Review Price £42.00
Available on Xbox One, PS4 and PC
Even though there are always countless first-person shooters for gamers to choose from, there aren’t many options around if you seek an experience which truly approximates real-life combat. Hence the fierce following that developed behind the Rainbow Six games, which steadfastly refused to countenance the twin gaming devices that horrified military purists: respawns and health regeneration. Thanks to a level of rigour only surpassed by the much more specialist Operation Flashpoint and ArmA, the Rainbow Six franchise gathered a devoted following.
But then it seemingly disappeared – Rainbow Six Siege is the first new iteration since 2008’s Rainbow Six Vegas 2.
In the interim, the world has changed considerably – although terrorism, the focus of all Rainbow Six games, has become more prominent than ever. In the world of videogames, meanwhile, online play has become prevalent, and since Rainbow Six Siege reflects that trend, you could describe it as something of a franchise reboot, which becomes obvious as soon as you start playing it.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of previous Rainbow Six games was the ability to plan each mission in minute detail beforehand, and that phase has been ripped out of Siege. Admittedly, you can often scout enemies using wheeled drones equipped with cameras, but if you’re an old Rainbow Six devotee who liked to spend hours planning routes and tactics, then we’re afraid you’re out of luck.
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In my opinion, though, removing the planning phase is a good thing – we never had the patience for it. And its absence makes Rainbow Six Siege more instant and action-packed than its predecessors. But it retains the core Rainbow Six values of rigour and realism: you still can’t respawn and health doesn’t regenerate (although in certain situations, you can be wounded and revived by comrades, who can restore half of your health).
In another nod to videogame modernity, Rainbow Six Siege boasts a single-player game which doubles up as an extended tutorial, in the form of ten Situations. Those Situations are the only part of the game in which you play on your own, and cover all the scenarios you find in the multiplayer section of Siege – including rescuing hostages taken by terrorists (followed by holding off waves of enemies as you escort the hostage to an extraction point) and defusing bombs.
As they progress, they introduce you to the different Operators you can play as, along with all their specialised kit such as thermite packs that can blow holes in more or less any surface, electronic detectors that highlight booby-traps and huge shields that prove invaluable in tight fire-fights but leave you only able to shoot a handgun.
As you work through the Situations, you generate XP – known in Rainbow Six Siege as Renown – which you can start to spend on unlocking Operators from five different special forces outfits including the SAS and Spetsnaz. The game encourages you to explore each of those outfits: if you unlock one Operator from, say, FBI SWAT, the next one will cost twice as much, and so on.
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Each outfit provides two attacking and two defensive Operators, and when you go online, it’s vital that your squad has complementary skills (although with five people in each squad, there’s plenty of leeway for those who like to play with similar styles). Finishing all ten Situations unlocks a bonus one, in which a US university has been overrun by terrorists, which must be attempted as part of a five-man team: it’s gloriously frenetic, and points the way forward for potential DLC.
At first, it’s a good idea to unlock attacking Operatives, because that will let you jump into the PvE (Player versus Environment) side of the game, entitled Terrorist Hunt, in which you and four others take on AI-controlled enemies. Terrorist Hunt acts as a buffer-zone in which you can hone your multiplayer skills before taking on the full, PvP (Player versus Player) action which resides at the very heart of Rainbow Six Siege.
Terrorist Hunts are long, involving multi-stage missions. As with the Situations, they have three difficulty levels – Normal, Hard and Realistic. When your fireteam gets to the stage at which they seem too easy in Normal difficulty, that’s a good indication that you’re ready to graduate to the Multiplayer proper.
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And that’s where the real mayhem takes place. Multiplayer match-ups take place over four rounds, with each team taking turns to attack or defend. Depending on what Operators they have chosen, defenders have access to some great gizmos, such as steel reinforcing plates that can render entire walls impenetrable. Meanwhile, each round has a preliminary phase in which attackers can send in drones to find out where the defenders are and what sort of defences they are putting in place.
Both Terrorist Hunt and Multiplayer are fast, breathless and incredibly addictive. They also foster an incredible level of bonding between team-mates – and it’s commendably easy to set up a fireteam with your most stalwart PS4, PC or Xbox One-owning mates. The level of camaraderie you develop is, if anything, even more pronounced than you’re likely to have experienced when undertaking Raids in Destiny, and makes a marked contrast with the every-player-for-themselves ethos of Star Wars Battlefront. Indeed, although you could argue it would benefit from a couple of extra gameplay modes (a job, no doubt, for DLC), Rainbow Six Siege feels much more like a fully realised game, as opposed to a jumble of disparate elements, than Battlefront.
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As far as die-hard Rainbow Six fans are concerned, Siege is markedly more run-and-gun, which may lead to some initial grumbling. But it’s so infectious that even the purists will surely end up being won over. And while it may not quite be Rainbow Six as we once knew it, it’s still vastly more realistic than anything else on offer: if you die, then you’ll be spectating for the rest of the round. Although you can still make yourself useful by tapping into CCTV cameras and directing the surviving members of your team.
Ubisoft has demonstrated real bravery by tinkering with the formula behind a franchise with such a particular fan-base, but in our opinion, that decision has paid off. Those tweaks have extended Rainbow Six Siege’s appeal way beyond a mere hardcore audience, without fundamentally changing its nature. Once you get to grips with it, it provides a stunningly exhilarating experience. It’s definitely one of those games that sucks you in once you try it, so it’s a slight pity that the open beta period will be so short. But it will undoubtedly become a stalwart of the e-sports scene, and might lead a few other games publishers to consider treating franchises that are in danger of staleness to a mild reboot. If, above all else, you enjoy playing games as part of a team, against human rather than AI players, it’s a must-buy.
A beautifully wrought semi-reboot that opens up the franchise to a more mainstream audience yet retains its distinctiveness.
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