Rainbow Six Siege impresses…again (PS4, Xbox One, PC)

The more I play of Rainbow Six Siege, the more bittersweet the experience becomes. Now, that may seem a little over the top for a game where you drive RC cars into enemy territory before running in and shooting them to death while TeamSpunker2005 backs you up, but bear with me here. The more I play, the more it becomes apparent that I will never again have the twitch capabilities to be that good at it. Like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, Evander Holyfield in boxing, or Vanilla Ice in everything, it’s time for me to retire.

Well, retire from the competitive multiplayer, at least. Make no mistake: Rainbow Six Siege may be tactical, emphasising planning and teamwork, but when you’re storming a basement that has been fortified more intensely than the average MRAs basement and going in for the kill, twitch skills matter. And this frustrates, because Rainbow Six Siege is very good and some people are much better at it than me.

Playing at Ubisoft’s HQ due to reasons probably attributable to corruption (and not, say, ease), myself and some other games journos/YouTubers played 4v4 on the Hereford map, home of the SAS. It’s classic attack/defend gameplay – the attackers get 60 seconds to plan their assault, sending drones in to find where the enemy is, while the defenders have the same amount of time to lay traps, board up doors and windows, and use their specialist perks to try and catch the attackers out.

After that it’s a case of who can work better as a team: lone wolf play is going to get you killed quicker than drinking bleach, and besides – most of your foes will be holed up in a small room. Getting in and out alive requires people watching your back, tossing in stun grenades, and providing covering fire.

At its best, it recalls the majesty of earlier particularly fraught Call of Duty 4 Headquarters games, mixed with the permanence of Counter-Strike’s actions. There are land-grabs, improvised choke points, heroic kills and stupid deaths. There’s also tension: when the attacking team can smash in through the walls and ceilings, there’s a great deal of paranoia to contend with. Teams often end up beating themselves: the loss of one player can be a near-fatal blow.

Each player’s importance is underlined by the classes: different perks which can be vital to keeping you on the right side of victory. But each team has something that can cancel the other out. A good example of this: the attacking team has a character whose perk is a breaching charge, fired like a grenade and designed to explode walls, doors, and floors. The defence can counter with more durable armour, deployed at the expected breach point. The attack can then use their specialist to deploy thermite and burn through that.

It’s these smaller battles that prove decisive. You can’t cover everything, and decisions must be made, making planning essential. Making the games run over smaller rounds that cumulatively score, essentially like a penalty shoot-out with guns, is also superb. There’s the natural pressure to win in all instances, but being two down also introduces the fear of losing the next game, knowing it probably means curtains. Rainbow Six is a game of very obvious logical systems, but it’s the way they impart psychological pressures that impresses.

Unless you’re me, and you don’t have the reflexes anymore. Me: gaming’s Apollo Creed, or Chuck Liddell, or Lassie.

Still, for the crusty old deans like myself, there’s always Terrohunt, wherein four players take on AI – yes – terrorists and attempt to kill them until they die from it. The mission we played saw us infiltrating a consulate which had been taken over. The mission is to find bombs and disarm them, while fighting off the Terrorist Menace.

The consulate is grand and sprawling, as you’d expect in a monument to grasping imperial expansion. (Stay in school, kids.) Going through the front door is an option, of course, but likely to be met with resistance. Better to climb the side of the building, before rappelling down through a skylight and getting the literal drop on your enemies. You’ll need this strategic advantage, as the AI is tough – it can take a lot to put them down, especially on hard mode – and they’re good at getting round the back of your team.

It’s the standard set up then – be the good guys, kill the bad guys. What makes Terrohunt so appealing – and it’s not the fucking name, which is appalling – is both the amount of entry points in the stage and the way the tables turn midway through the game. Before finding the bomb there’s plenty of the room-clearing and natural teamwork that is encouraged by Rainbow Six and it ilk – even with no teamchat you’ll be bunched together, if only out of self preservation (permadeath features here). It could be argued that this room-clearing is the most enjoyable element of Rainbow Six: the shooting at the moment feels perfunctory, half because it doesn’t have the snap of a Call of Duty, and half because your weapons are really quite effective. (This is more pronounced in MP so far, as sometimes there’s not quite enough feedback on both your and your enemy’s shooting, leading to many ‘I killed you!’ moments.) Moving as a team, checking corners: this is where the game’s great tension – and as such pleasure – lies.

Once you disarm the bomb, however, things change completely. Now, your team is the one being hunted. Attempting to disarm alerts all enemies in the area (plus those that aren’t), who then converge on your position like games journalists to the buffet. There’s a short window where you and your team are encouraged to restock on ammo and fortify your position.

You’ll need to, as when the AI arrives it swarms, much like the horde does in Left 4 Dead’s crescendo events. After the careful calculation of getting to this spot, there’s the panic and wild firing of the defusal. AI busts through windows and walls exactly like you do. Tougher, better-armoured foes turn up, requiring the players to make the most of their special abilities. These are team-bonding moments, war story generators, and they make Terrohunt stand out from the average hunt-the-AI experiences. Rather than being a throwaway training tool for the full game, it’s an enjoyable and distinct mode in its own right, and strengthens what is already a strong package.

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