The story is set in 2005 when a heavily-armed Neo-Nazi terrorist group begins to terrorize South America and Europe, leading to the deployment of the elite Rainbow anti-terrorist response team to deal with them and those secretly supporting them.
The PC version, subtitled Raven Shield, is a direct sequel to Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, keeping the emphasis on mission planning, coordination and careful play, with missions having multiple ways to complete their objectives; graphically is where the game primarily differs, with the presentation upgraded to (then-)modern expectations by way of Unreal Engine 2. Two expansions followed over the next two years, respectively the retail Athena Sword and then the freely-downloadable Iron Wrath; both add several new weapons and new seven-mission-long campaigns - Athena Sword dealing with a terrorist cell, still in contact with an incarcerated bad guy from the original game, launching attacks in Italy while attempting to gather chemical weapons, Iron Wrath involving a different terrorist group kidnapping Bulgarian scientists and attempting to construct nuclear weapons - with the latter also adding revised versions of three missions from previous games (respectively the first game's "Cold Thunder", Rogue Spear: Urban Operations' "Iron Comet", and Eagle Watch's "Little Wing").
The console version, simply titled Rainbow Six 3, removes mission planning, multiple Rainbow teams and the complex level designs in favor of linear levels that still encourage some careful play. The story is set in South America and Europe when Venezuela's anti-US president masterminds a scheme to undermine Saudi Arabia in an attempt to control the oil market using various terrorists cells across the world while Rainbow is deployed to stop their plans. While compared to the PC version it seemed rather cut-down, it nevertheless became popular enough, especially for online play, that a Mission-Pack Sequel was released the following year. Subtitled Black Arrow, it expanded the multiplayer features (including two new modes) while coming with a new campaign involving a terrorist group, funded by oil bankers and Russian military officers, attempting to create weapons of mass destruction and force the creation of a new country in the Caucasus.
Note: Most, if not all of the tropes listed here are for the PC version.
The game contains examples of:
- Argentina Is Nazi Land: The vast majority of the game is set in the Cayman Islands rather than anywhere in South America, but it does heavily involve the presence of neo-Nazis. The Reveal late in the game is that the real Big Bad is a former member of the Croatian Ustaše, who sent countless victims to German death camps, then liquidated assets stolen from those victims and fled to Cayman Brac, using those funds to build a more "legitimate" fortune.
- Armor Is Useless: Due to the game's mechanics/damage output, everyone will die with one or three hits no matter the armor they are wearing as the AI is very good at targeting the head. Heavy armor might save you from one or two hits, but that's about as far is it goes.
- America Saves the Day: Averted Trope, the Rainbow team is composed of people of different nationalities from the US, the European Union, Russia, South Korea, and South America. And unlike Ghost Recon, they are beholden to NATO.
- Artificial Stupidity:
- The enemy AI is not programmed to react unless they spot or hear you, meaning that you could kill one of four terrorists in front of them no less and they would still be patrolling rather than searching for you, the same can be said for your teammates. However, their high accuracy compensates for their stupidity.
- Your AI teammates have a blindspot as they have problems engaging enemies that are not in front of them.
- Blinded by the Light: Flashbangs can do this to anyone, even the player if they see the flash.
- Canada Does Not Exist: Averted as one of the Rainbow team members is a Canadian.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The tangos have superhuman reflexes, near-perfect accuracy at long range, can hit you without actually aiming - and if they do aim, do it within two seconds, almost always score headshots (rendering heavy armor even more useless), and can shoot you from impossible angles, e.g. straight down from a balcony, sometimes when it seems they can't see you - sometimes in pitch darkness, it almost seems like they're using the same auto-aim feature the player can turn on at times.
- Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Even nonfatal hits are crippling, and shots to the head or center mass are one hit kills.
- Elites Are More Glamorous
- Expansion Pack: Two for PC, the paid Athena Sword and then the free Iron Wrath. The Xbox went the Mission-Pack Sequel route with Black Arrow.
