Today is not a usual day at the offices of Ubisoft Montreal.
Staff offer little more than polite phrases, and there's a concentrated seriousness hanging in the air. Not tense exactly, more heightened alertness. Intensive and complex work emanates from behind multiple desks across multiple floors.
The theme carries over the presentation, opening with a pomp and pageantry usually unseen in these studio tours. A sense that we're witnessing something very important. The screen flickers with real world news reports sporting genuine terrorist acts.
"The threat comes from within these days. And when terrorism evolves, we evolve with it."
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Rainbow 6: Patriots will carry a considerably stronger script than previous titles in the series, where, if we're honest, characters and dialogue were displaced as gameplay took centre stage.
Evidence that we see in the proceeding demo in which a number of ethical issues will be addressed. Or whatever phrase should be coined of the moral mess that ensues when extremists kidnap an ordinary man and his wife and the husband forced to perform terrorist acts as his other half's life is on the line. Rainbow is forced to stop him: but what resort is best? How do you resolve an issue that dialogue and positive reinforcement isn't enough? Would you shoot an innocent man to prevent a major terrorist attack?
For a moment we almost expect to engage in a psychological and social debate with key words such as utilitarianism and multicultural diversity. Instead, discussion broaches the new mechanics in place for the game's narrative parts. The demo begins: a first person perspective. A man sitting at home watching the news, his loving wife nearby. Then, a knock at the door.
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A moment dramatic events unfold that leave both he and his wife crying, screaming. The patriots make it clear as possible that to save her life, the man has to become a suicide bomber. In the following sequence the man stands atop New York's Brooklyn Bridge, firm grip on the detonator - and stiff from fright. In the background innocent civilians are shot, the ever-escalating chaos clearly visible and audible.
When the unwilling pawn reaches a certain point on the bridge, we catch the glimpse of a squad of black-clad men and with that the camera switches to the perspective of Rainbow team. Bumbling, stumbling steps give way to quiet, supple movements.
Hope wars with panic. Telescopic sights look down on a terrorist, a walking bomb intent on destruction and death. Rainbow know nothing of this man's life, his predicament. They've not been privy to his terror, his fear. The dual perspectives of conflict cast a sense of uneasiness over the situation.
If you choose to approach the man rather than shoot, for the simple reason that the ensuing explosion will cause civilian causalities, the game phases into another moral dilemma. The bomber begs for his life, while you're ordered to throw him over the railing and into the water. As you decide, the clock ticks down. The choice is yours. While the fallout isn't quite as drastic as what's expected in modern roleplaying, its certainly innovative for this genre.
The presentation ends, and we ask Ubisoft what plans are in place for the franchise's tactical features when managerial selection can be skipped so easily at the press of a button, autopilot determining what is the most appropriate to a particular situation. An appropriate question, given the next half hour is spent on a demonstration of the enormous amount of choices offered throughout each combat situation.
Such as a single room, within which are eight terrorists and a single hostage. Ideal targets dictated by which are armed, and in an intriguing twist, those whose body language suggests fear rather than aggression. Then: consideration over which entrance is best, where to position shooters, then designating targets for each and exactly when to shoot.
Every move, placement, choice is heavily detailed. All serves as a challenging puzzle where ingenuity, trigger finger and tactics merge fluidly together, just as a Rainbow game should. With a release way out in 2013, the studio has plenty of time to complete its advancement of the series with, if not exactly a rebirth, a markedly different take on established procedures.