It always starts with an explosion.
Somewhere in the distance, maybe a floor below, you hear the reverberating rumble of a breach charge destroying a wall, and you know they’re inside. You hunker down a little lower with your teammates, mentally preparing yourselves for the coming battle. Everyone has a role and is standing at the ready, and when the enemy finally arrives, you’ll be ready for them.
Then, almost inevitably, something happens that you didn’t expect. A tiny cylindrical machine bores through a wall, spraying grenades into your stronghold, or a thermite charge melts through a vulnerable spot in the ceiling that you didn’t think the enemy could penetrate. One of your teammates goes down as the others quickly adapt, calling out enemy positions, triggering booby traps, falling back to secondary positions.
When Rainbow Six: Siege goes something like this, it’s great. The simple fact is that right now, in the multiplayer shooter space, there’s nothing else like it. It places a heavy reliance on teamwork; the pace is plodding and methodical; the action is pitched and explosive and over inside of a few seconds. When the game is on, it’s really on.
Rainbow Six: Siege, as a whole package, is lacking in a few respects, like the amount of content the game packs in. But it benefits from being a different kind of shooter experience, which has the potential to find a niche audience that will love it.
Breach and Clear
“Tactical shooter” as a genre is a pretty important descriptor for the kind of gameplay that Rainbow Six offers. This isn’t Call of Duty-style multiplayer: one or two shots is all it takes to get wiped out in Rainbow Six: Siege, and there are no respawns until the game’s next round. Careful, slow, mistake-free play are at a premium, as is teamwork, since not checking a corner as you enter a room can mean sitting out for the next five minutes.
The “siege” part of Rainbow Six: Siege refers to its gameplay – in every multiplayer match, one of two five-player teams plays defense while the other attacks, one playing a “terrorist” group and the other a conglomeration of special forces meant to stop them.
In practice, that means that every multiplayer match is as much about preparation, strategy and patience as it is about actually pulling the trigger on your weapons. Each game includes either a bomb that needs defusing or a hostage that needs rescuing (although it’s rare those objectives actually matter, since you can win just by shooting everyone), but attackers don’t know where those objectives are in the building, and spend the few moments of the preparation phase sending in remote-control drones to search for enemies. Defenders, meanwhile, have a few seconds to barricade a building as best they can, closing off lines of sight, boarding up doorways, and setting traps.
It’s really the preparation phase that makes Rainbow Six: Siege feel like something completely different in the multiplayer shooter arena. Attackers aren’t just spending their opening moments trying to pin down their objective; they’re also able to scan enemy players to get a sense of the defense team’s makeup, plot the best route through the building, and spot traps before bumbling into them.
In a way, no two matches are ever the same, strategically; in another, they’re pretty much always the same, functionally.
Defenders arguably have the rougher time, as they have to worry not only about how the attackers will get into the building, but also how they’ll approach objectives. Walls made of wood or drywall can be blasted through, and barricades can be easily broken down – which means attackers can use their breach charges to literally come through a wall at you, opening up new approaches no one expected. The defense team has a limited number of reinforcements they can add to vulnerable walls, and these are telegraphed to attackers with subtle giveaways like anchors that stick out through the opposing side.
All these little elements mean building, discussing and executing strategies are at the heart of Rainbow Six: Siege. Play it with a team that doesn’t talk to one another and you’ll likely have a bad time (as well as lose), because so much of the game is dependent on working together. You never have enough gear to fully guard a room or reinforce every vulnerability, and even when you think you’re safe, an enemy player could blow a hole in the ceiling to shoot down through or slip a grenade through a barricade. On both sides of the fence, you’re always vulnerable: an ambush could be anywhere, bullets could come through just about any surface, a trap could be hidden around any corner. That makes every match of Rainbow Six: Siege a harrowing experience in knowing just how fragile you are, and how carefully you need to think and play in order to emerge victorious.
Calling the Operator
Rainbow Six: Siege adds another layer to its strategy with a series of unlockable characters, each specializing in either attack or defense and each carrying a specific weapon or ability into battle with them. One character carries a shield that can also flash enemies and temporarily blind them; another can set laser trip mines in doorways for added protection against incursion. You can use one ability to spot heartbeats through walls with a special sensor, or deploy a mounted machine gun with another, or disable enemy gadgets with a third.
There are 20 operators in total, 10 for each side, and choosing who you bring into battle is more or less like choosing your character class. Some characters are good for taking point and soaking up damage, while other should hang back and provide intel. You might be good at reviving teammates or better-suited to breach entryways. Only one of each operator can be used on a particular team, though, so you can’t overload a group with shields or cover every doorway with trip mines.
