Saturday 20 December 2014

Rainbow Six Siege hands-on preview

Ubisoft's tactical first-person-shooter impressed at E3 with its 'multiplayer first' mantra. Tom Hoggins tries it out.

Tom Hoggins

Published 26/06/2014 | 17:29

Rainbow Six Siege

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT? This is the first game in the tactical shooter franchise for six years, the last being Rainbow Six Vegas 2.

Ubisoft has promised a return to the hardcore multiplayer focus that made the series famous. What we’ve seen so far bears that out, with teams of five operating on opposite sides of a siege. One team must breach, while the other fortifies. You have only have a single life per round, and it’s one shot, one kill.

HOW DOES IT PLAY? Tense, tactical and really rather good. When Ubisoft showed off Siege for the first time at their E3 press conference, there was a concern that the slick tug-of-war between the two opposing sides was a little too scripted to be believable. But while there was naturally some cinematic massaging to make sure the gameplay portion was suitable for a glitzy stage demo, the hands-on demonstrated it wasn’t too far from reality.

The setup for the match is this: there is a group of five terrorists hunkering down in a house who have a hostage as collateral. Their job is to fortify the house and defend themselves, while keeping their prize safe. Outside five members of a crack SWAT team plan their assault, their main priority to get the hostage out alive. The terrorists can win by surviving the siege or eliminating the incoming troops, while SWAT can win by wiping out the bad guys or rescuing the hostage.

You begin each round by choosing your loadout (assault, breaker or point-man) and then a short period of non-combative preparation begins. The defenders run around the house, boarding up windows and doors, fortifying walls and laying traps like barbed wire. The attackers, meanwhile, can send in remote camera drones to scout the house, locating where the hostage is being held and identifying weak points in the defence. This allows the assault team to plan their point of entry and figure out a plan to enter the house and make their way to the hostage.

Once the preparation time is up, the assault team has a limited time to breach the stronghold and extract the hostage. The SWAT members can rappel up into top floor windows, or go charging in at ground level. They can also send out their camera drones during the action phase, but are vulnerable to being picked off during their spying. Defenders, meanwhile, can use the CCTV cameras dotted around the stronghold to locate enemies. Communication, naturally, is key and it doesn’t take long for the hands-on group to slip into character. “He’s coming up the stairs.” “Room is clear.” “Two guarding the hostage.” “GRENAAAAADE!”

Movement and gunplay is measured and heavy, the assault rifles roaring and kicking violently with recoil. Controlling your weaponry is deliberately trickier than your usual slick shooter, but the trade-off is that they’re absolutely lethal. Bullets hit flesh with a sickening thud, and anything more than a grazed limb will take you out of the game. ‘Realistic’ is too strong a word, but Siege is certainly more grounded than your average FPS. Given the setup, it’s only to the game’s benefit. Death isn’t entirely the end of your round, though, with eliminated players able to take control of the team’s cameras and continue to communicate with squadmates.

It’s excellent stuff. Cover splinters and rains above your head as you pray a bullet doesn’t pass through your shield, walls and floors can be blown open as either part of an assault tactic or as a means off getting around the stronghold more efficiently. Elimination is a constant, nagging threat, the kind that makes your heart pump and your hands clench tighter on the controls.

If there’s a concern, it’s how long that initial rush will last. Getting excited about three-rounds on the show floor at E3 is one thing, but what Siege does beyond this setup and match type will be key to how it is received. For now, though, in this age of hyperactive console shooters, a return to the classic, tactical attrition feels curiously refreshing.

ANYTHING ELSE? Rainbow Six Siege has replaced the canned Rainbow Six Patriots, a game that seemed set on tying to tell a single-player story in the vein of Call of Duty and other linear shooters. Most reports agree Patriots was a bit of a mess, and Siege’s dramatic change of direction and positive reception suggests Ubisoft has made the right decision.

WHEN IS IT RELEASED? Rainbow Six Siege is scheduled for release in 2015 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

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