It's been years since I last played a Rainbow Six game, so I was glad that at last week's Rainbow Six: Siege preview event, Ubisoft started off the day by letting us play Situations for an hour or so. That's the new single-player training mode, designed to ease you into the game.
And ease me into the game it did, as I played several missions where I had to infiltrate a series of buildings to rescue a hostage, and then disarm a couple of bombs. But not before clearing out the place of terrorists who, even on the easiest difficulty level, were quite proficient at taking me down in a couple of shots when I presented them the opportunity to do so.
And therein lies the first lesson of Rainbow Six: Siege. This isn't a typical FPS where you have health bars that regenerate, and generally run around like a maniac gunning down an army of enemies all by yourself. Most levels I played had just a handful of opposing targets, and taking each one down carefully, and without incident was the order of the day. This is a realistic tactical shooter, where you have to play smart and really plan your moves so that you can methodically work your way around the map, slowly taking out enemy targets so you can avoid getting shot and killed – because in this game, you only have one life.
Remembering that is paramount, because this series-staple, one-life philosophy is baked into each of the game's three main modes: Situations, PvE co-operative play, and PvP multiplayer.
It didn't take me long to re-adjust to this, and soon enough I was sneaking around the map head-shotting guards from a distance, and generally playing very conservatively. It paid off: I completed the first two missions after a few practice runs, and had fun doing so. It was tense too! The one-life approach to the game ensures that you constantly feel under pressure. Might there be an enemy camped around the next corner? If so, how am I going to shoot him before he shoots me? Maybe I should rethink my approach, and instead come in from another angle that might make me less exposed? Oh, and I need to make sure I watch my back, because enemies roam around and are quite happy to shoot you from behind. All these factors make you constantly evaluate what you're doing, and where you're positioning yourself - and makes the game very gripping as a consequence.
Next up, we moved to co-op PvE mode, and that's where Rainbow Six: Siege's asymmetrical gameplay really came into its own. While Situations is a good way to practice the basics of the game, getting thrown into the deep end with a proper co-op mission was an even richer and more intense experience. Basically, the game pits two teams of five against one another in a series of set pieces involving each team attacking, and then defending a position inside a building (or plane), with a set objective in mind – something simple like securing/rescuing a hostage, or defusing/protecting a bomb.
Firstly, you choose your operative. There are 20 in all – 10 attackers and 10 defenders – and each one has his or her own special device or weapon. For attackers, it might be something as straightforward as a shield and hammer for protecting your team and breaking down walls respectively, or it could be a device designed to detect booby traps. If you're defending, some operatives have booby traps and other such devices designed to take out the enemy, while others have defensive shields and the ability to shore up walls with extra-strong barriers.
Why all the focus on destroying and reinforcing walls? That's because Rainbow Six: Siege features highly destructible environments. At the start of a round, the defending team reinforces its position inside a building by essentially barricading themselves in. The idea being to make it as difficult as possible for the attacking team to break into the place. While the defending team go about reinforcing their position, the attacking team have a couple of minutes to use small ground drones to scope out the environment and get a lay of the land – so that they know where to go, and what they might be facing.
As soon as the prep session finishes, it's time for the attackers to go in, while the defenders sit back, waiting for them to make their move. Generally speaking, most buildings are quite complex in terms of their layout, and there are many different ways to enter. Perhaps you might want to go in on the ground floor and slowly sweep your way through the building. Or perhaps you might want to rappel up the wall and enter through an upstairs window or skylight.
Once inside the building, the attack begins proper, and it's here that the breakable walls really come into play. Some walls can be broken with melee moves, or by shooting through them with a powerful enough weapon. Others need to be blown through using explosives – but what's for sure is that most walls are breakable, and as they're destroyed, new lines of sight are opened up that can be advantageous for both attackers and defenders.
In our first mission, several of the team learned a harsh lesson when they all grouped up together and went through a booby-trapped door en masse – resulting in three of them getting killed simultaneously. The AI team of five didn't take long to track down the remaining two of us and take us out, but not before we'd managed to take down a couple of them in the process.
Then it was time for us to defend against the AI attackers. I barricaded several doors and reinforced a couple of walls, and found a good position in the corner of a room where I could cover most of the windows and doors. It turned out to be a useful spot – the AI team tried to blow its way through the wall opposite me, and I managed to pick off one attacker by shooting through the hole that he'd made. I then waited patiently, and sure enough, another attacker tried to shoot me through the same hole, but I managed to nail him first. My other teammates dealt with the remaining three attackers, and we managed to take the round with only one loss.
We played a few more games against the AI team before switching to full 5 vs 5 PvP multiplayer. It wasn't hugely different to playing against the AI team – a credit to the quality of the AI programming of Rainbow Six: Siege. Indeed, if truth be told, I think the human team that we played against made more mistakes than the AI team, but it was nevertheless really good fun. Our team communicated well, and we ended up winning most of our games.
After playing for the better part of a day, what's clear is that Rainbow Six: Siege is a well-designed, thrilling, and tense tactical FPS. Its one-life, no-respawn philosophy makes it a very different game to most shooters. Once you're down, you're out for the rest of that round, and that makes you play the game very differently from most games that enable you to respawn quickly and jump back into the fray. Being patient and level-headed while playing is paramount. If you go rushing in, it's pretty much inevitable that you're going to get nailed. Instead, you really need to think ahead, and be very conservative about the moves you make.
The breakable walls really do change up the gameplay. For a start, you can be shot through weak walls, which means you have consider your position carefully, taking into account just how effective your cover might be. Being able to create new lines of sight by breaking walls also makes you think very differently about how you might want to attack (or defend) a position. You can even have someone make a lot of noise and start destroying walls as a distraction, while the rest of the team come in from a completely different angle.
Indeed, that's one of the things I'm really impressed with in regards to Rainbow Six: Siege. What Ubisoft has created is a tactical sandbox game where you can be incredibly creative regarding how you attack and defend positions. The way the game is designed throws up tactical subtleties that will take quite some time to learn – especially when you consider that the positioning of objectives randomizes with each game, and the fact that different combinations of operatives give completely different gameplay options. All these factors come together to deliver a game that feels very open-ended and that supports a huge variety of tactical play.
To be blunt, I wasn't sure whether or not I was going to enjoy Rainbow Six: Siege. I haven't been a huge fan of the series in the past, but this time out I had an absolute blast playing the game. It's pretty easy to pick up and play in terms of the basics – but offers some really complex gameplay that makes it a real thinking man's shooter that's very different from the run-and-gun PvP games I normally enjoy. My interest is certainly piqued, and I'm really looking forward to playing this some more when it comes out at the beginning of December.