The specialization in teammates makes team composition another important factor for winning matches in Rainbow Six, and knowing how best to use your role is important to any kind of success. As with everything in Rainbow Six: Siege, the little details matter, and matches often come down to one or two battles or missteps.
Attackers can use their breach charges to literally come through a wall at you, opening up new approaches no one expected.
The downfall of Rainbow Six: Siege is that all of its operators are gated behind a slow, painful progression system that requires a great deal of work to move through. Small amounts of in-game currency called “renown” are handed out for multiplayer matches, and you can use it to unlock more operators over time. The first 10 or so operators will come pretty fast, since you can earn renown from watching tutorial videos and completing the game’s paltry single-player offerings; the second 10, however, are going to take an amount of work that Rainbow Six makes nearly unsustainable.
Each of the 20 operators comes from one of five special ops groups, and as you unlock more and more characters from a single force, their price goes up. So you’ll spend 500 renown on your first FBI SWAT character – reasonable enough given that you can earn 600 out the gate just from watching three tutorial videos – but your second in the group will cost you 1,000. The third is 1,500, and so on, and your renown earnings from matches are never very high.
And this is where publisher Ubisoft’s inevitable microtransactions come in, because you can spend real money to buy “boosters” that let you progress faster. And given that you’ll likely using the same small crop of operators for a long while, that purchase becomes tempting; even though it’s optional, it feels like Rainbow Six is designed to be slightly annoying to encourage you to drop more money on it.
Spending more money on Rainbow Six: Siege doesn’t seem advisable, though, because ultimately the premise of the game starts to wear thin. Tactical shooters are already a niche portion of the shooter genre, and while Siege adds an exciting dimension to the multiplayer – one focused on playing as carefully and intelligently as possible, rather than focusing on things like twitch skill – you’ll still just be attacking and defending the same buildings over and over.
Objectives are moved randomly throughout the game’s 11 maps, but it seems as though there are actually only a few places in each map that a bomb or a hostage is likely to spawn in. Buildings offer a huge number of potential entry points, from repelling and swinging through windows to busting through skylights to simply blowing open walls, but the gist of the gameplay is pretty much always the same. In a way, no two matches in Rainbow Six: Siege are ever the same, strategically; in another, they’re pretty much always the same, functionally.
Every match is a harrowing experience in knowing just how fragile you are, and how carefully you need to think and play to emerge victorious.
Beyond repetition, Rainbow Six: Siege suffers from the multiplayer-only problem of feeling thin on content. The game includes 11 single-player missions in a mode called “Situations,” in which you play as one particular operator or another completing a specific objective, but they feel more like tutorials than a fully-developed single-player component. “Terrorist Hunt,” another mode that can be played alone or cooperatively, is a wave-based mode that can also be a nice diversion but ultimately not what players will be sinking their teeth into.
Where past Rainbow Six games had meaty, squad-based campaigns, there’s nothing of the sort in Siege. With the somewhat repetitive nature of multiplayer and the thin selection of things to do offline, that can feel like a big step back for the series, even as Siege offers a lot of very interesting things that other shooters just don’t.
Coordinating a strike as you blow through walls, swing through windows, and quickly blast away at enemies, it’s hard to deny the striking, exciting feel of Rainbow Six: Siege. Its tactical nature, focus on strategy, asymmetrical presentation and wealth of possibilities can make it an intense game to play, where long moments of wondering what you’ll run into next are punctuated by brief explosions of battle. With a good, smart team, Siege is one of the better multiplayer experiences on the market right now.
Over the long haul, though, Rainbow Six: Siege feels like it’ll get lost in repetition, only really appealing to a core group of dedicated players. Its attack-and-defend gameplay, while full of interesting variations, is always fundamentally pretty much the same, especially since the vast majority of battles wind up being about eliminating the enemy team rather than actually trying to complete the match objective. And when the online component wears thin, there’s little in the way of single-player distractions to balance it out.
Some people will love Rainbow Six: Siege for its exciting strategy, tight mechanics and great team-based gameplay. Unfortunately, Siege doesn’t do more to sustain that love.
Reviewed on Xbox One, provided by publisher
- Tactical gameplay requires brains, not reflexes
- Well-built maps offer a huge variety of ways to play
- Unlockable characters offer different roles
- Emphasis on teamwork stands out from most other shooters
- Progression system can be a slow, frustrating grind
- Multiplayer gets repetitive
- Lack of single-player content makes the whole package feel thin