Blockbuster season is basically over now that the end of the year is upon us. One of the last big titles to sneak in this calendar year was Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, which puts a much higher emphasis on tactics and team play than most shooters do. The formula works well, but I just wish there was more of it.
Related reading: Battlefield: Hardline also plays on the cops-and-robbers theme. Matt's review here.
With most shooters, the whole point of... well, everything, really, is to run in guns blazing. I do that in Star Wars Battlefront and Halo 5: Guardians, and I do just fine at them. Certainly there is room for strategic thinking in those games, especially at the more competitive and eSports end of the spectrum, but most people will enjoy themselves perfectly well by running about the place like crazed people. And as a result most people find themselves going for long stretches of time without communicating with their allies, or even turning voice off, because who actually wants to be exposed to the kind of conversations that go on in these games?
There is nothing inherently wrong with that, however, I have to give considerable credit to the style of play offered in Siege. This is a game that works hard to make combat feel much more serious than in other shooters, and provides sharp consequences for carelessness. As a result I never mentally checked out while I was playing this one. For whatever other faults it has (and it does have a few), I think it's important to keep this in mind; Siege does genuinely try to be different. As its name implies, this is all about offensive and defensive squads. For the sake of balance, you play as an attacker and a defender in alternation, attempting to win the round and thereby, the match if you win enough rounds. If you are the attacker, you have a few minutes where you get to control a radio controlled car with a camera that allows you to zoom around the environment and scout things before the actual action begins. During this preparation period, the defensive team is trying to secure their location.
Elements of 'Zombies' mode can be found here from the Call of Duty games, as defenders board up windows or create metal barricades over doorways. These obstacles are as much about strategically blocking line of sight as they are in providing protection from bullets. The different modes sprinkle in objectives. You might spend part of your time trying to find and disarm biological weapons or perhaps keeping or extracting a hostage. Each game still boils down to eliminating the other team, but these objectives ensure that the game of cat and mouse is more interesting, because you cannot just camp in the remote corner of a map waiting for people to wander into your line of sight. Fortifications come down to more than the barriers, which can be shot through or destroyed but also rebuilt. From a defensive standpoint, you can set up traps to try and damage or outright kill sloppy attackers. Attackers meanwhile, can rely on those little remote controlled cars as advanced scouts and weapons such as flashbangs to stun defenders. There are also other tools, such as explosives that can be mounted on walls and floors to try and circumvent the normal choke points along the way. You can lose the game if you lose the objective, so this has a way forcing both the attackers and defenders into the same relative space over time.
I found it easiest to start with Situations mode, because the challenges offered within this one are built around teaching the player the rules of the game. You get a scenario, some pointers on completion and even some currency at the end that you can use to unlock new characters and items. This is a single player mode where you are assigned specific goals (often with sub-objectives such as getting four headshots or two kills while aiming down sights) such as eliminating all of the enemies in a building or successfully extracting a hostage. While this is a great mode for learning how to play the game, the same could often be said of the story mode in other shooters. With more shooters forgoing campaign modes (Star Wars and Titanfall for example), it seems like having a "tutorial" single player game that works just like multiplayer will be the way people will dip their toes into shooters in the future. Personally, I am not a fan of that. I enjoy story campaigns, even though they rarely offer a narrative that deserves to be taken seriously, as they are a nice, easy way to familiarise yourself with how a game plays before pitting yourself into the more competitive settings.
These AI-controlled enemies in Situations are a strange mix, too. For example, they have impeccable vision. Against a real player, one can sit still and possibly not be noticed - especially if you are prone to the ground. Here, though, there's no chance of that - if the AI has its head turned your way, you've been spotted, no matter how well you think you are hiding or camouflaged. This is balanced by how simple the AI actions are, however. In earlier Situations they pretty much sit in place, camped out and waiting for you to sneak around the corner and blow them away. At least they are moving about in the higher level Situations, but they are by no means very smart, and easily flanked and subdued.
