What does it mean for a game to have that “Tom Clancy’s” logo with that little tactical man in the goggles on top? If you started with the Rainbow Six series, it meant you were in for an intensely tactical shooting experience, where studying maps and carefully diagramming assault routes was the only path to victory. If Splinter Cell was your introduction to the Clancy clan, it meant thoughtful stealth fused with “it could happen tomorrow” stories of shadow governments and insurrections. Or if you started with HAWX, er, sorry about that. The late author has lent his name to a veritable universe that has assembled games for every interest at this point, as long as you’re into highly detailed military machinery. Let’s take a look at the best ones.
10. Tom Clancy’s Endwar
Endwar made fools of us all. When voice commands were still achingly cool, Ubi dished up this strategy game from the Clancy universe that you could play entirely vocally. Obviously that was a recipe for disaster, as frustrated armchair generals all over the world started inserting increasingly strong swears into their orders when the game fudged it all up. However, underneath all that is a fine strategy game with some delightfully well-designed maps to scrap in. Reverting to pad is a far from ideal solution, but it means you get to almost enjoy one of the few RTS titles that actually worked on console. Y’know, before XCOM: Enemy Unknown showed up and everyone just conceded defeat.
9. Tom Clancy’s The Division
At first, The Division feels like it’s trying to do a lot of different things and not quite excelling at any of them. Then the truth dawns upon you: this is Destiny with a cover system and beanie caps. The Division makes so much more sense after that point, and if you approach it with that Destiny mindset, you’re bound to have a good time: for instance, grinding through missions for loot can be a chore, but not if you bring along friends and tweak the difficulty to match your skills. The Dark Zone is by far The Division’s most unique aspect, playing like a little PvP-optional DayZ right in the middle of the map. Gear balance issues aside, it’s still a uniquely tense thrill to stumble on another group of agents and size them up as potential allies or enemies, knowing they’re doing the same to you.
8. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Shadow Wars
The Nintendo 3DS is not ideally suited to the strengths of any Tom Clancy series. No fancy presentation like the best Splinter Cells, no robust networking features to truly suit Rainbow Six, and shooters in general have never felt great on Nintendo’s handhelds. Ghost Recon Shadow Wars, however, is a freak in the Tom Clancy pantheon. Rather than a slow-paced multiplayer shooter, Shadow Wars is a tactics RPG whose bite-sized skirmishes place you in taut standoffs with a handful of specialists. It handily captures both the succulent tension of a well-executed plan and the brute theatricality of full scale Ghost Recon games, but as a turn-based XCOM-alike. Those XCOM qualities come to Shadow Wars honestly too; it was the last game XCOM creator Julian Gollop turned in for Ubisoft.
7. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
Given the rather niche concept of R6 Vegas, it’s amazing that Ubi squeezed a couple of games out of it. In fact, it’s rather telling that the first of them was the best. While the setting provides the glitz and glamour, the fresh gameplay features make this feel like the first Rainbow Six title truly optimised for console. Regenerating health, a third-person view for blind-firing, and context sensitive squad commands (on the d-pad) all make for a shooty-bang-bang experience that’s a little more sympathetic to the less hardcore player. While this undoubtedly softens the series’ appeal for some, the whole thing is still tough and military enough to satisfy. Again, though, it was probably a poor idea to bring the second game back to the city of sin without any real improvements. Does it hold up today? Well, kinda, but shouldn’t you be playing Siege instead?
6. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon (2001)
Ok, so, the original Ghost Recon doesn’t really hold up by today’s standards. It’s a rather slow, rather ugly game where the tactical shooting doesn’t quite make up for the visual and presentation shortcomings. But back at the turn of the millennium, this was primo-PC gaming. Didn’t matter that the game is half orienteering sim, half shooter – it’s wonderfully ‘authentic’, has some excellent set-pieces, and genuinely rewards patience and smart tactical thinking. Games like Operation Flashpoint and ArmA pushed the painfully-slow military shooter to their zenith, but this was the acceptable face of indulging your spec-ops side.
5. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3
This entry kinda counts twice. Raven Shield on PC is an exceptional game, as is the vanilla Rainbow Six 3 on Xbox. This being a console site, though, let’s look at the latter. Each level is a tense squad-based crawl from start to finish – death comes quickly in Rainbow Six, so every door breach and peep around a corner has to be done oh-so-carefully-and-GODDAMN-IT-I’M-DEAD. It’s such a refreshing change from other fire-and-forget frag-fests on console, and even the multiplayer has that balanced, super-lethal feel. Oh, and fun fact: this game actually has voice commands, which you can issue to cue squad orders. And they actually work!
4. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction
This was a new breed of sneaking when it finally appeared, battered and bruised from a troubled development cycle, in 2010. Originally pitched as Sam Fisher meets Jason Bourne, the end product wasn’t quite as free-flowing and ‘murder-a-man-with-a-newspaper’ as promised, but the aggressive, fast-paced stealth was unlike anything seen in games. The ability to string together takedowns, increasingly terrifying the remaining grunts, in fluid motions around each self-contained stage just feels so, so good to play. Ok, the story isn’t the finest in the series (despite the rather memorable scene where you forcefully attach a man’s hand to a tree-stump with your combat knife), but when the action is this smooth that barely matters. And let’s not forget the fantastically tense co-op mode, which climaxes in the order to terminate your buddy before they kill you.
3. Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands
If you ever played the Mercenaries games, you remember the fun of tracking down high-value targets in secure compounds and expertly neutralizing them. Or just calling down a massive fuel-air bomb on the whole premises. Ghost Recon Wildlands backs off from the air-dropped ordnance in favor of making everything about those open-world surgical strikes sing. Teams of four (either in co-op or with AI buddies) can sneak into drug cartel facilities for silent takedowns, smash down the gates with explosives and machine guns, or do all the dirty work from a nearby hilltop with their trusty sniper rifles. If you can get a full squad together, Wildlands is some of the most fun you’ll ever have in the Clancy-verse.
2. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
While Siege received several middling reviews and attracted a smaller audience than Ubi might have hoped, time and the amazing communities that have built up around it will testify to the brilliance of this tense, intimate shooter. The core mode – Siege – is so finely tuned, the maps so economically designed, they create a game beautiful through its violent simplicity. Five versus five – one team defends, the other infiltrates. A sprinkling of gadgets and tools add flavour to what is, essentially, a battle of wits and smarts between two teams. But the absolute best thing about Siege is the potential for an epic five vs one finish, with the sole survivor on a struggling team wiping out the entire opposition force by themselves, to the sound of gasps and cheers from their spectating comrades. Those moments are the rarest of gaming gems, and they make this a precious experience, indeed.
1. Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory
There are so many reasons why Chaos Theory is the best Clancy game out there. For starters, it’s maximum Clancy – the plot focuses on a global shadow conflict that threatens to plunge the world into a new war. It’s a dark, tense game, with enough plot twists and set-pieces to keep you gripped, and leading man Sam Fisher is more agile (despite being older) than ever, packing enough smart gadgets to give James Bond’s Q sleepless nights. However, the star of the show is the Spies vs Mercs mode, which is the most sublime, taut, and thrilling multiplayer you’re likely to experience. There’s something so wonderfully balanced about it – the third-person perspective of the spies offsetting their relative fragility, while the lethality of the mercs feels sensibly restrained by the first-person view. Spies vs Mercs is responsible for more gasps, fist-pumps, and litres of sweat shed per game than any other online experience. Fact. Ish. Sadly, the game’s delightful visuals have aged a little, and Spies vs Mercs can no longer be played on console (the servers have been switched off), but this remains the high-watermark for all Clancy games to date.