Platforms: PC. Xbox One, PS4
Reviewed On: Xbox One
Singleplayer: Yes (sort of)
Review code supplied free of charge by Ubisoft.
Rising from the ashes of Rainbow Six: Patriots comes Rainbow Six: Siege, Ubisoft’s attempt at bringing the old series back to life for a new generation of consoles via the medium of competitive multiplayer. With a clearly troubled development there’s been some considerable doubt as to whether Siege was going to be any good. Well, I’ve some great news; it’s actually quite a bit fun. The bad news is there’s some big problems that have left it under siege. See what I did there? Sorry.
In keeping with the triple A trend popularised, but not created, by Titanfall, and continued with Star Wars: Battlefront the team at Ubisoft have decided to eschew a traditional singleplayer campaign to focus on the multiplayer action. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; I have no problem with a triple A title being purely multiplayer. Much like tacking a terrible multiplayer component into a singleplayer game, there’s no point in tacking on a half-assed campaign to a multiplayer game. By focusing on one side it lets the developers focus their efforts and their resources. At least, that’s the theory. Without a proper singleplayer the multiplayer needs to have plenty of content to make it feel like those resources were well used. The bad news is Rainbow Six: Siege doesn’t manage to do that at all, its scant selection of maps leaving a lot to be desired and it’s incredibly basic nod to singleplayer feeling almost entirely pointless in a package that otherwise ignores it entirely. Underneath it, though, Ubisoft have at least managed to nail the core gameplay, creating a methodical shooter than when played right feels great, but isn’t anywhere near as tactical as it might think it is.
So what exactly is Siege? Well, it’s a first-person tactical multiplayer shooter that pits two teams of five players apiece against each other across five rounds, with teams taking turns to attack and defend an objective that is randomly situated within the map. There’s no respawning after death, instead if you die you have to wait a few minutes for the next round before you can get back into the action. Combined with the slow, heavy-feeling movement, relatively little player health and the amount of angles that attacks can come from Siege creates a methodical pace that favors careful use of cover to survive, and that in turn fosters a feeling of tension. Every corner feels like a death trap that you need to inch around carefully, all too aware that a slip-up will leave your small team of five severely weakened and that a successful assault could leave the enemy crippled. As walls are blown through, smoke grenades thrown, flashbangs tossed and bullets fly you feel all too vulnerable. Preemptive aiming as you come around corners and enter rooms is favored over pure twitch shooting, especially since guns have high levels of recoil. With a mere five people per team it simply serves to ramp up the tension, making defeat and success feel much more personal, and everything you choose to do feel incredibly important. Every thrown flashbang, every burst of gunfire, every breaching charge, ever movement you make feels important in the grand scheme of the match. It’s a great mixture of careful spending 30-seconds making it to an entry point in one piece, followed by just 10-seconds of carnage as you burst in and attempt to u
It’s still faster than previous Rainbow Six games, for sure, but compared to the vast majority of modern shooters on the market this is practically running at a snail’s pace. Mastery of placing your sights in the right areas is important for properly covering doorways or coming around corners, as is learning how to move correctly with your team to cover all the angles. Proper cover can be hard to come by as it can be blown through and shot through with relative ease, every location filled with walls that be shredded with bullets or breached using explosive charges. This destruction of cover is central to the game because it gives players a wealth of options when it comes to dealing out death, like blowing through a trapdoor above the enemy’s head before flashbanging the crap out of them. Not every surface can be entirely decimated, though, limiting players so that they can’t simply bring the ceiling down on the enemy or collapse the floor from under them or even just bring the entire building down. Meanwhile other walls can have holes put them using a good old melee attack or a few bullets, making perfect murder holes. Even the floor can be shot through, so a viable tactic is to get above the objective and then use a breaching charge to destroy most of the floorboards before opening fire with an assault rifle on the unhappy occupants below, while trapdoors can be blown through entirely in order for a team to drop through. On top of that players are perfectly free to rappel up the side of buildings for easy access to the roof, or to simply come powering in through a window, assuming they don’t just laying a breaching charge on the outer wall. This element destruction gives the well designed maps more diversity, and once again just keeps that feeling of unease running high because you never entirely trust the walls around you.
