Rainbow Six Siege | Review
It has been a while since we have been this conflicted about a game. Rainbow Six Siege is at times a brilliant, tense, unbelievably fun gaming experience. At other times, playing feels like some dreadfully masochistic penance. And the game seems conflicted about itself, too – unsure where full-priced retail game ends and a woolly free-to-play model starts. If you want to put numbers to it, sometimes it’s a nine, sometimes it’s a three. Read on to find out which will be the right score for you.
Seven years on from Rainbow Six Vegas 2, the world is definitely ready for the kind of knife-edge tactical team shooter that Rainbow Six Siege (R6S) aims to be. The setting is pure Tom Clancy, as you would expect – everything feels very believable, and even the highest tech gadgets on display feel like there are real world equivalents on a bench in a lab somewhere. Your team is drawn from the elite of the world’s armed forces and law enforcement agencies, drawn together to thwart the evil machinations of, well… as there’s no sweeping grand campaign, we are left feeling that we neither know nor care why such an elite unit is deployed.
There’s no single player campaign at all; the fantastic co-operative campaigns of Vegas and Vegas 2 have been consigned to history. Instead the game focuses purely on PvP team shooting, or co-operative shooting against AI in the Terrorist Hunt game type. It’s clear Ubisoft have more than half an eye on the eSports market with this game. There are also a handful of ‘situations’ – effectively single-player tutorial missions against AI – and, as useful as they are to bring you up to speed with the functionality of your kit, they are a poor substitute for what’s missing. The Clancy-esqu story thriller of previous games is nowhere to be found.
Instead, you have a range of game types played in tight, highly destructible arenas. Suburban homes, industrial complexes, splendid diplomatic palaces are your play spaces, all featuring interiors that (unless reinforced) fall to a bullet, rifle butt or explosion to open up new points of entry and new sight lines.
War is real
And those rifle butt slams, bullets and explosions feel fantastic, as does movement around the maps. There’s a real-world weightiness to the gameplay; weapons have real kick and some of the gadgets – heart beat sensor being a standout – are an absolute joy to use. There’s a real focus on breaching gadgets and weapons – the game is desperate for you to enter a room via any means other than the traditional. Crashing through a window from a rappel line is a series staple, but now anything that’s not concrete can be bashed through or taken down with one or other of the breaching charges on offer. That includes floors and ceilings, too. With limited resources, you will want to pick and choose though, so teaming your explosives and breaching expert up with a reconnaissance specialist makes sense.
While R6S doesn’t look spectacular – there are no falling skyscrapers or dramatic jungle vistas – everything is rendered beautifully. There’s real detail in the game, with the lighting a particular standout. Plunge through a window and you’ll struggle to adjust for a second to the darker interior. Conversely, smashing a window or taking down a wall will often send a shaft of light to illuminate that darkened corner where your adversary was lurking…
The same attention to detail isn’t present in the menu presentation, however. Upon loading you’re presented with “Press any button to start” but there’s no immediate feedback (either visual or auditory) that the button press was registered, as the game pauses for 2-3 seconds before advancing to the main menu screen. It’s a small thing, but visibility, affordance and feedback are User Interface 101 lessons, and to fail on the first screen shows a lack of polish.
Who needs friends? You do.
Rounds start with defending teams fortifying their positions and attackers planning their entry tactics. Then – particularly for defenders – there’s a delicious pause where you sit, ears straining for the tiniest sound to indicate where an attack might be coming from. For attackers, there’s the option to feint and swerve, faking an entry in one part of the map to draw defenders out, only for team members to swoop in behind and take them out from behind. Sound design, too, is playing a huge part in telling the mini-story of each round of gameplay.
And it’s here where the game comes alive – just as in previous R6 games, being part of a team that complements, and communicates with, each other pays dividends. Calling out targets, checking corners and carrying out buddy-buddy room clearances is at times magical, putting you at the heart of the best genre movie you could imagine. And a team that communicates – especially a team that plays together regularly, rather than just chatty strangers – will almost always come out on top over one that doesn’t. Usually by a huge margin.
But this is also where the game can fall flat. If you are in that team where nobody talks and everyone is the loner, it’s a miserable experience. Recognising the tactics of the other team but being powerless to defend against them as your supposed team-mates are running around like headless chickens looking for a corpse to tea-bag is incredibly frustrating. Your round is spent in desperate, futile self-preservation as you watch your hapless team mates picked off one by one before you, too, fall victim to bullet, bomb or knife.
