I think I’ve shot this guy before.

Thanks to a combination of my careless/overeager nature and the rather inconsistent capabilities of my AI-controlled counter-terrorist comrades, I’ve had to reattempt each of the seven Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield missions I’ve played so far at least thrice. The highest number of restarts I’ve had in a single mission is… six times? Eight times? Or is it 12? I didn’t bother to keep count, but I have a feeling that I’ve had at least 50 restarts in total now.

Some of those restarts were done by choice, done because the thought of four guys dying almost at the same time for some dumb reason is too much to bear for me. But most of them weren’t voluntary.

It’s mostly because of those blasted hostage rescue missions. You see, the terrorists you face are rather fond of killing hostages – bungle up a breach or entry into the room where they’re guarding the hostages and bang! It’s not you or your ally who’s dead, it’s an unarmed hostage. A dead hostage means you’ve failed an objective. A failed objective means a failed mission. A failed mission means you either instantly restart the level, go back to the planning stage or quit. Manual saves, quick-saves or checkpoints? You won’t find them here.

Hey, I recognize this place – ‘cuz  I’ve been here like 10 freaking times already!

It goes without saying that I was frustrated, especially when a hostage’s death was caused by an AI-controlled team who inexplicably screwed up a room breach which they pulled of flawlessly in the previous five retries, but only at first. No wait, scratch that, I still get frustrated when I have to restart a mission for the umpteenth time. But that feeling’s starting to fade, due to a new perspective I’ve developed.

Imagine this: a force of elite counter-terrorists is at a private airfield, in the midst of a hostage rescue mission. But despite their training and reputation, they somehow, inadvertently screw-up, and the terrorists in the room they were trying to breach end up killing the hostage they’re guarding. Following that terrible and unfortunate event, they suddenly find themselves back at their insertion point, or back at the planning room. Things are nearly the same as at the start of the mission – the terrorists don’t seem to be aware of their presence, a breached door is still intact and no ammo has been expended. But they remember the events that had transpired – or had seemingly transpired – including the death of the first hostage. They also remember the enemy’s position, their patrol routes and the number of terrorists guarding that first hostage.

They are confused. They don’t understand what is going on. But they know this: they’ve gotten another chance at executing their mission, another chance to save the hostage. And this time they’re armed with the knowledge gained from their previous attempt – the attempt that seems to have never happened.

Let’s fast forward. The operatives are at their insertion point. Again. They’ve executed this operation several times now, and while they’ve gotten further ahead each time, even successfully saving the first hostage, they screw up later on. The other hostages die. They still fail. And they return back to the start.

They’re feeling demoralized and frustrated now. But they also feel emboldened by each new bit of information they gain each time they retry, their new-found familiarity with the airfield, as well as the fact that they seem to be able to reattempt this mission over and over, for an infinite number of times. They grit their teeth. They re-strategize, they reassure themselves of their imminent success. With their confidence shaky but mostly bolstered, they advance yet again.

Screw the AI, I’ll breach this myself.

Doesn’t it sound like a time-loop scenario?

That’s what I thought of anyway, and now that fantasy’s stuck in my mind. Admittedly it does make Rainbow, the multinational counter-terrorism organization which you and your teammates belong to, seem horrendously (or hilariously) incompetent – after six tries, a team of AI-controlled Rainbow operatives still can’t breach a room properly and kill all the terrorists before they shoot the hostage without at least a 30% chance of failure? Oh dear. But then again, I’ve had an AI-controlled operative die within the first minute of the first mission, so I guess they’re just naturally crap at their  job.

Still, I’m too absorbed in the time-loop fantasy to care. To me, it adds a sci-fi element to this grounded tactical shooter that makes my frequent restarts a bit more interesting and compelling, and not just plain frustrating. It also gives the plot a twist: it’s not just about a bunch of counter-terrorism operatives trying to prevent the resurrection of fascism now; it’s also a personal story about a bunch of counter-terrorism operatives experiencing constant and consecutive time-loops due to their screw-ups, coming to terms with their shameful ineptitude, as well as their determination to replace their innumerable failures with success and to finally save the goddamn hostage(s) even if it costs some of them their lives.