The beating heart of the game are the Operators a set of ten attackers and ten defenders that serve as the game’s class system, locking players into certain combat roles through a suite of special abilities that can potentially turn matches into chess games. Take this scenario for instance; the enemy uses its limited supply of metal panels to reinforce a wall, rendering breach charges useless, so the assaulting team bring up Thermite, who can, as his name suggests, place thermite charges which are the only things capable of getting through a reinforced wall. The enemy has prepared for this, though, by bringing alone Mute who can place devices that block the activation of electronics, including those thermite charges. Ah, but wait, IQ has used her scanning device to pick this up and asked Thatcher to throw in an EMP grenade to disable the jammer so that the thermite charge can be used. Meanwhile on the other side of the room perhaps Ash is using her ranged breaching charges to create a distraction by punching through one of Castle’s reinforced barriers, but didn’t keep an eye out for Kapkan’s booby traps. Other Operators include Sledge who has a penchant for knocking down walls with a massive hammer; Fuze, who has a device that drills through walls, ceilings and floors before delivering a payload of tiny grenades into the opposing area, and even an Operator who can deploy a turret.
It’s this interplay of abilities that makes Rainbow Six: Siege stand out to me, although at the moment it seems many players are struggling to really use them. Certain Operators work well with others, and likewise certain Operators counter enemy Operators well, but most players appear to be just stomping around the map and failing to work together. Customisation of these Operators is kept strictly limited with no visual changes and each character sporting only two primary weapons, two secondaries and two gadgets to choose from. Your guns can be slightly upgraded with a sight, grip and underbarrel item, but there’s a very small selection to choose from. While it’s naturally a shame to have no real customisation options available it makes complete sense – the Operators have defined roles on the battlefield, and messing with that too much would upset a fairly well-balanced game. Certain characters do seem a little too situational, but for the most part they have their uses and none of them seem to overshadow the others.
There’s also a slightly odd tone going on with the Operators, as is Ubisoft didn’t quite know whether it wanted to go with a completely serious facade or not. New Operators are unlocked via an in-game currency known as Renown, the theory presumably being that by having to unlock defenders and attackers it forces players into spending at least a little time with each character before moving on to another. Whenever you unlock a new Operator a quick cutscene is displayed that shows them at work, but the tone is slightly playful, making each out as a badass in their own right. It contrasts with the rest of the game which is decidedly po-faced and serious. Maybe Ubisoft were attempting to imbue their characters with some personality to make them stand out, but if so they don’t go far enough.
Every round is prefaced by the planning stage, which is considerably stripped down compared to previous iterations in the series. During this phase the defenders can chuck up barricades over doorways and windows, and reinforce walls with a very limited metal plates that can withstand almost anything, letting them shore up certain areas against breaching charges. Special abilities can also be brought into the fray depending on the Operators in play, like setting up laser tripwires, slapping up reinforced barricades, laying poison gas traps and jamming electronics like breach charges. The attackers can use this time to launch their tiny deployable drones that they can drive round the environment with the goal being to locate the objective, which can be a hostage needing rescued or a bomb that has to be defused. However, it’s pretty rare for a team not to discover the goal, and the planning phase, at one minute, is never long enough to come up with an actual plan of attack, so aside from knowing the general direction of the target most of the assault is made up on the fly, removing one of the game’s potential biggest draws.
Here we run in a problem, because most of the time the objective doesn’t matter to the attackers, as with just five people per team rounds tend to end with one team being completely annihilated. All the objective seems to serve to do is make the defenders bunch together in a small area, although as the weeks go by I’m sure players will begin to see the benefits of spreading out a little to ambush the attackers. Indeed, only in a handful of rounds did I see victory coming through escorting a hostage to safety or diffusing a bomb. What this serves to do is essentially make the game feel more like a straight team deathmatch, and ensure that it’s less tactical than it wants to be. I’m not sure how it could be done, but Ubisoft need to consider making the actual objective feel more important to the match. With the defenders clustering together it also means that a chunk of the map goes mostly unused, too.
We also need to tackle what singleplayer components are included. Situations are a series of ten tutorial missions that guide you through every map and mode that you’ll encounter online, from hostage rescues to all-out assaults and bomb defusals. In this Situations succeed, providing a reasonable training ground for the multiplayer, even if they can’t teach you the level of communication that you need to use in order to defeat the enemy. They are, however, souless entities, existing to be played through quickly and then forgotten about by everyone who isn’t intent on collecting all three stars for each mission, and its very obvious that you’re playing nothing more than stripped down multiplayer modes.