Yes, this affects almost every team-based shooter, but here in R6S – a game balanced on the knife-edge of tactical awareness – the lows are impossibly low. Perhaps contributing to this is the relatively basic nature of rounds – yes, there are time limits, and hostages to rescue or bombs to defuse. But a kill is a kill and there’s no respawning; annihilating the other team also counts as a win so the objective conditions for victory are ignored more often than not, in favour of painting walls with a splash of red.
Get two well matched, communicating teams, though, and games become incredibly close – sweaty-palmed last second kills, or a clutch shot wiping out that fleeing hostage. Often you’ll end a round and realise you’ve not drawn a breath in the last thirty seconds, other than to utter terse instruction or warning to your teammates. These rounds are truly exceptional.
Mo’ money, mo’ problems.
But it is in the structure of the game outside of the search and destroy gameplay that the problems arise. If you are unfortunate enough to be friendless, the game could at least recognize that and pitch you against a team also full of friendless individuals, lessening the risk of demoralizing blowout after blowout. To be fair, though, servers have been reasonably stable and our experience of matchmaking has been almost without error.
More worryingly, R6S has lifted wholesale the progression model you will find in a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game such as League of Legends or Smite. Let’s remember, though, that those games are free to play; you’ll have already paid around £50 at retail for R6S.
The R6S progression model allows you to buy, using an in-game currency called Renown, specialists who have particular abilities, split into attacking and defending classes. Having earned enough Renown in-game to purchase a particular specialist you’ll then be able to deploy him or her – but only if the round type matches the specialist. So you will only be able to deploy your Defender specialists in rounds where you are defending. If you don’t have the right specialist unlocked, you’ll have to revert to your basic operator instead.
And, unlike the MOBA model, there are no ‘free’ specialists to experiment with. Most MOBAs rotate a selection of free characters on a weekly or monthly rota, giving you the chance to experience a different character without having to grind, but that element of the progression model has been omitted in R6S.
There’s a curve to the pricing structure for specialists, too – so whilst you’ll have earned enough renown to unlock your first four specialists within a couple of hours of gameplay, we estimate it could take 50+ hours of grinding to earn enough Renown to unlock all 20. You can speed the process up buy purchasing Boosters – perks that allow you to acquire Renown at a faster rate for a period of time, a concept familiar to MOBA players. Boosters, though, can only be purchased using R6 Credits, which can only be bought in bundles using real-world money… hello, micro transactions.
The specialists DO provide an interesting variety to the gameplay. However, they are very specialised, so are of limited use in many of the scenarios – especially as so many rounds boil down to straight up gunplay. Even worse, a specific specialist can only be chosen by one player in each round. You might have the perfect defender specialist in your arsenal, but if someone else picked them first, you can’t use them. Either pick a different one, or revert to your standard operator, your hard-earned specialists consigned to the locker-room. And leaves you wondering why you worked so hard – or spent additional cash – to unlock them.
Terrorist Hunt – a co-operative search for AI baddies – was a standout mode in Vegas 2 and much anticipated in the new game. It certainly plays its part, and can give welcome from a series of drubbings at the hands of superior teams. It is played out on the same set of maps as the other game types, though, which des feel a little limiting. Annoyingly, this mode is peer-to-peer hosted, rather than relying on dedicated servers, and there’s not host migration, so if the host player quits, the round ends. Disappointing, and makes this mode feel like an afterthought.
If you have a group of friends who all have the game and you will play together regularly, then you will undoubtedly have fun. You will experience a taut, tense shooter that rewards good comms and team work, with satisfying weight weapons and gadgets across a modest set of maps. However, if you are on your own and will be relying on match making to get you into some great games, we have serious reservations about recommending this game without you knowing exactly what you are getting, as the matchmaking just isn’t sophisticated enough to find you competitive match ups.
Furthermore, the MOBA-style progression model – which feels aimed at encouraging additional spend through micro transactions – is extremely disappointing in its current guise. To employ the MOBA model but drop the free character rotation mechanic is unthinking at best, cynical at worst. This same cynicism extends to the package as a whole – we would expect more for our money than the modest map, play lists and characters (specialists) on offer.
This review was based on a promotional copy provided by the publisher. The review was completed after the game went live to test the online functionality of the title.
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