Remember Rainbow Six Patriots? Like me you probably forgot all about it, but that was Ubisoft’s original intent for Rainbow Six development, before eventually shelving the project and re-announcing what it had as Rainbow Six Siege. The difference now was, the single-player campaign had been stripped out entirely, and in its place was an online-only class based shooter. It’s got all the hallmarks of a waking nightmare for lifelong Rainbow Six fans. Don’t worry though, Ubi’s still managed to do you proud.
Unless I’m unaware of it, I don’t feel as if anybody has done much to advance the beloved Counter-Strike formula in the past 15 years. Admittedly it’s totally timeless, but there’s a definite feeling we got distracted by the glitz and glamour of Modern Warfare and all that followed, forgetting just what it was like to play a proper tactical shooter. A battle of wits rather than the quickest trigger finger wins.
Rainbow Six Siege harks back to these days, but it also adopts a few key MOBA elements. Now bear with me here. You see, much of Rainbow Six Siege’s inherent longevity and tactical depth stems from the 20 different Operator classes available out of the box. You start off as a Recruit, but you can spend your hard-earned Renown on unlocking more classes, split between Attackers and Defenders. Each has unique skills, weapons and abilities, as well as being moderately customisable with a few binary weapon choices. Pulse carries a heartbeat sensor which can detect enemies, while Sledge a has breaching hammer for bringing down walls, or Mute has a jammer to prevent your team being spotted by enemy drones.
The thing is, only one player on any one man team can pick any particular character, so it isn’t long before you quickly begin theorising ideal team builds, much like a MOBA. A well oiled team with the right Operators will wipe the floor with a bunch of ragtag chancers out for a quick kill. Right from the off it's incredible fun just to get a hold of all these operators and test them. Find out where they're useful, what their strengths and weaknesses are. Then you're playing rock/paper/scissors with the opposite team, trying to out-think their character choices each round. It's gloriously engaging, and it keeps you thinking and on your toes more than just about any other online shooter out there.
There’s three game modes in Rainbow Six Siege but I don’t think it would be dismissive of me to say they all boil down to one thing: Camping - The Game. Whether it’s Hostage Rescue, Bomb Defusal or Secure Area, Defenders are tasked with stopping the Attackers from getting to their objective, via any means possible. During the opening portion of the 4-minute rounds, Defenders must secure an area while Attackers use drones to figure out what area of the map they’re in. Areas can be shored up using makeshift walls, barbed wire, gun turrets, electric traps and more. Then it’s a case of waiting for the attacking team to come, who will be trying to provide the counterpoint to your elaborate camping setup. Think of yourself as Kevin McCallister with a fully automatic assault rifle. It’s quick-fire stuff, with you switching from Attack and Defend every 4-minute round, keeping things fresh.
Like Counter-Strike before it, you are restricted to just a single life per round, so with poor luck or bad tactics you could conceivably sit out for four whole minutes until the next round. Obviously there’s player cams so you can track what your team’s up to, and it gives you a bit of time to reflect on how you were killed and alter your tactics. The wait won’t be ideal for some, but I find it more conducive to longer gaming sessions. I’m not constantly spawning and charging headlong into the action, but taking my time and sussing out the situation.
The biggest game changer is the physics-based destruction on offer. Watching some of the best players bending the levels to their will is an absolute joy; taking out walls and battering through new vantage points. Not everything is destroyable but a good majority is. Much of your early play will be spent deciphering what is and what isn’t. I thought garage doors were invincible for a good five hours or so, but boy was I wrong. Some of the more formidable Operators can bust through practically anything. it means you can open up entire new lines of sight that would be impossible otherwise, so you’ve got to keep your wits about you while the enemy are doing the exact same.
One contentious issue is that there are just 11 maps in Rainbow Six Siege at launch. That’s five less than the content-light Star Wars Battlefront, although Ubisoft has said all additional maps will be free of charge. I think 11 maps is enough to get going with though, and due to the destructibility they really aren’t even comparable to other games. Call of Duty maps are just static boxes that play out the same every time, whereas any map in Rainbow Six Siege is totally altered by your method of entry, where the objective is located, and what’s been destroyed.
Take the basic House map for example. I still don’t feel anywhere near unearthing all the tactical possibilities available in it, despite losing days to it in the beta and plenty of time in the week since with the main game. It might only be a three-storey house but it plays out radically differently each and every time. A team could be holed up in a deathtrap filled basement, or they could have seized the top floor, covering the staircase and causing havoc firing out the upper floor windows.
Rainbow Six Siege isn’t cheap, whichever way you cut it, but I do think it’s a game that will benefit from you going in on the ground floor. There’s no guarantee it’s going to have a long shelf life, so if you want to make sure you can make the most of it then you’re going to need to pick it up early. In six months you’re also probably going to get the floor wiped with you repeatedly. Ubisoft has sweetened the deal somewhat by promising all DLC maps will be free, while the eight additional Operators can be earned with Renown - earned through normal gameplay.
Unfortunately there are microtransactions present and correct in Rainbow Six Siege. I mean, what Ubisoft game would be complete without them. Fortunately I haven’t found them to be too in my face, or at all necessary, but I do wish they weren’t there. I don’t really appreciate someone levelling up faster than me because they’ve spent more cash. There’s also some weapon skins that can only be bought with cash, but I honestly couldn’t care less about cosmetics whatsoever. As long as Ubisoft doesn’t introduce paid weapons or exclusive classes, I can deal with it.
Following on from last week’s Star Wars Battlefront review, I’m also once more faced with the value for money conundrum once the multiplayer’s been stripped out. I’m of two minds here - nobody really complains if a single-player game doesn’t have multiplayer; likewise, it would have been a great bonus to have a fully fledged campaign to breach and clear in Rainbow Six Siege. What I will say is, any thoughts of a single-player campaign were swiftly banished once I booted it up, and this is coming from a single-player centric gamer. I personally didn't miss it, primarily because it would have a real hard time matching up to the quality of the online component. The Ubisoft studio has focused on what it does best, rather than a half-baked approximation of either.
But whatever, all that’s by the by. What we’ve got here is an absolute masterclass in tactical multiplayer from Ubisoft. It’s difficult to see where they could improve on what’s on offer here. It’s immensely tense, it’s rewarding, it’s complex yet easy to pick up and play. Every bullet fuelled second is exquisite, borrowing the best of it predecessors with a decent dollop of accessibility. Get a team of four like-minded buddies together and I really do struggle to see where you could find a better multiplayer shooter.
It's one of those games that plays on my mind as soon as I step away from it. Thinking up new tactics, imagining potential scenarios. I'm not going to lie I even dreamt about Rainbow Six Siege last night, such is its hold on me right now. From a purely multiplayer point of view there's so much to love here, aided by impeccable level design and exquisite, meaty gunplay that makes it truly difficult to put down. To my mind Rainbow Six Siege is hands down the best multiplayer shooter of 2015. Nothing else comes close.