“Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six” franchise, one of the biggest sellers in the video game industry, is gambling on a familiar venue for its latest release – Las Vegas.

But if early reviews are any indication, the Ubisoft executives have drawn to an inside straight.

“The Perfect Shooter,” reads the headline in GamePro magazine.

“Tightly wound action, [role playing] customization, and killer [co-operation] make Tom Clancy’s ‘Rainbow Six Vegas 2’ the shooter to beat in 2008,” writes Sid Shuman in GamePro.

While developed by a team in Montreal, the Ubisoft effort has strong links to the Triangle. Epic Game’s Unreal 3 engine provides the horsepower, and the entire Clancy franchise dates to the best-selling author’s Red Storm Entertainment company that remains based in Morrisville, even though owned by Ubisoft.

Traditionally, the "Rainbow Six" anti-terrorist  team virtually explores new locales with each game, but Ubisoft mapped out a two-game story line when it introduced Tom Clancy’s "Rainbow Six Vegas" to gamers last year. The sequel ships shortly for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Once again, the same development team utilized the Unreal engine to bring the seedier side of Vegas to life in this new shooter.

"Unreal Engine 3 allows our team to focus on the gameplay," Thomas Geffroyd, brand manager for the Tom Clancy games at Ubisoft Montreal, said in a recent interview. "With the current generation of hardware, our team knows UE3 and we can tweak it and get the results we want out of it more easily because of our experience with the technology."

Some of those tweaks include all-new artificial intelligence on both sides of the conflict. The Rainbow Six team’s AI squad mates now behave more realistically, which keeps the tone of the game within the realm of the real world. Geffroyd said that the Rainbow Six squad mates will fan out and take cover when entering a room, rather than clogging up doorways or getting in the player’s way.

Cover, which plays an integral role in these games, has also been improved to become more like the real world. For example, in the original game, players could take cover behind anything, regardless of size, and escape bullets. Now, smaller cover won’t protect players from blazing guns, and some of the larger weapons will take out less-protected cover.

Enemies are also smarter, as they now possess heat-vision goggles and will take cover and work together to take players out. The development team has continued on its verticality scope of level design, offering higher perspectives to take out enemies below and introducing more access points throughout the game for cooperative engagements.

"This story takes place five years before the events of the first game, but wraps around that story with a parallel tale and eventually culminates with the first game’s cliffhanger ending being resolved," explained Geffroyd. "Players can jump into this game without having played the first game, although those who have will find a lot more depth."

Geffroyd pointed out a billboard in the outskirts of the city that read, "Dante’s Coming Soon," which players will remember as one of the casinos in the original game that was part of the action. Any players wanting to shoot out casino slot machines will have to replay the original. There are all-new locales in this game, including the Las Vegas Convention Center, which Geffroyd said opens up very interesting online multiplayer options. The monorail and gritty back alleyways are other examples of the new settings for this game.

More emphasis on story and character have been placed in this sequel, which will keep players abreast of the action with picture-in-picture window reports of the surrounding mayhem.

Once again, gamers will be able to put their actual face in the game using the Xbox 360 Vision Camera or the PlayStation 3 EyeToy. In addition to importing their own head, players will be able to customize every aspect of their virtual avatar from head to toe. As players progress through the game and earn new "aces," additional gear, equipment and weapons will be available for both single-player and online gameplay. Eleven new weapons also are offered in this sequel.

‘Rainbow Six Vegas’ has remained a Top 5 game on Xbox Live since it launched. Geffroyd said the improvements in UE3 over the past year has allowed the team to visually improve the multiplayer gameplay.

"We kept everything that the players liked from the first game and improved in areas that we thought could be better," said Geffroyd. "For cooperative gameplay, players can now jump in and out at any time to engage in the fight."

This is the last Vegas game for the franchise, which will move on to a new locale for its next installment, Geffroyd added. But the team is offering plenty of depth, especially through the new capabilities that its "aces" system of achievement offers. Players will gain enhanced specialty abilities as they play through the game in everything from sniping to explosives, which will reward players with improved skills as well as new equipment.