- Fluffy the Terrible: "Team Rainbow," a collection of the World's Biggest Badasses.
- Game Mod: Rainbow Six 3 2.0 balances and tweaks both the team and enemy AI, replaces old textures with crisper ones and adds new weapons and sound effects.
- Gas Mask Mooks: Appear in the levels containing toxic gas canisters the player(s) must secure before they are activated.
- Good Guns, Bad Guns: Mostly averted. The terrorists use weapons ranging from your typical AK-47 to high-end Western firearms. The player's available arsenal meanwhile has positively exploded from the first game's limited options, including the same AKs as the terrorists, two different Desert Eagle variants, several machine pistols like the MAC-11, Skorpion and Micro-Uzi, and even a Chinese gun in the QBZ-97B, alongside the more standard good-guy guns like the M16 or M4, FAL, and MP5.
- "Instant Death" Radius: If an enemy shoots you at point-blank range, it's an instant kill.
- Luck-Based Mission:
- The behavior of your AI teammates ultimately becomes this. Sure, good tactical planning can help stack the odds in your favor, but you can run the exact same tactical plan a dozen times, and for every run where the AI-controlled squads pull the assault off flawlessly, there'll be a run where they get wiped out completely by the first bad guy they see. This is due to your AI teammates' blindspot and the randomized enemy spawnpoints.
- Also, when clearing a room, team members will stand right in front of the doorway to toss in a grenade, almost always getting themselves killed in the process.
- Mauve Shirt: The named members of team Rainbow are this, as they all have a short biography and different stats and specializations, but anyone and everyone - up to and including "Ding" Chavez, the apparent protagonist - can easily die.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender:
- Averted in the intro, which shows Neo-Nazi terrorists casually gunning down a female civilian in cold blood.
- Also, female hostages and Rainbow operatives can be killed just as easily as their male counterparts.
- Multinational Team: The whole point of Rainbow.
- Nintendo Hard: One-Hit Kill (even with the heaviest armor you can get) gameplay combined with the inability to save mid-mission resulted in very high game difficulty. Additionally, characters killed during a mission were gone forever and would be replaced on the team roster by generic Red Shirts with much lower stats, while injured team members had decreased stats.
- Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The Rainbow unit is made up of soldiers from all over the world, yet they all sound like generic North Americans. At least in the PC version; in the console version they do have their proper accents as the roster is much smaller and thus can be given more individual character.
- One-Hit Kill: One or two bullets was sufficient to kill any character in the game, both players and enemies. This made combat much more tactical, involving slow and steady searching and room clearing rather than the standard First-Person Shooter "run in guns blazing" approach.
- Only Mostly Dead: The incapacitated status; they aren't dead, but they can't fight anymore.
- Permadeath: Both Played Straight and Subverted as teammates can either be killed, incapacitated (not dead but no longer usable) or just wounded when they fall in battle.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Naturally, as the baddies are Neo-Nazis, led by an actual Nazi from World War II.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: There's no gameplay or visual changes (outside of the eyes and voice set) based on the gender of the Rainbow agents.
- Stealth-Based Mission: A mission where you have to infiltrate a building without killing anyone or being detected while bugging electronic devices.
- Stupid Surrender: Inverted: Enemies may occasionally surrender when low on health or when they are assigned the coward personality at the start of a mission, not bothering you for the rest of the mission and counting as kills. You can still execute them for no penalty, though.
- Those Wacky Nazis: The main antagonists are a group of Neo-Nazis led by a real Nazi wanting to leave a mark on the world before succumbing to cancer.
- Western Terrorists: The game was pretty widely mocked for having Neo-Nazis as the bad guys in 2005, four years into The War on Terrornote . There are also the French terrorists that appear in some custom missions. Averted in the console version, where the bad guys (after the first two missions) are Venezuelan terrorists secretly being controlled by the President of Venezuela.