Video Games Review: Rainbow Six Siege (PS4, 2015)

The round begins and we’re instantly scrambling to fortify and take up positions against the incoming enemy team. Enemy drones roll about under foot, trying to get the best possible view of what we’re up to before barrelling away to find a hiding spot from where they can watch us. The dull thud of boots on the roof heralds their arrival, followed moments later by the thunderclap of the breaching charge, a cloud of smoke and falling plaster. We’ve got nowhere to go and our only hope for survival is to work together.

In a year that has seen a number of high-profile multiplayer shooters come and go, for me Rainbow Six Siege stands head and shoulders above the rest. It’s been seven years since Rainbow Six Vegas 2 was released and in that time the Call of Duty series has become the template most other shooters abide by. Rainbow Six Siege is a breath of fresh air in this regard because it doesn’t give a single, solitary shit about what Call of Duty is doing. Siege trades in strategic play, thick with tension. Every match plays out differently but the core beats remain the same – all’s quiet for the first few minutes, then the first wave of attacks come and then it all goes directly to hell as the teams whittle down and things degenerate into a desperate trading of bullets.

On the other hand, while it does everything related to multiplayer very, very well, it’s still slugging you a full-fare AAA price tag without a real campaign of any kind. This seems to be a trend that’s becoming more and more common in games of this kind with several shooters, like Titanfall, Evolve and most recently Star Wars Battlefront, that eschew any kind of singleplayer entirely.

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This is due largely to the game’s central mechanics revolving around effective communication and team strategy. This means it’s going to be an easy sell for the hardcore and anyone who can throw a party together with ease, but for the casual or newcomer looking to try something different it could be a very difficult, frustrating experience. This is something that should be all too familiar to anyone still playing Destiny regularly. Trying to run a raid without a full party of people you know and can co-ordinate with can be a nightmare. It’s enough to make you wonder if publishers forget that people have things like families and work and actual lives that might keep them from playing a video game every night.

Don’t misunderstand, it’s entirely possible to jump into a Rainbow Six Siege party with a bunch of randos but the moment you go up against a team who can communicate and strategise properly, you’re going to get shredded. If that doesn’t sound like a good time, Rainbow Six Siege might not be the game for you.

Mechanically, everything feels honed, tightly wound. There are a number of classes you can choose from depending on your playstyle, from raw offense to ranged to support. Depending on which side you’re on – attack or defense – it can feel like you’re playing two different games. For the terries, it’s a matter of trying to keep counter-intel to a minimum and make it hard for some very rambunctious house guests to come in. For the counter ops, knowing is half the battle. The other half is speed. The sooner you can get in there and start dividing and conquering, the better.

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A big part of many strategies has been clever use of the game’s destructible environments. Danger lurks quite literally behind every wall. At any moment the ceiling might explode, a window may blow in followed by rappelling soldiers, and even stray gunfire is a danger as many walls can be easily perforated in the event of a spray-and-pray last stand. One of the most effective uses I saw of this was a counter-terrorist squad who had whittled us down to a few team mates. We huddled together in a room that offered adequate cover in case of a storm. The enemy opened with the breach-and-smoke tactics we’d been waiting for, forcing us to back up – right into the waiting arms of a pair of counter-op teammates who had snuck in around behind us.

In terms of its visuals, some may decry the lack of flash in Rainbow Six Siege’s visuals. This isn’t a game that is going for spectacle nor is it going for style. The workman-like graphics are actually one of my favourite things about it – it sells the grim and businesslike approach to this kind of confined warfare. It isn’t appalling to look at by any stretch but you certainly couldn’t call it gorgeous either.

While it’s heart and soul is competitive multiplayer but there are a handful of solo and co-op modes to bring a little variety to the piece. You can jump into a squad of human players against bots in the Terrorist Hunt mode, which is fine but at this point in my gaming career it feels like something I’ve done an awful lot of before.

As I mentioned earlier, while there is no single-player story mode to speak of, there is an extended tutorial mode called Situations that is surprisingly engaging and rather fun to chew through. Each level drops you into a pitched battle that will teach you about how to play each character class in turn. It’s solidly put together, offers a surprisingly stiff challenge and is a great introduction to the way the game is played but there’s not a lot of meat on those bones.

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There are a few things about Siege that still caused a raised eyebrow or two. The aforementioned AAA price tag is one, and Ubisoft’s promise of free map DLC is another (and something I’m very happy about as the collection of maps included in the base game will disparaged by many shooter veterans as being too small). The scourge of microtransactions rears its head again and while they’re far from the most offensive examples Ubisoft has ever offered, it still feels like they’re asking a little much on top of the game itself.

It actually feels like Rainbow Six Siege was designed as a free-to-play title for much of its dev cycle only to pivot into a retail release fairly late, similarly to Blizzard’s upcoming Overwatch. There are a lot of little hints throughout the game that point to this, and it’s clear that Ubisoft has a view to penetrating the eSports world with this game.

Taken as a whole, Rainbow Six Siege is an extremely well-made strategic multiplayer shooter that should slake the thirst of anyone craving a shooter with more on its mind than the standard deathmatch options. It packs a smallish suite of fantastic maps, surprisingly combustible buildings and matches that will legitimately leave you sweating and breathing heavily. I hope it can retain its player base because it would be well worth investigating when the price drops a little.

Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Great maps; Intense matches
Lowlights: No campaign; High price for multi only
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Released: December 1, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4