After many years out of the public eye, Rainbow Six is back. It’s not exactly how we remember it though. Gone is any attempt at telling a scripted story (at least in terms of what we’ve seen so far). After scrapping the project known as Rainbow Six: Patriots and moving lead development duties on the next chapter in the franchise to Montreal, publisher Ubisoft went in with a singular vision: multiplayer first.
Enter Rainbow Six: Siege.
Breaching and entering. There’s no story in Rainbow Six: Siege in the traditional sense. It’s a multiplayer-focused game built around 5v5 showdowns between the Rainbow team — a highly trained counter-terrorism unit that specializes in hitting the enemy hard, without warning — and the criminals they pursue.
For the E3 reveal, Ubi Montreal showed off just one of the game’s multiplayer modes: Extraction. It’s broken into two basic phases: one for planning and one for attacking/defending. The goal in Extraction for the Rainbows is to get in, secure a hostage, and get out. It’s up to the criminals to do whatever they can to prevent that from happening.
Hostage secured. During the 30-second planning phase, each Rainbow gets a small, ground-based recon drone to explore the map with. The ultimate goal in Extraction is to locate the hostage (at which point she’s permanently marked in the HUD), but the drones also give Rainbow players an opportunity to see what the opposition is up to.
The criminals use the planning phase to fortify their position, by barricading walls and windows (to guard against breaching charges), placing traps and movable shields, and positioning the hostage in the most centrally protected position possible. The map we played on was small enough that the 30-second timer was more than sufficient to get ready, while still keeping the pressure on and the tension level high.
The attack/defend phase that follows gives the Rainbow team two minutes to get in and either extract the hostage or take out the five criminals. For both teams, protecting that hostage (she takes damage like anyone else) is of paramount importance. If the Rainbow team is in the process of escorting the hostage as the timer reaches zero, the match goes into overtime mode, ending either when the extraction is completed or when the Rainbow escorting the hostage is taken out.
Suit up. Each of the two teams has three different classes to choose from. On the Rainbow side, there’s the combat-minded Assaulter, the recon and tactics-oriented Breacher, and the armored, shield-toting Pointman. The criminals get to choose between Protector, Trapper, and Sentry, all of which are rough equivalents to the Rainbows in a way that counters the other side.
The Rainbows bring along an assortment of breaching tools for breaking through walls and floors, scaling multi-story structures, and maintaining a mobile approach to defense. The criminals are equipped more for turtling, with traps like remote-detonated explosives and barbed wire complementing barricades walls/windows and deployable shields.
Both squads have the ability to switch to an assortment of camera views at any time, to keep track of what’s happening. The criminals have an array of cameras set up while the Rainbows need to rely on careful recon drone positioning before the end of the planning phase. Anyone can switch to a camera view at anytime, and downed players can continue to feed intel to their teammates by monitoring the cameras.
Breakthrough. The lone Boston Suburbs map featured in Ubisoft Montreal’s E3 demo amounts to a two-story suburban home with a basement. It’s small compared to most multiplayer game spaces, but it’s just the right size for the relatively short game clock. The tight confines serve the gameplay well, as Siege is built around close-quarters engagements.
The standout feature of the Boston Suburbs map is the level of destruction that’s possible. Nearly every floor and non-barricaded wall can be breached by explosives, but weapons fire punches smaller holes through most surfaces just as easily. There’s a layer of strategy here for both sides in creating holes that offer a view of adjacent rooms. Entire firefights can unfold with a wall — most of it, at least — separating the two groups.
The graphics overall are an absolute standout, particularly in the way environments fall to pieces as the two sides engage in firefights. Breaching charges spray convincing clouds of smoke and debris in all directions, and sharp lighting effects help to reinforce the sense of realism. While the E3 demo is obviously polished up to a level that’s suitable for non-devs to sit down in front of it, this is still an impressive showing from a game that’s still in its pre-alpha phase.
Rainbow Six: Siege seems to reimagine the series in a smart way, building on the ideas that have always made it unique among shooters while taking advantage of present-day tech to deliver a multiplayer-only experience that feels dense enough to eliminate the need for a more traditional story mode. The game needs more, of course, but Ubisoft Montreal has plenty of time to share additional details on maps and modes before the game comes to PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2015.