Time Ex­tend

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


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?

Developer/pub­lisher Ubisoft (Mon­treal) For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease 2015

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

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