It’s not easy keeping track of Tom Clancy’s gritty techno-war games. Rainbow Six: Siege is the 10th main game in the franchise best summarised as ‘the hardcore tactical one where you spend as much time in menus as you do shooting people’.
Or it used to be, at least. Since Rainbow Six: Vegas for the Xbox 360 in 2006, obsessive weapon customisation and pre-planning your team’s route down to the footstep has given way to more console friendly FPS and proper online game play. Rainbow Six: Siege gets back to basics and the heart of the series: busting into terrorist fortifications with your squad like a grizzled pro.
Only this time, apart from the tutorial-like Situations mode, you’re doing it all with and against real people.
Don’t go gung ho
Make no mistake, there will be no wall-running and gunning like recent twitchers Destiny and Black Ops here. Nor the Battlefield style, tank-based blowing down of houses that makes the big bad wolf look like a puppy. You’re going to get mowed down to size in R6:S with that attitude. This is a game about inching into position, patience, a few moments of explosive brutality, and then letting the dust settle.
The way you play will change depending on whether you’re defending (a hostage, pair of bomb sites, or a bio-hazard) or attacking in the game’s online competitive mode. If you’re defending, you have half a minute to reinforce walls, barricade doors and generally fill the place with more booby traps than a terrorist version of Home Alone. The attacking team spends that time with little remote control recon drones, rolling through the map to try and pinpoint the objective and scope out enemy positions. Or in one hilarious instance I witnessed, drawing frustrated fire from one clumsy defender into another.
Routine matches, varying terrain
After first contact, matches are tense cat & mouse hunts. A round is won by saving the hostage/diffusing the bomb, or wiping out the enemy team, which is usually what comes first. A game is won by being the first team to triumph across three rounds, played on the one randomly selected map out of 11.
Whatever the terrain, most matches end up playing out the same way. There is just enough variation in the locations and every one (from a snowy safe house to a parked jumbo jet) is full of choke points, trap-doors and barricades. You’ll rappel down buildings sending cluster bombs through the windows, make last-ditch defences surrounded by jammers and barbed wire and severely redecorate your surroundings with plenty of breach charges.
Whether you and your fellow operatives favour shotguns, SMGs, assault rifles or any other of the game’s smorgasbord of weapons, actual combat is usually shocking and swift. In a nice touch, once you’ve inevitably been fragged by a trip-wire bomb or similar, your ghost can possess the security cameras (well, that’s one explanation…) and you can continue to tag enemies and give tactical advice to your team so you’re not totally twiddling your ghost-thumbs.
Let’s get tactical
If any of your team have bothered to plug in their mics that is. The majority of players are cooperative, but in a game as reliant on tactics as this it’s even more perplexing when someone rushes into the meat-grinder alone like a mute Rambo. Make or bring friends if you can.
Online play is smooth and solid, apart from a slight frame-rate stutter when turning at speed. We’ve also experienced being randomly booted back to the lobby, but only rarely.
So once a game ends, what’s your incentive to go back for more? It seems impossible for a shooter to get away without having unlocks and RPG-style levelling up these days and R6:S is no exception. Accomplishing anything useful such as a kill, barricading or placing a signal jammer earns you a trickle of ‘Renown’ which you can use to unlock Operatives and upgrade their gear. Operatives are split between 5 themed units (e.g. the breach-heavy FBI, or sneaky SAS) each of whom have on average three attackers and three defenders with one special ability each and a set of weapon load-outs.
Each successive Operative from the same team costs more to unlock so it pays to play through the tutorial to get a feel for your favourites before splurging. Unlocking one includes a nice little intro video to them too, fleshing out their ‘personality’ (killing machines have feelings too you know).
Personal favourites include Mute, whose jammers can stop those pesky drones and remote detonated breach chargers dead in their tracks, and Fuze, who can send a package of cluster bombs through walls. This is a fantastic combat trick for picking off up any foes who've set up shop in a hard-to-pick-off spot.
The system is an interesting nod to MOBAs such as League Of Legends, and gives variety from match-to-match. It quickly becomes obvious though that some operatives are bringing knives to a gun fight. ‘Doc’, for instance, can shoot a revive-dart at team-mates who are bleeding out, but weapons are so lethal he may as well just be carrying a wreath. Still, Ubisoft has promised an ever-expanding roster of operatives and maps which could go a long way to keeping the game fresh.
Which is not something the other modes will help with. The alternative online mode is returning fan fave Terrorist Hunt, which is essentially the multiplayer modes but with way more AI instead of five humans. It’s a nice opportunity to scare anyone in your house by shouting things like “Stairwell clear!” and “I got your rear!” but it’s too hollow to be a real distraction. Situations mode is just the same again in single player.
Rainbow Six: Siege verdict
While purely online games like this often lack for content in their early days, Ubisoft is getting better and better at supporting its titles post-launch and it’s taking the right approach to future DLC here. Free maps, paid cosmetics, and extra operatives for cash or a big bundle or Renown. It’s reassuring that R6:S has a future planned but let’s hope players get more than the same objectives in shiny new packaging.
Still, when you launch a coordinated pincer attack or make a heroic last stand, R6:S is a visceral, clever and hugely satisfying game. It innovates, while at the same time stripping back so much of the feature-creep of its competitors. You can almost rappel up the learning curve it’s so hardcore but that really is part of the Rainbow Six appeal. There’s no fat, no single player campaign, no forgiveness and no other shooter quite like it around at the moment.