Tactical Shooters: The Second Generation

Swat 3, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, Spec Ops II, and Delta Force II have entered the ring in a battle of the tactical shooters. When it's over, only the toughest will remain standing.

Four combatants have entered the ring, but only one can leave as the champion.

The first battle of the tactical shooters left Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six as the undisputed king.

But times change, new challengers rise to replace the old and now the battle begins anew.

The tactical shooter (as distinct from the standard first-person shooter) usually involves a team of commandos operating in real-world situations. They tend toward the "one shot, one kill" model. They usually don't have power-ups or energy shields and rocket jumping just don't exist. Tactical shooters are about finesse, teamwork and keeping a cool head.

Spec Ops II
Zombie VR Studios set in motion a new genre when it created Spec Ops. But what has Zombie reaped from its invention?

Apparently, not much.

While the first in the ring, SpecOps was quickly surpassed by its rivals. Poor AI, absent multiplayer and graphically uninspired, it was a brilliant innovation, but ultimately not the best example of a developing genre.

Spec Ops II is clearly an improvement over its predecessor. It has better AI, great sound, non-linear missions and sharper graphics. But it's not in the same ring as the other second-generation titles. Overall, its graphics, AI, controls and fun factor don't effectively compete. (For our review, click here.)

Delta Force II
Delta Force from NovaLogic was the lone Voxel warrior in the first battle--most 3D games use polygon-based engines--and that probably cost it some points among fans and critics because it looked so different.

Nevertheless, NovaLogic stuck with a Voxel engine for its second-generation game. And this time the engine isn't holding the game back much at all. It looks more organic and less blocky. Multiplayer doesn't suffer as much from latency, and this is the first game with permeable surfaces-surfaces that bullets can pierce.

However, DF2 is held back by a lack of control over other team members, the absence of locational damage--shoot a guy in the hand and he can die--and bad enemy AI.

Is it the king of the ring? For a full review, click here.

Swat 3
Swat 3, the latest of the batch, is in the thick of the battle for the single-player title. An upcoming expansion is supposed to allow for multiplayer combat.

But until it does, Swat 3 lacks what even the worst of these games has: the ability to have fun with your friends.

However, Swat 3 edges out Rogue Spear for the overall single player experience with sharp graphics and sound, good controls, nice storyline, and solid AI. If you could care less about playing online and just want to have a tactical good time, think Swat 3. Click here for the full review.

Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear
Red Storm Entertainment is the 900-pound gorilla in this contest. Rainbow Six was a fan and critic favorite, sold very well and is still played more often on The Zone than the best-selling (and vastly improved) sequel, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear.

And, having won the first battle, it's not a big surprise that Rogue Spear is the favorite in the second.

The single player game is solid. It has a good story that builds up over the levels. (And it doesn't hurt that Rainbow Six is a Tom Clancy best seller.) It has better camera control than its predecessor, but retains the simple interface that helped make the original such a success.

The only problem in this mode is the dead-eye accuracy of the AI opponents.

Multiplayer, though bandwidth intensive, is simply head and shoulders above the competition. Maps, options and game balance make it extremely addicting. In the end, it's just a superior product--and superior to Delta Force 2 and Spec Ops II. Click here for the full review.

With the battle over and the dust settling, the clear winner is �

Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. Between the single player and multiplayer, it's a package that can't be beat.

Following close behind--by almost exactly the distance of its missing multiplayer--is SWAT 3. (And if you couldn't care less about multiplayer, SWAT 3 is your man.)

Delta Force II places third. For a voxel-based game, it looks good and offers unique features, but, overall, it's not a top-notch contender.

And Spec Ops II? It had to be carried out of the ring on a stretcher. While an improvement over the original SpecOps, against opponents of this caliber, it was thoroughly stomped.