It has been a great year for competitive multiplayer gaming. Counter-Strike – the grand-daddy of them all – has only gone from strength to strength in the ESL, League of Legends packed out Madison Square Garden, publishers have been pumping out new IP (Evolve, World of Warships), and there have been new twists on old experiences (Star Wars Battlefront, Legacy of the Void).
However, Ubisoft is a company that has in recent times focussed more on immersive single player franchises like Assassins Creed and Far Cry than online fare like The Mighty Quest for Epic Loot, and as such, has been a little bit left behind.
Aside from some tacked-on modes in its more popular titles, multiplayer gaming hasn’t been its mandate. With Rainbow Six: Siege and a pair of Tom Clancy titles arriving next year, it no doubt hopes to change that, and to grab a piece of the lucrative multiplayer pie.
That said, while it might look to some like Ubisoft is cashing in on the broadening of the hardcore multiplayer gaming audience, Rainbow Six is a quality title, and shifting the series to pure multiplayer has proved an inspired choice.
Anyone familiar with shooters will feel instantly at home in this tactical team-based FPS, and Ubisoft Montreal has pared back the more technical Rainbow Six experience found in some of its earlier single player iterations, leaving behind a fluid and enjoyable shooter that will be right at home in the competitive scene. Whether its a hostage rescue mission or a bomb defusal jaunt, a team of counter terrorists must break into a house and take down a team of terrorists. Simple, elegant, easy to understand.
But a carbon copy of more established titles it is not. Rainbow Six Siege offers great variety, tactical depth, and replayability despite its cramped confines thanks to some smart design choices. The most immediately obvious one is the addition of destructive environments. While wall-banging is common in other titles, Rainbow Six takes it to the next level: environment destruction becomes an art form, and is central to truly innovative competitive play.
For example, not only can doors and windows be both barricaded and broken through, but certain walls and floors/ceilings are also fully destructible. While at first glance this looks like a boon for explosive minded counter-terrorists only, destruction is often used defensively as well. Intelligent terrorists will create tiny peep holes to snipe at players, set crossfire traps, and seek out tactical information.
Rather than speed things up, the lack of reliable cover to cower behind in Rainbow Six has the effect of making the game much slower, but far more intense. While more fast-paced competitive titles value aiming, quick switching, and mad flick shots, Rainbow Six Siege rewards the slower, more communicative, and more tactical player. This, coupled with smaller maps that hide many nooks and crannies, creates a style of play that is deliberate and cautious, but incredibly satisfying – especially when everything goes to plan.
Before each map starts, the attacking team and defending team can choose their loadouts based on operatives from the world's most famous SWAT teams. Known as Operators, each is equipped with a their own signature traps, sniper rifles, larger ballistic shields, special breaching charges, and the like, which can all be used to counter the unique tools and weapons chosen by the other side.
These diverse loadouts inject Rainbow Six Siege with a hearty dose of strategy, adding depth and complexity, but not at the expense of balance. Ubisoft Montreal have clearly paid attention to the feedback of gamers during Siege's well-received beta run, and despite all the gadgets, it feels very fair, with no one Operator an obvious choice above others.
Of course, Rainbow Six Siege is not without its faults. It’s a full-price (around AU$70) multiplayer-only title, yet there are micro-transactions not only for cosmetic stuff like skins, but also for Operators that are otherwise unlocked by hitting certain XP levels. It also suffers from the Ubisoft curse: PC gamers will be frustrated at the numerous bugs that infect the "finished" product. This is not just in the poor porting – PC players will, once again, be forced to stare at GUIs developed for televisions and joysticks, and there’s no server browser – but also in the net code and graphical set up.
Connection errors are common, microphone communication is patchy (a massive problem in a tactical team based shooter), and random wall clipping undermines the credibility of the title as claustrophobic and intense shooter. These are serious problems, particularly for a multiplayer title that has already been through a public beta.
Yet overall, Rainbow Six Siege is an enjoyable multiplayer game. Fans of competitive shooters will enjoy its mix of action and tactics, and its player community appears welcoming and constructive (so far). In addition, its competitive scene shows true promise – or it will, once a few patches have been released. It's already good, so a few patches down the line, Siege could be great. If you have some keen friends, breach and clear. If you're solo, perhaps wait for back-up, patches, or a price drop.