailand so rest a*ured you and your squad will be doing quite a bit of travelling.Before each mission starts you are given advice from a series of advisors who will help you make the right strategic decisions before attempting the mission. It’s advisable to listen to all their advice, after all, in Black Thorn it’s one shot kills and your squad can be finished off pretty quickly.Mission planning, you either love it or hate it, and should you prefer just to get the job done you can select the predefined plan for each mission. The default plans are pretty straightforward and do tend to work pretty well although in the later missions they do sometimes need a bit of tweaking. How well the default plans work really depends on your playing style. It’s worth spending some time planning the missions, you do get more out of the game so don’t be put off, you can really get quite into it. Once you’re happy with the squads, your kit and the mission plan it’s time to head into the action.Once the mission begins you are in control of one of the squad members on one of the teams depending on how many teams are involved in the mission. You can command the other squads to carry out tasks via hotkeys, and depending on the set plan they won’t carry out an order until instructed to do so once they reach a certain point in the mission. The teams generally react pretty well to orders but they do tend to be a little hasty sometimes and in the process get taken out by the enemy, but much of this is down to good planning. Black Thorn will allow you one life for each team member, there’s no health bar, it’s one shot kills and should you take a hit and die horribly you’ll take control of the next team member and so on.Black Thorn is a game of stealth and brains, going in guns or grenades blazing really won’t get you very far. The missions are pretty tough, mission 3 where you had to stop the bus driver leaving town had be weeping at a few points, but with some good planning and p***verance even the toughest missions can be made a lot simpler. Black Thorn kicks up a good variety of missions both indoor and outdoor so your tactics should be tested to the max, especially in missions where you’re storming indoor areas like offices where around every corner or behind every door an enemy could be lurking. There are quite a few rescue the hostage missions which add to the suspense, turning corners and opening fire when spotting the slightest movement could take out a hostage and fail the mission. Most missions have a couple of objectives and you teams can be split to carry out different objectives, this cuts down on mission time by spreading the load.The in-game interface is pretty well put together with a variety of view options to keep track of each squad’s progress. At the bottom the screen you can have it show just your own team or the four other teams also which will show their location as well as their current action mode. The screen can also be pumped up full screen for maximum viewing.One of the most important factors in a game like this is the AI. The enemy is pretty sharp in Black Thorn, at some points when you take a hit you’re left thinking ‘where the h** did that come from ‘. There are a couple of downsides though, for example, sometimes you’ll take a hit and your squad members around you can be little slow to react and subsequently go down right after you one by one. This can be frustrating, especially near the end of a mission because if you fail you need to restart the mission again. Your troops general movement and response seems better than what I remember of previous games, before they had a tendency to block doors and hinder progress, thankfully things seem tweaked.Graphically Black Thorn looks pretty dated now and it may put a few people off based on that, but if you can ignore that then you’ve not much to worry about. The characters are all well animated as they run, walk or crouch and there are a variety of different uniforms which do look really good. The levels seem well put together as you make your way from the start points to the final objective. On the train mission for example, the obvious route is not the best way to complete the mission. After you take out the terrorists in the first carriage there is a window you can shoot through to take out the terrorists in the next carriage which prevents the hostages getting killed which usually happens if you try and take the stairs. It sounds obvious but when you’re in the heat of the action the obvious things can pass you by. The levels are well put together and Red Storm have made sure there are plenty of spots to hide, not just for you but for the enemy also.The game’s sound is subtle and to the point. The weapon fire for each weapon sounds great and environmental sounds like footsteps, rain and doors can be heard, even the metal detectors at the airport went off as the squad passed through them, not good when you’re trying not to blow your cover. When out on a mission there is nothing more satisfying than hearing the enemy squeal with pain as you let off a few rounds, the enemy responses are very well done and realistic. Game music pops in frequently and is simple but effective adding to the overall suspense during an a*ault. The death sequence music is practically imprinted on my brain now ;)The game features 6 new multiplayer only maps and a new multiplayer mode called Lone Wolf. This new mode will see individuals try to outwit the other players in the game who start out with only pistols. The player that eliminates the Lone Wolf then switches to the Lone Wolf. Getting online is prety simple with the Ubi.com service, simply register, which takes 2 minutes ,and your up and running in the game lobby. If playing tactical shooters online with other people is your thing then there’s enough here to keep you more than happy for quite some time.To wrap up, Black Thorn is a good addition to the series although it does look a little dated despite the enhancements that have been made. If you haven’t played Rogue Spear then I would recommend checking this title out, it’s a really good introduction. I suspect that fans of the series will get more enjoyment from the new levels, multiplayer options and new weapons rather than the single player, but the missions do get tough and should provide a decent challenge. Black Thorn proves that there’s is still life in the Rogue Spear series, it’s a lot of fun to play. The game is due out soon in the UK for £29.99.
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