Rainbow Six Siege
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Soon after a match starts, Rainbow Six Siege’s levels are reduced to a mess of debris and punctured walls, exposing the naked building framework beneath. It makes for a spectacular backdrop against which to fight, but also serves as an unfortunately accurate analogy for how quickly Siege’s flimsy cladding gives way to an unappealing core.
Even so, the game’s headline promise of being able to create your own breach points and sight lines through levels is undeniably exhilarating and, for the most part, delivered. Ubisoft’s Real Blast tech offers a broad spread of possible strategic choices as you attempt to extract hostages, defuse bombs and kill terrorists. But while there’s genuine tension in planning your entry to a well-defended room, you’ll quickly butt up against the destruction tech’s rigid boundaries when trying to cut a new path through the world.
Armed with your starting character’s basic equipment, explosives cut neat, squared-off holes through only the right types of material – wooden walls, thin concrete and plaster will disintegrate, but marble, brickwork and famously bomb-proof airplane fuselages will not – while your ability to breach through the ceiling is limited to trap doors. And if you’re rappelling up a wall, the windows are your only option. This conspicuously grid-based destruction, and the existence of unbreakable walls, is a combination of tech limitations and game design, but it feels restrictive precisely because of the potential for more freeform decision-making that Siege’s Real Blast tech teases. Ultimately that familiar feeling of being curtailed by the decisions of a design team, rather than the more organic logic of a coherent world, begins to bear down.
But there’s considerably more flexibility on offer if you’re only trying to get something as small as a bullet through a gap not previously conceived by an architect. While you might not be able to hop down a floor in the absence of a conveniently placed trapdoor, you can shoot out the floorboards in most cases to create new sight lines into the room below. And blowing a hole in a concrete wall with your shotgun to create a makeshift sniper’s nest, or simply firing on the position of an unseen enemy from an adjacent corridor, is a convincing acquittal of the technology, and relentlessly satisfying. The moments where you round a corner to find half of the floorboards or most of a wall missing, creating an open-plan deathtrap, smartly change the way a space feels and the number of threats it might yield.
And, as you progress, you’ll amass a collection of destructive toys to play with. You do this by spending Renown ( Siege’s in-game currency, earned during matches) on buying and outfitting additional operators. Split into attack and defence specialists, and spread over five special forces, there’s a great deal of potential for customisation and finding loadouts to complement your own play style. FBI SWAT member Thermite, for example, spikes his breach charges with the compound he’s named after, making them capable of destroying walls that have been reinforced by the opposing team. The SAS’s Thatcher uses EMP grenades to disable the opposition’s electronic gadgets, including heartbeat sensors and anti-grenade turrets. And Fuze can deploy terrifying Cluster Charges, which punch through walls and release a barrage of grenades into the room beyond. There are four operators per force, making for 20 potential choices. But since the game stipulates that only one of each character can be in play during any given session, you’ll regularly be left with the base Recruit character early on, despite your investment in more powerful alternatives. Any of the operators can be opened up earlier by spending real-world cash, but with that in mind the relatively slow pace of unlocking and outfitting them using Renown feels a little underhand in a full-priced, rather anaemic-feeling game.
This lack of control is carried over into matchmaking sessions as well, as you’re unable to select which maps or mode you’d like to play and simply have to submit to the game’s rotating playlist. It wouldn’t be so bad if there was more variety on offer, but while the 11 multiplayer maps are large, and playable in both day and night variants, after a few rotations you’ll have cycled through all of the possible defensive and offensive locations, and sampled the full gamut of the game’s modest selection of three multiplayer modes.
Of these, Hostage Rescue is the most successful. In it, teams are tasked with either extracting or defending a bound individual who represents a moving objective. Once located, the male or female prisoner can be led around the level as you attempt to escape the inevitable backlash. The escorting player can only use a handgun during this part, and must rely on the greater firepower of teammates to help repel any attempt to recapture the victim. The hostage can be used as something of a human shield given that the defending team automatically lose if they accidentally kill the asset.
The two other modes both require you to locate a static device, rather than a person. In Defuse Bomb, attackers sabotage one of two bombs, which are always located within a room or two of each other. One player carries a computerised bomb-defusing kit in a briefcase, which they’ll drop if killed or incapacitated. Once activated in range of one of the devices, a countdown begins during which the attackers must ward off any resistance. Secure Area, meanwhile, is a single-zone twist on King Of The Hill, in which each team attempts to secure a room holding a chemical weapon.
While the mechanical differences between these three modes are obvious on paper, in practice things are less distinct. All three modes feel similar in play, and
You’re unable to select which maps or mode you’d like to play and simply have to submit to the game’s rotating playlist
that sensation is exacerbated by the ability to win any of the three scenario types by wiping out all five members of the opposing team. Despite the large selection of tools and weapons at your disposal, the tactics required in each situation are exactly the same.
There’s also a marked imbalance between your experiences as an attacker and a defender. Playing as the former, approaching a building in which you can’t be sure of the position or plans of those inside, is enjoyably tense – especially when working with a communicative, cooperative team. But defending an objective amounts to barricading doors and windows, setting traps and defensive devices, and then waiting. There’s still tension as you hear the slightly muffled first breach charge when the attacking team enter the building, but it’s all too easy to spend most of the match waiting for someone to throw a grenade into the room you’re holed up in, and then the rest of it watching everybody else play after you expire. And both sides will suffer equally from the game’s woolly hit detection, some sticky controls on console, and the occasional glitch capable of leaving you trapped.
Despite these hiccups, Siege’s matches remain readable, if a little clinical, thanks to an approach that’s clearly looking to court the eSports scene. The trade-off is that online matches can feel hostile and unforgiving if you’re not playing with a well-organised team by your side. But many of these problems are mitigated when facing less-determined AI opponents in the returning Terrorist Hunt mode (previously known as TerroHunt). It offers a slightly more traditional take on Rainbow Six gameplay, pitting up to five players against a building full of anonymous, masked aggressors, and includes co-op versions of Hostage Rescue and Defuse Bomb, as well as a simple breach-and-clear mode in which you must find and kill every terrorist. Like the multiplayer modes, you have to sit out the entire round if killed, but in all cases you’re still able to use CCTV and player cams to help spot and mark up enemy soldiers. But the armoured, bullet-sponge suicide bombers that aggressively rush you are a cheap and baffling inclusion.
Siege’s focus is on competitive multiplayer, and it’s the first game in the series not to include a singleplayer campaign. Instead, a handful of ‘Situations’ are provided, standalone levels that set particular objectives and serve as part of the game’s tutorial. Frustratingly, there’s no option to play through them with a friend. This undermines the interplay of Siege’s carefully balanced selection of tech and makes for moments when you’re left defending an objective against waves of enemies. The Rainbow Six series’s appeal has always been in working with friends to tackle an enemy presence, and the sense of empowerment that comes from the perfect execution of a well-thought-out plan. The Situations come closest to evoking memories of that legacy, but scupper their potential by enforcing solo play.
Siege can feel cool and inhospitable, but when the conditions are right and you’re playing with friends, the game’s tense gameplay and measured pacing makes for a refreshing, cerebral contrast to the run-and-gun hyperactivity of most online shooters. But while Ubisoft is promising to add new levels and modes over the coming months, as it stands Siege feels dangerously exposed and under-equipped.
Attacking is far more enjoyable than being cooped up with a hostage in a small room. You can rappel up any wall and enter through most windows and doors. Oddly, shutters are unbreakable, just like the building’s exterior