Before online gaming, back in the days when dial-up was the only means of internet access for many, there was the demo disc. The demo disc was a means for gamers to try out games and see if they were worth buying. Nowadays, almost everyone downloads demos of games through their consoles over high-speed connections, and the demo disc died a sad, quick death. But who knew a simple demo disc for a tactical shooter would be one of the only ways to get exclusive downloadable content for another game?
This is Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Exclusive Companion Demo Disc. I found it for a few dollars at a nearby Goodwill. While I like the concept of demo discs, and occasionally have collected a few, I was ready to ignore this little item. Until I found out something interesting about this particular disc.
I should give a little backstory to all this. Back in the early 2000s, during the previous generation, online gaming was not as prevalent as it is today. While people did game online with their PS2 or Xbox or even the GameCube — well, if you wanted to play Phantasy Star Online Episodes I&II on the latter, that is — it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is today. Instead of millions of gamers playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 all day, it was only several thousand playing Halo 2. Downloadable content for games and digital downloads did exist back then, but they were not as common as they are today, due mainly to the fact that high-speed internet was only starting to penetrate households in that generation. In some cases, developers bundled online content into special discs, such as the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack; or they re-released games on Greatest Hits with the bonus downloaded content on the disc. This was for those who were still rockin’ 56K dial-up connections, or had no convenient means of downloading the content digitally.
In 2002, Ubisoft released Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, the first in a series of stealth-action games. The Xbox version took advantage of the then-new Xbox Live service by releasing three exclusive levels — Vselka Submarine, Vselka Infiltration, and Kola Cell — freely downloadable via Xbox Live. The PS2 and GameCube ports, released one year later, didn’t get these exclusive levels. The PC version, however did get these exclusive levels, but only in a special patch that came bundled with the collector’s edition of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, released two years later. (As far as I know, this special patch has never been made publicly available for download.)
Now, these bonus downloadable levels sounded like a great idea, to give online-enabled gamers incentive to use the service. Ubisoft used this to full effect in every major Tom Clancy game that appeared on the Xbox, from Rainbow Six 3 to Ghost Recon 2, even releasing exclusive disc-based expansions for those games only on the Xbox. There was a downside to this. Microsoft, for reasons not fully explained to this day, decided to announce that they were shutting down the network services to the original Xbox’s Live service in early April 2010, less than eight years after it launched. This lead to people pulling out their original Xbox systems to shoot dudes in Halo 2 or Counter-Strike one last time before its inevitable demise. Not only did this mean the end of online play for that system, but also for any downloadable content available on that system. This meant that if you didn’t download the bonus Splinter Cell levels before Microsoft shut down original Xbox Live, then there was no way of downloading or playing them again. Until now.
Let’s go back to the Companion Demo Disc. Bundled with the disc are demos for Rainbow Six 3 (natch), Ghost Recon, Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and Splinter Cell. The front and the back of the box also advertise “New missions for Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and Splinter Cell.” Those new missions? Vselka Infiltration, Vselka Submarine, and Kola Cell. Those three downloadable missions. Does this mean there actually is a way to get these previously unattainable levels after all? I had to find out.
First, I had to procure copies of both games in question, since they required a copy of the game to work. Thankfully, most Xbox games are dirt cheap these days, with Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon: Island Thunder going for $3 a pop at the nearby local game shop (Thanks Video Game Wizards!). After the demo disc gave me an error message saying I needed the game to download the content, I popped in Splinter Cell and played about partway through the first stage in Georgia. After I made a save file there, I booted the Demo Disc back up to see if I could download the files to the Xbox.
There could have been many ways where this could go wrong. At one point I was worried the disc was gonna have to ping the Xbox Live servers to download the content from there, making my demo disc just a $5 paperweight. I go to the Splinter Cell section on the demo disc, then the missions section, and select one of the missions to download to the Xbox.
Eureka! It had successfully transferred the mission from the demo disc to my Xbox’s hard drive. I then went back into Splinter Cell and sure enough, the extra levels were there, ready and waiting. I did the same thing with Ghost Recon: Island Thunder and got the levels to work in that, with the same method.
So a demo disc that I bought out of curiosity for $5 had now become a way for me to play those exclusive Xbox levels without having to use a time machine or fancy voodoo tricks. I was absolutely amazed at this, and it probably will amaze you too.
You can find the Rainbow Six 3 Exclusive Companion Demo Disc on eBay or in local mom-and-pop game shops for a few bucks. Granted, it may not be something you want to hunt down unless you really wanna try out the bonus levels for yourself, but it’s a definite find for me. It’s too bad I still suck at Tom Clancy games, and that includes Splinter Cell.