There is a bit of loose anti-terrorism story hanging over the proceedings, but honestly it is all pretty forgettable stuff - window dressing really and little more. What does work is the high degree of strategy that gets leveraged in each session. It boils down to defence versus offence, but the destructible environments, traps and various potential choke points create something new just about every time. For all the action that a game like Call of Duty brings to the table, the map is the map and that is what you have to work with. Here the environment is far more malleable as you have to blow through walls and try to catch your opponents unprepared. I thoroughly enjoyed rappelling up a building, slinging my character over to the other wide of a roof, knocking out some wooden boards in the window and attempting to descend upon my prey as my teammates worked their way up from the ground level. There is strength in numbers, but at the same time, too many people clustered too closely together can mean your entire party of five gets wiped out all at once if they wander into the same trap or choke point.
Classes are a big part of this recipe's success as well. With nearly two dozen Operators to choose between, there is a lot of crossover in their skills, but they can be leveraged in unique ways. Certainly you can try to blast your way through everything, but leveraging technology in unique ways is also a valid option. Since two people on the same team cannot be the same class, it forces variety in a good way. It helps to keep things balanced and encourages you to stroll out of your comfort zone from time to time.
Aside from the Situations mode, there is another player versus bot mode called Terrorist Hunt. The AI still has some of its same issues - clearly this is not the strong suit of the game. The focus is on five versus five online team combat against other players. However, this amounts to three modes, and we already touched on the lack of campaign. This is why the game is so light on content. Thankfully the shifting nature of the stages due to the different classes and the destructible environments keeps things fresh, but more variety would certainly have been welcome. The ten included maps are solid, but more would not have been a bad thing. Ubisoft has promised free DLC down the road, so that will help. They just have to hope players will not run through the existing content so quickly as to be bored with the game before it comes out, because free maps will be for nothing if the community is dead.
This game of cat and mouse is helped greatly by the more realistic aspects of gameplay. Your character is not going to take several bullets to the chest and brush it off. He or she is not going to get a chance to just turtle up and not do anything. If you die, you sit out the rest of that round - which discourages reckless gameplay. As someone who tends to have a somewhat low death and kill ratio in shooters (because I like to play snipers in most games, opting to be more tactical by nature), this actually appealed to me a great deal. That said, one mistake and you can find yourself sitting around just observing the game for minutes of time while the rest of it plays out. Thankfully the five on five nature of the teams and the objectives set against brisk timers tend to make for relatively short matches, so you are not on the sidelines too long.
Related reading: Siege also borrows heavily from the Payday series. You can read Matt's review of Payday 2 here.
I also have to give a nod to my online interactions, not something I can usually say about most shooters. I have encountered quite a few level-headed, friendly (even forgiving) folks as I was cutting my teeth on this title. There is a far greater sense of teamwork at play here than I see in most other shooters, and I actually enjoyed that aspect. Far too often the people yelling inane things into my headset prompts me to mute them all, but I almost never had the urge to do that while playing Siege. That being said, there is a need to penalise idiots and trolls. Not people who make poor decisions - that just happens, and I am fine with it. But there were three different times I wound up in random groups, and for reasons I never understood, a teammate would just gun us all down at the starting position. He was not using a headset, there was no case of mistaken identity - we were just at the beginning. One guy did it two matches in a row each round. I would have been penalised for leaving the game early, which I was sorely tempted to do. He however, was allowed to continue behaving like a jerk without any repercussions that I saw. It's not like Ubisoft didn't know it would happen, either; this was a common piece of feedback in the beta, and there was a tweet from Ubisoft at the time that this behavior would be nixed by launch, but it it has been addressed, it is only very subtly tied to the 'good standing' rating your ID can attain. However, that threshold probably needs to be more aggressive.
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege is a very attractive game that clearly had some effort put into the visuals. Beyond that, the title offers more tactical gameplay than most shooters on the market. The biggest sin that the game commits is that it just offers so little overall content. Whether the game sustains a minimum community to continue being playable while Ubisoft gets the content up to scratch through that promised free DLC remains very much up for debate.
- Nick H.
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