There’s a rhythm and a beat to the small scale wars of Rainbow Six Siege. The clatter of the defensive preparations and the whine of the drones gives way to a tense silence, punctuated only by the distant pitter-patter of boots somewhere in or around the building. Then there’s the sudden explosions of breaching charges, the rat-a-tat of gunfire, the shouts between teammates in the frantic pitched battle, before it fades away and you’re left in the glow of victory or the dismay of defeat.
Rainbow Six Siege is at its best when your team is working in concert. You need to talk to one another, planning your attack or your defence, before doing your best to make that plan work, or trying to adapt to a changing situation that is spiralling out of your control. A single bullet, whether aimed to perfection or sprayed erratically around a corner, can turn the tide and give you the momentum of the fight or rob you of it entirely. It’s imperative to be measured in your approach to any given situation.
With no one but yourself to rely on, the single player Situations mode is good for instilling a sense of caution to your play. Spread across 10 solo missions, it presents you with a variety of different operatives and missions based off multiplayer modes that are suited to their abilities.
The AI aren’t particularly bright in either Situations or Terrorist Hunt, but can be set to higher difficulties which make them react faster and has them become much tougher opponents. The suicide bombers certainly don’t take any prisoners, and require fast reactions to take them down before they get too close. The real problem is that they don’t feel particularly human. They pull some neat tricks, like adding new traps an barricades on the fly, and they can be very difficult at higher difficulties, but the game modes can come to rely on them rushing towards you or the objective in quite large numbers, instead of demanding nuance.
A key aspect to get to grips with during this is the way that gunfire and explosions can tear through the maps. There are limitations – thick, outer walls or windows covered in sheet metal – but many things are easily perforated by bullets. Breaching charges clear big sections, but shotguns and grenades cut gaping holes in thin walls, giving you an impromptu spy hole, which can easily be used to shoot people in the side. Even so, this can be used in continually cruel and unusual ways, blowing out the bottom of a wall and lying on the floor to shoot at ankles as they pass, or using a breaching charge elsewhere to act as a diversion for the main thrust of your assault.
Situations is capped off by a matchmade co-op mission that, with a story cutscene and a unique setting filled with poisonous yellow gas, hints at what could have been. At under two hours to blaze through, Situations mode is merely a short preface to the online play.
Moving on to playing with a team of people that you know, it can be excellent, and even if you’re not particularly good, there’s that camaraderie and the discussions over which angle of attack to try next. However, getting a team of five friends together will be a rarity, and it’s a different experience when you play with strangers. The gameplay is focussed enough that you can still find yourself in a squad that sticks together, but there’s more likelihood that they will run off and do their own thing.
For all the worries and concerns about the matchmaking during the rounds of beta testing, finding teammates and a match during the open beta and through the first days of the game’s launch and online play has been relatively trouble free. Instead, the game is hampered by small technical issues and an obtuse menu system.
Switching from one part of the main menu to the next, or scrolling between operatives and weapons, all stutter as they load in. It’s quite bizarre to see a menu system struggle like this, and it’s a bit jarring as you try to explore and unlock new things with the Renown you’ve earnt. While getting more operatives to play as is pretty clear, there’s not even a hint to the depth withing the Operatives menu that lets you alter the attachments and the skins of their weaponry.
That’s where the game tries to eke out a sense of longevity, in asking you to earn Renown – microtransactions with Credits are for cosmetic items and Renown boosters only – before letting you buy new operatives and attachments. Working through the Situations and the tutorial videos can net you several thousand points, which is more than enough to buy access to five or six operatives, but the rate of unlocks soon slow down. The first operative from each unit costs 500 Renown to unlock, but each successive operative costs an additional 500 Renown.
It’s a tough choice to know who to unlock first, as each character has their own particular merits. Mute’s wireless interference boxes block drones, while IQ can spot potential traps with her electronics detector. I’m a big fan of Fuze’s wall piercing grenade launcher, which can tear through a defence, but it’s less useful when attacking a room with a hostage in – not that this stops people – and having Blitz with his shield mounted flashbangs are a more considered option.
The saving grace to this unlock system is that you can buy whoever you want in whatever order, but there’s some characters who have a more universal appeal, meaning there’s a scramble to pick the one you want at the character selection screen when playing with strangers, or you’re stuck with the basic and inferior recruit. However, it feels like a poor attempt to add a layer of longevity on top of what is effectively a game with a single, refined gameplay loop.
Without a single player campaign and only a small selection of effectively interchangeable game modes, Rainbow Six Siege is a game with a fairly limited scope. However, there’s still a solid and very enjoyable tactical shooter at its core, especially when played with friends, and it’s one which will only grow over time as Ubisoft add more maps and content.
Versions tested: PS4, PC