I have never been one to dig into more tactical shooters. I was raised on Unreal Tournament instead of SWAT 4, learning how to calculate jump pad physics and aim rockets at fast moving targets. Therefore, I come into Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege as a bit of a newcomer, and I hoped that the game would provide an interesting glimpse into how the other half lives when it comes to FPS. After all, Siege is a tactical game that is trying to appeal to everyone by including MOBA-like heroes and garish weapon skins that seem lifted from Call of Duty‘s playbook. However, since the game lacks a significant single player component, it also must rely solely on its competitive multiplayer, which is filled with talkative soldiers who memorize map layouts and punish poor teamwork. This audience will ensure that casual players will not ease into Siege‘s high stakes game of death, filtering out all but the most patient. Despite that hurdle, Siege manages to impress with its stylistic choices, focused action, and the variable nature of its gameplay.
Rounds of Siege typically see players teaming up in squads of five. One side plays the defenders, who are tasked with barricading a location and protecting a hostage or bomb from an opposing team. These attackers must first discover the location of the objective using camera drones during the setup phase of the round, and then bust through walls and windows in order to secure said objective before time expires. In practice, most games played online will devolve into a deathmatch-type scenario, with the hostage becoming little more than a tool to ensure that defenders don’t just run down the clock to win the round. There is also a separate Terrorist Hunt mode that replaces the opposing team of players with a group of AI opponents for you and your squad to vanquish.
At the beginning of each round, you can choose which of Siege‘s twenty named operators you will be embodying, with ten choices for both offense and defense, each of these characters possessing special equipment that changes the tactical landscape of the match, and many abilities play off each other. For example, Twitch has a drone that can shock defenders, but this can be countered by Mute’s fancy signal jammer or Thatcher’s EMP grenades. Personally, I had the most fun with more offensive minded abilities, like Sledge’s hammer and Fuze’s grenade deploying drill. There can only be one instance of each operator on a team, so there is an initial rush before each round where players scramble to secure their favorite characters. Considering how different each character’s playstyle can be, it is sometimes a bummer to be railroaded into multiple rounds with a character you’re not fond of.
Once you choose your operator, you jump into a quick prelude before the real action begins. For defenders, this is the time to reinforce walls, lay down barbed wire, and basically put as many barriers between you and your opposition. Attackers are tasked with discovering the location of the objective within a tight time window using remote-controlled camera drones. The perspective on these camera bots is really unique, as is the quick cat and mouse gameplay as you run away from a defender after he spots you. Once that’s done, the attackers must blast their way into the location, either through a door, window, or conveniently marked roof panel. I had a ton of fun with the rappelling mechanics, especially since you can hang in front of a window, lean at just the right angle, and shoot down a tango who thought they were hidden from view.
Windows aren’t the only place where you can get rewarding kills either. The real hook of this game is the destructible environments and how you can use them to your advantage. Once you figure out where your opponents are, you always have a few options. You can attempt to blast through and roll the dice on a firefight, as you can in most FPS games. In Siege, you can also go prone and punch a hole in the wall just big enough for your gun barrel to fit through. The ten maps included with the base game do a great job of giving players on both sides plenty of variety when it comes to both objectives and ways to achieve them. If you play the game long enough, you will begin to recognize where things tend to spawn on any given map, which does hurt the defender’s chances in the long run, but there are so many combinations of operators and tools that it’s pretty easy to keep things interesting.
Dispatching opponents quickly and silently is very important, as even Doc’s Stim pistol can’t actually heal you. It instead only brings you back from a down but not out state, and that doesn’t last too long considering the lethality of Siege‘s arsenal of weapons. If you can take one or two rivals out without being spotted, you’ll have a much better chance of surviving a crucial moment and avoiding letting your team down. I’m not usually a fan of this Counter-Strike school of thinking, but the close quarters environments and the tense feeling that enemies could come from anywhere does do a bit to swing it back in the other direction and keep my attention.
Teamwork is key to your success, and it can be somewhat hard to find success if you’re going into random games with teammates you don’t know. This game benefits greatly from playing with a squad that you are familiar with, and going in games with my usual lone wolf attitude didn’t get me very far. However, I did play most of my games solo, and the lobbies calmed down a bit after the initial launch rush, and there are plenty of people playing as of now who are genuinely interested in teaming up and getting things accomplished. There will always be the random soldier crouching in the corner, or the Thermite player who doesn’t realize where he should place his advanced breaching charges, but for the most part I was impressed with the crowd that Siege has already picked up.
There are definitely people playing Siege at the moment, but the longevity of the game depends on a few factors. For one, the team at Ubisoft has to stay on top of the ongoing server weirdness and hit detection issues that have persisted since launch. These problems have already been acknowledged, but some of them have persisted since the game’s beta periods, and people will only wait for so long before jumping ship. Besides a long loading time here or there between games, I didn’t notice anything too egregious during my time with the game, but I also admit that I wasn’t always paying the closest attention to the killcam after some of my more frustrating deaths.
Secondly, the game’s progression system might need to be tweaked and/or added to à la Titanfall. As of now, there is almost nothing worth going for after you unlock the full set of characters and the gun attachments you want, which would take a dedicated player just about two weeks. The game also has weapon skins for you to unlock, which some players might care about, but that’s pretty much it. As far as gameplay is concerned, this is probably the most substantial multiplayer-only AAA title yet, but I’m not sure if the gameplay is enough to keep a large crowd coming back month after month without a significant amount of new characters and maps added in regularly.
Considering that this is another one of those multiplayer focused shooters, and it is 2015, everyone knew going in that there would be microtransactions in the game. However, considering the lackluster progression, it’s hard to imagine who the audience for these payments are. You can pump money into the game for unique weapons skins and boosters to make the progression go even faster than it already does. That’s pretty much it, and the developers have already said that all the gameplay focused content (operators and maps) will be free to all players. You can also drop a more significant sum on the game’s Season Pass, which includes a week of early access to that content, a permanent boost to your ability to progress, as well as a few other small bonuses. It’s ultimately up to players to decided if any of that is worth it, but it’s probably one of the least tempting offers I’ve ever seen in a shooter such as this, and the entire system is very easy to ignore.
For those looking for the type of slow and methodical shooter that just isn’t that common anymore, Rainbow Six Siege fits the bill. If you’re willing to engage with its complex mechanics and patient enough to wait out your enemies, you will have a blast bursting through windows, disarming bombs, and rescuing hostages. It succeeds also as a multiplayer focused shooter done right, packing so much more variance into its single mode than Battlefront could with its multitude of offerings. Make sure you’ll at least occasionally have some friends to play with, overlook the server issues and graphical hiccups that sometimes rear their ugly heads, and you’ll have a great time with Tom Clancy’s latest.
Rainbow Six Siege was reviewed on Xbox One with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC via UPlay.
Rainbow Six Siege makes a strong case that every AAA shooter doesn't need a campaign to succeed. The gameplay is rich and there is plenty of depth to uncover for those players who are willing to stick it out despite lackluster progression and server issues.