Rainbow Six: Siege – the tactical shooter evolves

Destruction distilled

Generally speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to developing a shooter sequel. Either you go for more of the same but bigger and louder, with shinier guns and more explosions; or you upscale in in a different way, relying on tried-and-trusted gunplay married to a more expansive structure, like Bungie with Destiny. With Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft has gone for the rarely seen third option: it’s downsizing.

This stems partially from a desire to get back to the series’ roots. The planned Rainbow Six: Patriots looked like everything we’ve come to expect from a shooter: big, bombastic and noisy – and therein lay the problem. It had no real point of distinction. By scaling back, Ubisoft Montreal might have narrowed the game’s scope, but it offers much more in other ways – it’s tenser, denser, more intimate.

Meanwhile, the destructibility of its environments feels like Battlefield’s ‘Levelution’ mechanic (hopefully Ubisoft will give it a better name) writ small – less spectacular in one sense, but with a more profound impact in terms of tactics. As bullets chew through barricades and breach charges tear holes in walls, there’s a strange beauty to all that shredded scenery. If anything, Siege turns localised destruction into an art form.

“Bullets chew through barricades and breach charges tear holes in walls…Siege turns localised destruction into an art form.”

There will, Ubisoft promises, be a solo campaign, but so far it’s rightly focused on Siege’s co-op multiplayer component. It says much about the publisher’s confidence in the game that so far it’s been happy to exclusively demonstrate just one mode and one map. The short version: it’s a five-on-five rescue/capture mission where teams take it in turns to extract and protect a hostage in a house within a Boston suburb.

It’s Raven Shield versus Rogue Spear, and each team member can choose one of three roles. If you’re attempting to break in, you’ve got a choice of Assaulter, Breacher and Pointman classes. The former carries an assault rifle as their primary weapon, and a semi-automatic pistol as their sidearm, along with a breach charge and a flash grenade. He’s more mobile than the Breacher, who totes a semi-auto shotgun and frag grenades, while the Pointman carries a shield – ideal for entering rooms ahead of allies. The defending team, meanwhile, are Protectors, Trappers and Sentries, armed with C4 ‘nitro cells’, deployable shields, and barbed wire traps that significantly slow any attackers who stumble into them – as well as creating noise that alert defenders will be able to capitalise upon.

Mobility varies between character classes – an Assaulters will move quicker than a Pointman, for example.

Each team has a minute to prepare. Defenders will collectively vote on where to keep the hostage. In this case, it’s either the second floor master bedroom or construction room, the dining room on the ground, or the laundry room in the basement. They will then have sixty seconds to roll out reinforced wooden slats over windows and open doorways before nailing them into position, while erecting steel barricades to bolster walls, and laying down wire traps.

Attackers, meanwhile, can choose their favoured entry point, before sending in drone cameras to check on their rivals’ preparations, including locating the room where the hostage is kept. Leave it in a safe enough place, and you may even be able to check its feed when you’re indoors to confirm whether or not the room is empty to your team-mates. Defenders will be able to do similar, using the house’s internal CCTV cameras to keep tabs on different areas of the house.

Once time is up, the fun can really start. Attackers have just three minutes – down from five in the E3 footage - to eliminate their opponents or extract the hostage, while defenders attempt to keep their stronghold as intact as possible. Or, failing that, simply survive until time is up. Not that dying means you can’t help out – you can switch the camera view to any remaining active drones to keep your team-mates appraised of enemy movements.

“It’s taut and tense, then increasingly frantic as charges blow, the seconds tick down and the numbers start to dwindle.”

It’s taut and tense, and increasingly frantic as charges blow, flashes blind, the seconds tick down and the numbers start to dwindle. If teamwork is essential, those early measured instructions will eventually become hurried yelps, as the battlefield constantly shifts. Defenders might opt to shoot holes in their own barricades to create sightlines to foes on the outside, while attackers might run across balconies between two windows to fool their pursuers. Floor and wall breaches mean that ordinarily safe hiding spots are open to attack from multiple angles. If you spot an enemy camped behind a shield, then trigger a charge above his head and you might just be able to drop down and surprise him before the dust settles.

It’s a game where light and sound are a huge factor. You might, for example, tap into the CCTV and see a shadow moving in the light of an open doorway, allowing you to alert your team-mates to an enemy’s position. Stand near a window, and you might just hear the sound of an attacker’s boots connecting with brickwork as he rappels up to the roof. This can factor into your own tactics, of course – plant a charge in one room before tiptoeing into another and the sound as you trigger it might just mask your charge for the hostage.

Barricading windows takes around 4-5 seconds, walls only a little longer. Siege aims for authenticity, but will happily sacrifice realism for fun on occasion.

On the - admittedly limited - evidence so far, Rainbow Six: Siege looks like a lean and intelligent twist on the multiplayer FPS, embracing strategic teamwork and opportunistic play equally. Ubisoft has strongly hinted that the popular Terrorist Hunt mode from previous entries will return, and a beta before its release next year is extremely likely. Assuming the team at Montreal can maintain a similar quality across all the game’s maps, we’re confident Siege will be one of the most exciting tactical shooters in some time. If nothing else, it’s a forceful reminder that sometimes less really can be so much more.