So far, I’ve spent eight hours or so blowing up walls, extracting hostages, and laying traps in Rainbow Six Siege. The catch: most of this was from an early review event, and while it gave me some quality time with the game, all the characters were unlocked, I had an apt supply of renown and Rainbow Credits (used to purchase weapon skins), and the entirety of the games were played in the same room with people I could easily communicate with. I couldn’t base much of my critique on such a controlled experience, especially before the game was released.
Now that Siege is officially out, I’m going to play a bunch more in order to solidify my thoughts. And there’s quite a bit more to see: I need to see how the progression feels without using purchasable boosters, how the gameplay holds up over time with strangers, if the servers hold up at launch, and whatever else crops up during my extended playtime.
So far, I think Siege is great. With a communicative team, making plans and messing them up (or not) is a fun time bolstered by a surprising amount of depth in the map design and character abilities. Siege feels like a special kind of shooter, a pleasing psychological trap that depends more on teamwork and smarts rather than reflex.
Chat or die
Rainbow Six Siege’s primary mode is five-on-five objective-based multiplayer, with each team either defending an objective or attacking an objective. But you don’t just get thrown in and shoot one another willy-nilly. Every round opens with a planning phase, in which the defending team uses character abilities and resources (wall reinforcements, barbed wire, traps, explosives) to slow down, distract, or destroy the enemy team’s encroachment. During this phase, the attacking team sends in tiny remote control drones to sneakily survey the defense. Holding down a button marks the last spotted position of defending players, while other defensive structures are communicated over voice chat. While this is happening, each team is ideally forming some kind of plan. And chatter isn’t just important, it’s necessary for success.
If it all sounds complex, well, it is, and the more I played, the more complex it got. But this isn’t to say the game is impenetrable, this is just to say that we were all discovering the limits of the 20 operators’ abilities and more importantly, the destructive capabilities of the 10 maps at the same time. Most surfaces can be destroyed, either from gunfire or explosive devices, but figuring out exactly what can be destroyed and to what extent takes time. Sometimes, learning a map means setting up a seemingly impenetrable defense, only to have the attackers eliminate half your team by confirming your location via drone, marking you, and shooting you from above through a wood floor. The win to loss ratio was about even, but our strategies and understanding developed at a deft pace.
I was lucky. My team loved to talk. We’d spit out ideas, form a perfect plan, agree to it, and soak in solidarity. Then we’d execute the plan, at which point human error began to seep in. Nothing ever went as we hoped. Either we couldn’t find the objective, or didn’t anticipate the enemy team’s counter. At this point, when things went to shit, everyone would assume their archetype: there was the lone wolf, the turtle, the angry leader, the cool and collected, and the lucky idiot (me). I had never met these people prior to the event, but through playing a game that depends so heavily on teamwork and communication, I was able to learn more about their quirks through their in-game behaviors than any water cooler chit-chat could reveal. But enough about beautiful, fleeting connections. What about the guns?
Purely from a shooting perspective, I’m still conflicted. For a game so focused on tactics and planning, the shooting feels too snappy and simple. What I love most about Siege are the big commitments I’m forced to make, either in the slower planning stage or in the moment-to-moment quick wit of the actual operations. Consequences are somewhat undermined by shooting high-powered weapons that lack much recoil. Most high-powered shotguns can be fired on the same point without having to readjust at all. I’d like every shot to feel as important as laying any given trap or barricade: intentional and risky.
The environments are eerily domestic or mundane, not exactly gorgeous, but rendered as they would be. One map takes place on a grounded airplane, so most surfaces feel sterile, made of either plastic or steel. Another takes place in a suburban home, where sheetrock and linoleum dominate. None of the environments outright impress me artistically, but that might be the point. It’s most visually impressive during big, coordinated firefights. Walls crumble, glass shatters, smoke gathers—it’s all quite chaotic and pretty. A quick poke around the menus revealed a fairly complete variety of graphics options, though I haven’t had time to experiment.
Rainbow Six Siege is a pretty dopey military FPS at first glance, but insists players learn to work together with minimal error. Further, it invites a maddening cycle of thought—it makes me think about how I’m thinking the more I play. We were constantly disrupting our own habits. On defense, our initial instinct was to hang out in the objective room and build a seemingly impenetrable fortress. It worked half the time. Then we got the idea to use the objective room as a trap. We fortified it as normal, but hung out on the outside perimeter until the enemy team gathered around the objective, at which point we’d throw in a flash grenade, breach a few intentionally open walls, and lay waste.
But now we expect them to expect that plan, which means we revise to accommodate for layers and layers of potential. At its worst, Rainbow Six is just some pretty good FPS team deathmatch. At its best, Rainbow Six is psychological race, where you’re attempting to outwit instead of outshoot your opposition. Look for our final review in a few days.