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 to try out games and see if they were worth buying. From demo discs inside magazines like PC Gamer and Official Xbox Magazine, to purchasable discs such as the PlayStation Jampack, there were many ways to try out the hot new games.
Then high speed internet started becoming a thing in the mid-2000s. Nowadays, almost everyone downloads demos through their consoles over the internet, thus negating the need for physical discs to be pressed. The demo disc died a sad, quick death.
Thankfully, the old demo discs never gone away, and can still be found at a thrift store or local game shop near you. Most of them are useless unless the demo is slightly different than the final game, but in some cases it’s just a vertical slice of the final game to try out. But who knew a simple demo disc for one of the biggest tactical shooters 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. This mouthful of a title was something I had found at a Goodwill, and was curious about the contents of it.
As far as I know, this was likely given as a pre-order for Rainbow Six 3 on the original Xbox, or might’ve been available for purchase separately. There’s sparse info about this online, so I’m gonna hazard a guess it was the former.
Normally I skip demo discs as I see no need to own them unless you want a good time capsule of what games were like in that period. Until I found out something interesting about this particular disc.
I should give a little backstory to all this. Back in the early to mid 2000s, online gaming was not as prevalent as it is today. While people did game online with their PS2, Xbox, or in rare cases the GameCube — mostly for Phantasy Star Online and little else — it wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is today. Most online gaming was more on the PC, with lots of people playing Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament 2004, Counter-Strike and many others.
Instead of millions of people fragging online in stuff like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, it was only several thousand playing Halo 2 on the original Xbox. Even the concept of “downloadable content” was still pretty unknown back then.
That doesn’t mean that downloadable content for games and digital downloads didn’t exist. In some cases, developers bundled online content into special retail discs, such as the Halo 2 Multiplayer Map Pack; or re-releasing the game in a “Game of the Year edition” on bargain price with all the content already on the disc. Presumably, this was for those who were still rockin’ 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 long-running 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. For a while, these levels were exclusive to this version of the game.
The only other version of the first Splinter Cell that got these extra levels was the PC version. The downside is these levels were only available in a special patch that came bundled with the collector’s edition of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, the third game in the series. 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.
Things can’t last forever, though. Microsoft, for reasons not fully explained to this day, announced 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.