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In November of 2002, Microsoft unleashed a service that has changed the face of console gaming from a solo activity enjoyed in the confines of a living room to a global undertaking where people can meet and interact. It began by supporting the traditional multiplayer matches with 16 players connecting and competing against one another. While playing cooperatively wasn't left out in the cold entirely, it still wasn't as prominently featured as it now is with this generation of hardware. Three years after the launch of Microsoft's online service two games were released -- Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas -- that showcased the potential of cooperative play on Xbox 360. While players appreciated the inclusion of co-op in Vegas, it paled in comparison to the experience of the single-player campaign and adversarial multiplayer. 

With Vegas 2, Ubisoft Montreal is promising a more streamlined experience where one of your buddies can jump in and out of your game online or off without disrupting the traditional campaign experience of fluid action, cutscenes, and mission briefings. 

As anyone who played the original Vegas knows, the co-op lacked many of the presentation values and story elements that were highlighted by the true campaign. But the full Vegas experience shouldn't be contained to a solo experience; thus, we have Vegas 2 -- where hot swapping in and out of a standard mission is entirely possible. We recently got our hands on an early build of Tom Clancy's second trip to Sin City and are happy to report that the co-op is much more refined and accessible than ever before. 

One interesting aspect of Vegas 2's co-op, and this is something that might upset some players, is that they've removed the ability to play with four players. Instead you're limited to having an extra member of the Rainbow Six team join up with your trio of soldiers. Essentially, the added player is left out of the core gameplay and can maneuver through the level however he or she sees fit. The host (player one) has control of the other two AI combatants and can tell them to do the traditional anti-terrorist things like moving to cover, breaching a door, and so on while your human buddy works on his own. I have to admit that it did feel a bit odd to be playing as the added player and not having the ability to command at least one of the AI -controlled Rainbow operatives (Why not give each human player control of an AI character?). Even though you still get the whole story experience, you can't help but feel a bit more detached than what Ubisoft likely intended. 

So while the campaign is limited to two-player action, Terrorist Hunt still allows four players to hop in, setup a stage with dozens of terrorists and take them down with the utmost prejudice. Much like the standard campaign (limited to two players, mind you), you and your friends can bring your created character -- experience points, equipment and all -- into the game either locally with a memory unit or online. 

Work as a team.
In our fairly lengthy play session with the co-op in Vegas 2, we didn't experience a single moment of frame hitches or lag, even when we linked up with three friends to hunt some terrorist scum. It's obvious when looking at the design of the new levels within Vegas 2 that co-op play was pushed to the forefront in the minds of the developers. Nearly every room has multiple (most of the time more than two) points of access where players can strategize and plan a means of attack. One of my favorite moments came as my team and I were trying our fifth approach on a room full of baddies. No matter how we entered the room we kept getting smoked. That is until I noticed a skylight above and decided to time my fast rope with my team's breach and clear move. The result was seven dead terrorists and three rescued hostages. 

Despite the fact that the second player does feel a bit detached from the action in the campaign, there's no denying that co-op is a much larger part of Vegas 2's picture than it was in the original. Since any single-player campaign mission can be joined by a friend (unless you mess with a few settings) without disrupting the storytelling, it's a much more attractive package overall. Essentially playing co-op is now no different than working through the mission by your lonesome self (less the communication factor) and at the end of the day isn't that the idea behind the feature? 

Be sure to check out our other previews of Vegas 2 to help prepare you for the launch on March 18.