How Ubisoft transformed an underwhelming game into one of the generation’s best shooters
How Rainbow Six Siege went from underwhelming debut to one of the generation’s best shooters
The silence is interrupted by a burst of gunfire, followed by some choice expletives over voice chat. It turns out the sniper we sent our last remaining teammate to get rid of wasn’t alone. The game ominously announces: “Down to one friendly.”
In the brief skirmishes that led up to this moment three more of our allies, along with two of our five opponents, were killed. Now, dangling from a line attached to the side of a building, we’re a sitting duck for the player who just gunned down our friend. Worse than that, we also have the added pressure of knowing that all four of our erstwhile teammates are now watching our screen from the afterlife. Panicked, we climb back up to the roof and whip around, the whole time expecting to be peppered with bullets. Somehow, we get a bead on the window before the enemy player sees us, and take him out with two well-aimed shots the second his head comes into view.
But two enemies are still at large and we only have 1:06 left on the clock. To win, we must either hold the room – without opposition – for ten seconds, or kill both of the enemy players. To make matters worse, we’re in overtime and this is a match-point round, since our opponents are up four rounds to three. If we’re killed or run out of time, the match will be lost.
We rappel back down the side of the building and smash out the base of a barricaded window with the butt of our gun. The sound draws a player into the room and we cut them down. One left now. We swing into the room and check the corners. There are ten seconds remaining on the clock as we dash into the stairwell and leap over the handrail. The pulsing endgame soundtrack rises in volume as we make it into the objective room and crouch, holding position at the door, with just two seconds remaining. Suddenly, our opponent rushes out of the small room to our left. We land a couple of shots in his leg as he disappears around the corner, then move forward to re-engage, staying crouched. This time he returns fire; his bullets shatter our rifle shield but leave us unscathed as we duck right, loosing off a couple more shots. The second projectile finds its target, and with that the round is over. Against all the odds, we’ve won – the round, at least. The map reloads, and we go again.
To say that Rainbow Six Siege is a tense experience would be an understatement. The drama that pervades every round of Ubisoft’s tactical team shooter is a heady – and stifling, at times – accompaniment to each asynchronous, five-on-five face-off. But it’s also one of the most rewarding team shooters you can play. For a start, it really is about teamwork for once: players who favour lone-wolf tactics might thrive if they’re particularly handy with a rifle, but the ever-changing situations that each round will present necessitate a mix of good communication, patience and smart tactical thinking. To emerge victorious from a ranked match through a combination of careful planning and quick thinking is a singular rush; to carry your team to victory from a clutch situation is more potent still.
But while being on the attacking side is stressful, as you slowly move towards your target while watching for ambushes and traps, defending an objective is even more nerve-shredding. There’s a burst of activity at the outset, as your team rushes to fortify the room, place traps and gadgets, then take up a defensible position (not easy in Siege’s destructible environments). The bustle is followed by deafening silence as you wait for the first signs of approach – normally a distant and muffled blast will alert you that your opponents have entered the building, and are now working to surround you.
Today, Siege is a remarkable game, but it wasn’t quite so assured when it launched in 2015. Back then, defending players were placed at a disadvantage by a less effective toolset. A particularly egregious example was defensive operator Kapkan’s entrydenial trap, which gave itself away with a huge red spike protruding from whichever window or door it was set on – if players somehow missed this first clue, the device’s bright-red laser trigger would alert anyone who broke down the barricaded entry point. It was a matter of balance, of course, but Ubisoft Montreal went a little too far to ensure everyone stood a fair chance .
There were much less in the way of counter-offensive options, too, and this
CRUCIALLY, UBISOFT HAS RESISTED THE TEMPTATION TO PARCEL UP ALL OF THESE UPDATES AS PREMIUM DLC
often meant your only sensible option as a defender was to hole up in the objective room and wait for the enemy to come to you, hoping a grenade tossed into the room wouldn’t send you to the afterlife as a spectator. The game’s staying power was further threatened by a paucity of modes and maps, along with some woolly hit detection, and the need to unlock operators by spending in-game currency (known as Renown) felt unsporting given Siege’s premium price point.
