RAINBOW SIX SIEGE
A SOFT HISS and a stream of sparks are all the warning I have. In seconds, I’m surrounded. Bathed in smoke and gunfire, desperately clinging to life. In another instant it’s all over.
Ubisoft’s latest tactical shooter, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, adopts a striking bent towards a unique brand of pseudo-realism. Siege evokes a perverse version of the uncanny valley. It mixes the over-the-top, arcade-style renditions of violence games often lean towards with the gut-wrenching reality that we are, in fact, remarkably fragile.
This is an odd message for a game that generally glorifies militarized police and the often-critiqued excesses of real-world counter-terrorism units, but it’s one that shines through in spite of itself.
Rainbow Six Siege has no single-player campaign, only online multiplayer. Gameplay revolves around two teams, usually of five players each, trading off offensive and defensive roles. The “terrorists” are charged with guarding an objective—usually a bomb or hostage—in a well-secured building. The “counter-terrorists,” SWAT shields and grenades in-hand, do whatever they can to infiltrate the structure and Save The Day.
Each match has a couple of phases. The first phase, recon, has the offense probing the map with a swarm of small, remote-controlled drones to locate the hostage or bomb. The defensive side can either hunker down for the coming fight, or hunt and destroy the drones to keep their opponents from gathering critical intel.
Once that’s over, the game proper begins. The offense floods the field, poking and probing the defense’s fortifications, looking for the exploitable weaknesses. These clues come in small but brilliant and subtle environmental pieces. Many of the walls in Rainbow Six Siege are destructible. Knowing this, the defending team can reinforce them, preventing a breach from all but the most specialized explosives. But these reinforcements also leave telltale marks on the opposing wall, letting astute offensive players know that whatever’s on the other side is worth protecting.
Gameplay in Rainbow Six Siege strikes a special balance between the two sides. Defenders, holed up and comparatively secure as they are, never quite know when or where or how they’ll be hit. Even the best reinforcements can be breached, if not with basic gunfire and brute force, then with thermite or specialized missiles. But make no mistake: something is always coming for you.
On the flip side, defenders are always entering a relatively unknown area. Even if the counter-terrorists manage to find their target during their reconnaissance phase, the defenders could adjust their fortifications and fan out to prepare ambushes. Death and fear is a constant for both sides, and the fact that there are no second lives or chances — unlike the overwhelming majority of online shooters — brings your own mortality to the forefront.
In the heat of an assault, this leads to a series of gameplay beats orchestrated by fear.
Like Dark Souls and other hyper-lethal games, Rainbow Six Siege encourages an extreme level of caution at all times. Previous Rainbow Six games were similar (Tom Clancy’s gaming brand is pretty consistent as far as morbidity is concerned), but Siege mixes in so many unusual ways to attack through walls and around corners that make vulnerability an overarching theme.
The Rainbow Six series has always been tactical, driven by delicate plans and surgical strikes. To that, Siege adds an elegant dance of constant doorway-and-room checking that punctuates the game’s sporadic firefights. When the enemy can fire through walls and kill you from anywhere, it pays to be paranoid.
It’s impossible to overstate just how pervasive fear is in Siege. As you play and progress, you’ll be able to unlock new characters, called “Operators,” with disturbingly potent abilities. One can launch one projectile that will burrow into any wall and cluster bomb anyone unlucky enough to be on the other side. Another can fortify with a stationary machine gun, a device able to shut down almost any offense with little effort. These abilities and the operators that dispense them create an omnipresent feeling of brinksmanship. And, because death means that you’re out for the round, mistakes are brutally punished and consequential.
All this is in service to Siege‘s rare breed of tactical precision. With nearly every action your risk of death increases, so the game wants you to be sure that you’ve thought it out. Voice communication with teammates, coordinating strikes on multiple fronts, or rapidly adjusting defenses is critical. The walls have eyes, but so does your team and you’ll need them to live. It’s this deeply cooperative play that also makes you feel the loss of any one teammate. When your breaching gal goes down, you’re not only down a gun, but their eyes, ears, and the potential for a surprise assault.
Siege is unlike anything else in the mainstream multiplayer shooter genre. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s pernicious connectivity problems. Throughout the game’s open beta weekend and well into its launch on Monday, Rainbow Six Siege has been, at best, occasionally functional.
I had comparatively few problems on my Xbox One, but I was still dropped from around a dozen games. (I’ve heard anecdotes that PlayStation 4 players have it much worse.)
When these problems clear up, it’d be hard not to recommend Rainbow Six Siege on freshness alone. It bakes a string of unnerving themes into its gameplay that stand wholly apart from the bevy of shooters it’s competing with.