Terrorist Hunt makes its return in both solo and multiplayer variants, pitting you and up to four other people against a simple team of AI in what are essentially standard multiplayer matches without human opponents, albeit with opponents wearing suicide vests, a cheap tactic that often forces you to use twitch shooting in a game so very clearly not built for it. It’s fun and again acts as a reasonable training ground for the proper multiplayer, and lets you gather enough Renown to unlock the recommended three Operators per side. As a solo experience Terrorist Hunt is pretty lackluster, largely because the AI are all too happy to swarm your position.
One of the game’s biggest issues isn’t even a problem with the game itself, rather it’s the community. Rainbow Six: Siege needs players to talk to each other for it to really work. It’s a tight, tense, brutal game where spotting the enemy and planning the assault are key to victory, and a team that’s barely communicating will almost always demolish one that isn’t. With so many abilities on the battlefield at once it’s important to call-out who is going to be doing what so that assaults can be coordinated. If somebody is going to use thermite to get through a reinforced wall then somebody else should be ready with a smoke or stun and grenade and rest the team should be either ready to storm the position, or perhaps launch a secondary attack from above by coming in through the roof. Sadly lobbies are typically drowned out by deafening silence, occasionally pierced by my own call for companionship. Without communication matches quickly devolve into a bunch of people running around, attempting to race their own teammates to the goal in order to claim some kills, which of course only tends to lead to them getting the crap shot out of them. Well done. Without a team talking, Siege just feels like a considerably less interesting shooter, one that has some minor destruction elements and a satisfying pace that alternates between slot, methodical movement and fast, brutal encounters. It’s still good, just nowhere near as good as it should be. It’s a game that requires you to get lucky and hook up with some friendly folk, or bring your own in the form of friends or unwilling victims.
Another big problem is connection since there’s no host migration. Roughly one-third of all my matches ended up with me losing connection and being booted back to the menu while the host quit. On starting the game a wait time of about a minute or two was standard while it attempted to connect to the problematic Ubisoft forums and ultimately failed every single time. Quite frequently the Ubisoft servers would become unavailable, too. Toss in some questionable netcode where you can die from a burst of fire that you were clearly safe from on your own screen and you’ve got a frustrating experience.
Ultimately what could kill the game is its meagre content. Attempting to maintain a strong community with a pitiful ten maps and a small selection of weapons is going to be quite the challenge for Rainbow Six: Siege to maintain player engagement. To the game’s credit those ten maps do feature incredible replay value, as the location of the objective entirely alters the feel of each game and there’s an impressive amount of tactics to consider for every map. Plus having just ten maps at launch means even the most memory challenge person also stands a chance of being able to memorize at least a few of the them, which is great since map memorization is so important in the game. However, it doesn’t take long to tire of the maps and begin wishing for far more. A triple A title that has cut the singleplayer in order to focus on the multiplayer should have so much more than this.
Before we close this review let’s talk graphics and sound. Siege isn’t what you would call a pretty game, but it does have a realistic tone and the destruction is lovingly rendered. It also grows on you, as you notice small details and come to appreciate the simple aesthetic a little more. The sound design is vastly more impressive, placing a strong emphasis on listening for the sounds of defenders hammering into walls or attackers moving through the environment. It also helps further the tension that the gameplay creates, as listening to the attacker’s footsteps moving ever closer while defending is a very nerve-wracking feeling, especially in a hard-fought game. Not to mention the great audio helps with the gameplay, letting you pick out the location of the enemy.
Ultimately I’m left a little confused by Rainbow Six: Siege. I enjoyed every match that was played with a team working together, and yet grew tired of it quite quickly, making me wonder how the game will fare even just a month down the line. Four free maps have been promised, but that’s not very much in a game that is already lacking in raw content. I’ve always maintained that quality trumps quantity and Siege’s maps feel very nicely put together, but that doesn’t negate the fact that you’ll find yourself wishing for more quite quickly. Lying underneath this measly content, however, is a rather interesting multiplayer shooter that has a great pace and creates a compelling sense of tension. In tight matches with evenly matched, communicating teams it’s an absolute joy. Without talkative folk it’s still a lot of fun with good players. However, roughly half the time at the moment you end up with mute players who can’t work together and treat the game as a standard shooter, at which point it’s mediocre. Oh Rainbow Six: Siege, how you confuse me.
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