This is a slightly odd review, because it's going to start with impressions based on eight hours spent with the game at a recent review event at Ubisoft's offices. I'll then continue to build out this piece by adding further thoughts as I play through the PS4 production copy of the game that arrived today.
There were ten of us at the review event, all playing a fully unlocked PC version of the game, and we dipped into all aspects of Rainbow Six: Siege during the day, starting with Situations, the single-player mode.
This is essentially a series of training exercises – ten missions (plus one bonus mission) that take place on the game's eleven maps. Each Situation has one over-arching goal, and a couple of sub-objectives that are optional, but earn you extra xp and renown for completing them. Renown is game currency that's used to unlock operators, weapons skins and attachments, while xp unlocks ranked PvP mode (at level 25).
Something I did notice when I was playing around with the game before we started is that microtransactions are present in Rainbow Six: Siege. There are different skins and weapon graphics that you can buy – as well as a renown booster that essentially increases the rate at which you earn that currency. I want to explore this further when I play the production copy of the game to see exactly what this is, but I did find it a little off-putting. I can understand this sort of mechanic in a free-to-play game like World of Tanks – you can buy experience boosters in Wargaming's excellent tank battle game – but in a full-priced game it just seems out of place.
More on that later, but for now I'll get back to the review day and Situations.
These missions are designed to ease you into Rainbow Six: Siege's gameplay by teaching you its combat basics. Things start out easy enough with a simple assassination exercise that takes place in a training facility, but quickly ramp up with a hostage rescue, and a scenario where you have to defuse a bomb. I did find Situations missions are mostly a game of trial and error. There's little in the way of randomization, and as long as you follow roughly the same path each time you tackle them – assuming that path is a good one – you'll largely have the same kind of experience in terms of where enemies are camped, and where there might be booby-traps and the like. That means completing each mission basically involves you finding and memorizing the optimal path through the level.
Because of this, I found some missions felt a little rote in nature. Sure, they're still reasonably enjoyable and rewarding to play, but to me they seemed to be more of a test of memory than reflexes and ingenuity. Perhaps if things were more randomized like they are in the multiplayer side of the game, it would have made Situations more tense and gripping. Instead, I found they started off tense, but once I began to learn where everything was, that dialed down the element of surprise, because I knew exactly what was around the next corner. Still, Situations does a good job in helping you learn how to play the game, even if it's not its most enjoyable aspect.
After playing through this single-player part of the game for a couple of hours, we then moved to Terrorist Hunt – which I found was a lot more enjoyable than Situations. Although it can apparently be played in single-player mode, we played co-op with five of us playing against a team of five AI bots. There are four different kinds of asymmetrical missions – Protect Asset, Disarm Bombs, Hostage Extraction and Classic – and once the mission brief is given, you have a short amount of time to prepare to either assault the AI team, or defend against them, depending on the mission type.
It's in this mode where Rainbow Six: Siege's game pillars of tactics, tension and team play really came into effect. In terms of team play and tactics, we needed to work together to execute a plan to achieve the mission objective, and that required us to communicate – something that was made easy by the fact that we were all on voice chat. As we played through various missions, we constantly kept one another updated on what each of us was doing, and that helped us maintain a winning streak on the "normal" difficulty setting. Then we upped the difficulty setting to "hard" and had a much tougher time completing missions successfully. What's clear is that on the normal difficulty setting, the bots are only reasonably accurate, and you have a decent amount of time to line up a shot to take them out – but turn the difficulty up a notch, and the AI will shoot you down very quickly if you give them half a chance.
What I like about Terrorist Hunt – and indeed this view extends to the regular multiplayer PvP too – is that the game is very tense from the very beginning of a mission all the way through to the end. If you're attacking, you can scout the target location using a small drone vehicle – you only have a short time to do this, so the pressure is on to quickly see as much as possible before the drone timer expires. If you're on defense, you need to quickly barricade doors and windows and set traps to secure a defensive perimeter, and then find a good position where you can fend off the attackers. Then there's a period of waiting while you either start working your way through the building you're attacking – not knowing if you're about to be ambushed by defenders – or, if you're defending, you sit and wait for the attackers to make their move. The feeling of tension is palpable during this time – everyone involved is waiting for the moment they make contact with the enemy, and that's when all hell breaks loose.
Rainbow Six: Siege's destructible environments really come into play here. As well as breaking through doors, windows and some walls, it's also possible for certain operators to destroy barricades using specific pieces of equipment. This basically opens up the environment and makes it very difficult to predict where an attack might come from. It also makes you think very differently about how you approach the game. In most tactical shooters, it's all about getting an enemy in line of sight and shooting at them. Here, you can actually take out another player by shooting them through a wall – but obviously you don't want to just shoot blindly, otherwise you'll quickly run out of ammo and be a sitting duck.
The way I'm describing the game sounds quite chaotic, but it's only so when the two teams engage one another. Most of the time it's simply tense. Threats can come from anywhere, which means you need to constantly think and be aware of what you're doing while moving through the game's environments. This isn't a game where you go rushing in headlong, with all guns blazing. Do that and you're probably going to be dead in very short order. Instead, you need to think a couple of steps ahead, and be prepared for what might be around the next corner – or behind the next wall.
Multiplayer PvP follows the same format as Terrorist Hunt, only this time it's two teams of humans playing against one another over three different modes: hostage, bomb and secure area. This was definitely the most fun part of the day, and we spent a good four-or-so hours playing through this mode. While the AI bots in Terrorist Hunt are pretty good opposition, there's no substitution for human players to add an extra degree of randomness and smart thinking to the proceedings, and we had some great games against the opposition.
Review Day Takeaway
Rainbow Six: Siege is definitely at its best in its multiplayer PvP mode. Squaring off against five other players in a battle where you don't get any respawns makes for some really tense and exciting action. The destructible environments are key to adding a new dimension to the gameplay, and really open the game up to some interesting tactical approaches. Rainbow Six: Siege is definitely a very different beast to most FPS games, which helps it carve out its own niche in the genre - if you're after a more thoughtful, tactical, tense and exciting shooter, this is definitely the one to have.