At its basest formulation, a videogame franchise with annual sequels is a lot like a car with a new model every fall.

At its basest formulation, a videogame franchise with annual sequels is a lot like a car with a new model every fall. So it is with “Rainbow Six Vegas 2,” which takes last year’s hit squad-based shooter, makes a few minor improvements, and offers essentially a big expansion pack of what was a tightly designed game with a few notable flaws. As such, it should enjoy solid sales amongst hard core fans of the original eager for more and some new fans who want to start with the souped up version, but won’t turn as many heads as its predecessor.

Though overshadowed later in the year by “Halo 3” and “Call of Duty 4,” last March’s “Rainbow Six Vegas” was one of the year’s best action game with its near flawless controls and emphasis on squad-based tactics alongside fast paced shooting. The sequel continues that, with levels designed to make the player focus on taking cover and using teammates to surround and surprise the enemy. It’s all doors and corners and rooms with multiple entry points and hiding places.

“Rainbow Six Vegas Two” is so focused on those core mechanics, however, that the levels feel more like endlessly repetitive set pieces than anything endemic to the paper thin story. As with the last game, settings like casinos, warehouses, and residential neighborhoods are all severely lacking in detail, often to the point of being ugly. Facial animations aren’t any better, with expressions that only intermittently match the poorly written dialogue they’re spouting.

The story, involving a terrorist threat in Las Vegas and a traitor from the Rainbow Six squad, interweaves at a few key points with the original game. But as with most of Ubisoft’s line of Tom Clancy-branded military titles, it never develops into much more than an excuse to shoot or grenade hundreds of anonymous enemies.

Improvements in the single player campaign are miniscule at best, mostly involving teammates’ artificial intelligence. Even still, they occasionally get stuck and fall behind, which can frustratingly turn a squad-based game into a solo adventure.

While the first “Rainbow Six Vegas” only let players create a character for online combat, the new installment maintains him or her in every mode. That nicely ties the campaign and “terrorist hunt,” in which one to four players take out computer-controlled enemies, to the array of player vs. player games. “Rainbow Six Vegas Two” maintains the franchise’s position as one of the deepest, smoothest, and most satisfying online action games around, with some modes that require a tightly knit team (always a challenge with strangers online) and others that are all-out mayhem.

First “Rainbow Six Vegas” introduced a detailed statistical system that let players “rank up” during online play. The sequel extends that to solo play and introduces new rewards for different types of kills. Only the most intense players will be keeping track of their marksman, close quarters, assault, and experience points, along with military rank, but those who need positive reinforcement will thrive on the fact that they can’t go more than five minutes without getting a reward in one of those categories. Others will wish that playing “Rainbow Six Vegas Two” was more of a reward in itself.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Vegas 2

Rated M. $50 - $60

Production

An Ubisoft presentation of a game developed by Ubisoft Montreal for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Reviewed on Xbox 360.

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