Available on Xbox One (tested), PS4 and PC
Only a week or so on from launch, Rainbow Six: Siege has become a game that people love or hate with a passion. The fans love it because it's tough, skill-focused, smart and distinctive; a thinking man or woman's shooter that doesn't take all its cues from Call of Duty. The haters hate it because it's neither the Rainbow Six that they remember nor the Rainbow Six they wanted to see. Well, team thumbs down have some very good points, but if you join team thumbs up you'll realise that while Siege might not be a faithful update, it’s a fantastic reinvention.
True, the lack of planning makes for a more action-oriented, less tactical Rainbow Six, though there's more of a tactical dimension to the minute-by-minute gameplay than this implies. You could also argue that there's as much Counter-Strike in Siege's DNA than Rainbow Six, and you'd arguably be right. The lack of any serious single-player content is disappointing, and the graphics can be underwhelming. There's a lot of generic, boxy architecture, flat-looking furniture and bland décor in the world of Siege, while the lighting is a little flat to boot.
But let's talk these points through. Yes, this is a less tactical game in the sense of checking floorplans and marking points of entry, but try playing without any strategy or teamwork and just see how far you get. And the result of all the streamlining is a fierce, taut and suspense-packed thriller that grabs you from the moment you go in.
Like Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six is all about deadly skills, snap reactions, strong map strategy and adaptability, and when one mistake can leave you dead and out of the round, you really has better pay attention and think before you move.
The lack of a campaign is a bigger blow, raising concerns that mirror those we have about Star Wars: Battlefront. Siege does have a longer, better and more enjoyable set of tutorial missions than DICE’s game, steadily introducing you to the key gameplay concepts and the unique skills of its star operatives; a surprisingly distinctive bunch. All the same, these are just tutorial missions, and if you're a fan of stories and set-pieces rather than co-op and competitive online play, this really isn't the Rainbow Six you're looking for.
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On the graphics front, Siege isn’t a knockout beauty, but here all the love and work has gone into the game's destructible detail, as gunfire and explosions tear great chunks out of stud walls and furniture, and as breach charges shatter tough stone walls. Siege doesn't go big on eye-candy, but I can't remember a game since F.E.A.R. and its sequel that has made the destruction of everyday environments look as good as this.
More importantly, Siege is genuinely exciting. Get through the bulk of the tutorial missions, or Situations, and you can get stuck straight into Terrorist Hunt – arguably the strongest co-op mode of the current generation. With four-players taking on a smart, responsive terrorist force the action’s tight, focused and compelling; think Heat rather than Die Hard, Michael Mann not Michael Bay.
With limited health and just one life you have to work effectively, move slowly but decisively and fight as a team to make it through, but there’s still scope for different tactics. The range of operatives, each with their own specific loadout and capabilities, turns out to be a masterstroke, not only because each one opens up a slightly different style of play, but because – with time – you can recognise each operative and work out how best to combine forces with that team-mate.
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Terrorist Hunt is fantastic, with a powerful ‘just one more go’ factor that’s only amplified by the desire to unlock more operatives and then more weapon mods and customisations for each operative – this all costs a lot of renown. The real meat of Siege, however, is the competitive multiplayer mode. This is a slightly tougher sell.
Multiplayer Siege can be hard to get to grips with. Even more than Terrorist Hunt it requires real teamwork, and without some kind of strategy in place the going’s tough. When Steve originally reviewed the game he would have been playing with other journalists and they would all, likely as not, have been wearing headsets. In post-launch games with regular players, this simply isn’t the case. As a result, synchronised assaults are few and far between, it’s not uncommon to see attack player after attack player blunder into a defence killzone, while team-kills are not as unusual as they really should be. Throw in the odd griefer or the wag who kills the hostage on the way to extraction, and Multiplayer isn’t always what it can be.
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But when it comes together, blimey, it’s about as good as team-vs-team action gets. There’s a palpable tension as players hustle to improvise and ambush or a breach, along with plenty of breathless moments where there’s just one man standing against two or three foes. You could argue that the different objectives don’t actually make an awful lot of difference, or that certain weapons or operatives could do with balancing, but there’s something brutal and unpredictable about Siege Multiplayer that just works. Maybe it’s that no wall is really safe (even the toughest can be breached by specific characters) and that your enemies might even burst through the ceiling or blast through the floor, but there’s an energy here that leaves many rivals looking tame.
With time some of the silliest players will leave for other things, while the more committed fans will hone their teamwork and expertise. This will be for the good, but it’ll also make Siege an even more brutally challenging game than it already is. The trick is to stick with it. When you die, you die for a reason. Sometimes it’s because the other player has a better vantage, sometimes it’s because they’re just faster and more accurate. Sometimes you were just clumsy, thoughtless or stupid, blundering into the room with the objective in without a flashbang or smoke. You can spend too long focusing on the sights, or playing with your operative’s gadgets. Lose situational awareness and you’re often dead.
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Well, experience is a harsh teacher, but eventually you’ll learn – and playing through the Situations on harder difficulties will definitely help. Just get back in there. Matchmaking seems fairly smooth, though some players have a weird habit of leaving games just before they start, while crashes and server drops seem relatively rare. Playing on Xbox One it sometimes takes a long wait and even a few tries for the game to hook up to the servers. Luckily, once you’re connected it all works fine.
While this hasn’t been a vintage year for single-player campaigns it has been a great one for multiplayer shooters. Between Halo 4’s twitch gameplay and epic Warzone mode, Black Ops III’s fantastic modes and enhancements, Battlefront’s Star Wars spectacle and Destiny’s, well, everything, you’d think it hard for another online shooter to make any waves. Yet Rainbow Six: Siege deserves to. It might be more the heir to Counter-Strike than a ‘proper’ Rainbow Six, but even against such strong competition it manages to make and leave its mark.
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