But things soon changed. While the launch product may have disappointed, Ubisoft Montreal was thinking long-term from the off; the studio embarked on an aggressive campaign of regular updates and tweaks, building Siege’s gradual evolution around a year-long plan (and associated season pass) that saw two new operators and a fresh map added to the line-up every few months, and more regular updates in between. Weapons were rebalanced in response to community feedback, as well as to accommodate new additions to the line-up, and the odds were gradually evened for defenders. Among a multitude of improvements and changes, Kapkan’s trap lost its give-away spike, turned down the brightness of its laser trigger beam, and could now even be mounted at different heights on any given doorway or window.
With each new map and added operator, the developer has pushed the potential of its destruction tech further, too. Where some earlier maps have spots that are relatively easy to defend or attack, more recent additions have made each role increasingly difficult as the number of unbreakable walls in new locations dwindle. This, along with the playerbase’s growing experience, has seen operators adopt meta strategies such as roaming (where defending operators leave the objective room to ambush attackers, or even turn the space into a trap) and eschew barricades in favour of blasting gaps in the flimsy masonry (known as kill holes) to catch approaching enemies off guard. It’s a risky strategy – players taking up position behind a non- reinforced wall are just as vulnerable to returned fire, for instance – but one that highlights the remarkable strategic flexibility of Siege’s environments.
Crucially, Ubisoft has resisted the temptation to parcel up all of these updates as premium DLC, despite Siege’s rapid rate of growth and improvement. Sure, players without a season pass still have to earn enough Renown to add new operators to their roster, and will also have to wait an extra week to access new maps. Yet the player community hasn’t been fragmented in the way that, say, Battlefield 4’ s was after a few expansions. As a result of this approach to post-launch support, Siege’s online community – which now has over 15 million players – continues to swell today.
Siege’s success has caused a shake-up at Ubisoft, too. The studio, which has long
stuck to its tried-and-tested methodology of putting out regular instalments of sprawling, and increasingly homogenised, open-world games, has admitted to having learned much from the Siege experience. The publisher has at last realised the potential in creating games that can be supported – and played – for years, rather than weeks, after launch. More updates, more content, and more flexibility can only benefit a studio that has become so reliant on blockbusters. We’ve already seen a partial shift in DLC strategy for The Division, and it seems For
Honor will follow suit. Quite how that might apply to Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry is another matter, but for a behemoth like Ubisoft that appears so set in its ways, it’s far from an insignificant gesture.
This new-found spirit of innovation is upheld by Siege’s second season, which began with the release of Operation Velvet Shell. The update introduces a new map called Coastline, set in a party mansion, and two new operators: Mira and Jackal. What makes this first instalment so special, however, is that both operators have been designed to disrupt the established meta. Jackal, an attacker, can detect recent footprints (presented as heatmaps, to show how recent they are) and make roaming players’ lives a nightmare – though stealth operator Caviera still won’t leave tracks when using her Silent Step ability. Mira, meanwhile, can insert a bulletproof one-way mirror into any destructible wall, encouraging players to stay in the objective room while also making things harder for approaching attackers used to certain routes. What’s more, she can detonate a charge that shatters the glass after a short timer, creating an impromptu kill hole.
These are profound changes even for a game that has seen so much reshaping since launch. They’re indicative of a developer that is reacting to player behaviour in a mischievously creative way, and reflect a publisher that understands the benefits of letting it happen. Ubisoft will continue to shake up the meta in its second year of support for a game which, in its first 12 months, has gone from a flawed proof of concept to one of the finest online shooters available today. Its cerebral pacing and steep learning curve mean that it won’t appeal to everyone – but how often do you get to say that about a Ubisoft game these days?
The defensive team’s frantic preparation phase provides some of the game’s most fraught moments as you try to second-guess the attacking team’s tactics and minimise their options
Attackers can use the CCTV system after death to help spot enemy players. Defenders can shoot down cameras, however
Quick thinking and fast reflexes are essential, but you’ll also need patience
Ensuring that Siege’s growing cast of operators remains well balanced is a delicate task, but regular updates keep things in check for the most part