Teamwork! Are you looking for the reason why you should buy Rainbow Six: Siege over one of the other myriad of shooters that have come out this winter? Then you now have that reason. Where games like Call of Duty, Halo 5 and Star Wars Battlefront are built around rewarding your kills and assists with the opportunity to buy new gear, Rainbow Six: Siege is built around rewarding teamwork and strategic cooperation. This is the game where a coordinated team will nearly always secure victory over individuals, no matter how talented.
Let's go back to the beginning. Before you can experience the multiplayer, you first have to get to Level 5. That can be achieved either by playing 'Situations' or 'Terrorist Hunt'. 'Situations' is this game's take on the single-player campaign, but in practice, it really just works as a tutorial. Across nine different levels, you'll play different characters, each with a unique skill. You'll need to use that skill to complete each objective as efficiently as possible. For example, there's a level overflowing with bombs, and playing as an operator called IQ you have the ability to observe and destroy bombs with your pistol. 'Situations' might be a tutorial, but it's a formidable one.
'Terrorist Hunt' is the other option you have open to you at the beginning of the game. This mode can be played alone or online with up to four friends. You can play as both the Attackers or the Defenders. As an Attacker, you'll have to storm a building and either kill all 24 AI-controlled opponents, save a hostage, or dismantle a bomb. As a Defender, you'll have to defend the hostages or prevent your opponents from disarming a bomb. Even though this mode can be played alone - Lone Wolf - we wouldn't recommend it. The difficulty doesn't scale simply because you're alone, so expect your opponents to hit hard and fast. Playing alone we never managed to kill more than a handful of opponents before we were overpowered (even with only two players the challenge is stern). This is what Rainbow Six: Siege offers the player who wants to play it solo: a tutorial and a mode that doesn't really work when you're by yourself. Consequently, this game walks the same path as Titanfall and Star Wars Battlefront, where single-player is given lower billing, and the focus is instead on a great multiplayer.
This is not a criticism of the game by any stretch. With the focus in one place, Ubisoft Montréal has managed to create a wonderful multiplayer shooter. 'Terrorist Hunt' gets a little boring after a couple of hours; even though the AI is intelligent and aggressive, it's not enough to make dispatching wave after wave of enemies feel fun. After you've got started on multiplayer we're not sure you'll ever want to go back. Like 'Terrorist Hunt', the competitive matches are built around Attackers vs. Defenders, and once again the goal is to rescue a hostage or dismantle a bomb. At the beginning of every match, the Attackers get precious seconds to look for the hostage or bomb via a little remote-controlled camera that scuttles under doors and through vents. During the same period of time the Defenders have to set up traps and make sure that the hostage is safely secured (and take out any remote controlled cameras if they happen to see one). There have to be five people on a team during a ranked match. If you want to play with a different setup - 3vs3 for example - you can only really do so with your friends, and you have to do it in Custom Maps. Playing this mode doesn't give XP, so it won't contribute to your overall progress. It's still a good addition though because it gives you the opportunity to play with your friends and mix things up a little.
On the disc there's a total of eleven multiplayer maps, and more should be coming for free in the future. Variation doesn't come via different maps, though, instead it comes through the different characters and how your team compliments each other. As an Attacker you could have Sledge smash a hole in the wall with his hammer, thereafter getting IQ to check the room for traps. Fuze might then jump through the hole first, protecting the others with his shield. Furthest back you could have Glaz, who with his scoped rifle can shoot over the heads of his crouching comrades. Likewise, as a Defender you can get Rook to give all characters extra protection, thereafter making sure Bandit electrifies the barbed wire defences while Smoke places a bomb with poisonous gas somewhere strategic. With ten different characters on each side, there's no limit to the strategies that teams can use, and we're expecting there to be an interesting metagame evolving over time.
Alas, the multiplayer isn't a success in all respects. Even though it's possible to either save a hostage or dismantle a bomb, the difference between the two is often unnoticeable. If you have to save a hostage, you need to enter the house, pick up the hostage and place them somewhere safe outside. On the other hand, if you have to dismantle the bomb, you again enter the house, find the bomb, but this time you need to wait for it to be dismantled. It's a subtle difference. When playing both modes, more often than not, it ends with one side killing everyone on the other. It's a shame because it might well add something extra to the experience if Attackers didn't just try to wipe out the other team. At least in our experience, everyone quickly realised that it's easier to simply kill the other team, rather than run around almost defenceless with a hostage under your arm, or sit tight in one spot while a timer runs down.
Multiplayer is set to 60 fps and during our time with the game it very rarely fell below that. 'Terrorist Hunt' is set at 30 fps, but that's to be expected with the number of enemies potentially on screen at any given moment. There was, however, one specific bug that kept happening to us and our teammates. As an Attacker, you start every match with a remote-controlled camera, but often it would fall through the ground until it broke. It wasn't game-breaking, just a little annoying. After a few seconds we were back in control of our character and could play on as if nothing happened, but given that effective use of the camera can offer valuable tactical information, it's a bug that needs to be fixed.
Besides that issue, the game played perfectly for us. The eleven maps are fairly small, but they're filled with interesting details, and much of the environments are fully destructible. It's not always clear what can and can't be blown up, but after a few hours spent playing the game you'll have a good sense of which walls you can take down (in the beginning you'll often try to get through a wall only to be greeted with the sentence "Unbreakable Surface"). The destruction always feels very controlled. In the end it makes no difference because this game isn't about creating chaos; it's about making placing your explosive charges strategically, creating small holes in walls and shooting your enemies through them. It's about map control and tactical coordination.
With this focus on tactics and teamwork, is there any fun to be had if you just want to play without talking to anybody? We played a few matches like this, and our team always got destroyed. Every time. If you're not collaborating then the game pretty much falls apart when faced with a coordinated opponent. It's possible to set a waypoint for your comrades to see, but if you can't explain why you set it, it's pretty much useless. If you have four teammates to play with, Ubisoft Montréal has offered up a game that rewards teamwork above everything else. If you play alone and pay no mind to your comrades, you'll have to get used to swallowing the bitter pill of defeat.
Rainbow Six: Siege is not fully stocked with different modes, but this is a case of quality over quantity. 'Situations' and 'Terrorist Hunt' are fun for a couple of hours, but it's in competitive multiplayer where the game shines. The matches are short, intense and always surprising. The wait as Defender before the Attackers rush in guns blazing is tense every time. And as an Attacker it never gets boring finding a new angle from which to enter the building. With eleven maps you quickly feel you've seen everything the game has to offer but to critique this for the number of maps or because of the lack of single-player would be to miss the point of what it tries to achieve. This is the thinking person's shooter, one for those that appreciate a well-executed strategy above a well-executed headshot. Rainbow Six is back and the series still refuses to look or play like any other shooter on the market. And for that, we're very, very happy indeed.
This review was written based on time spent playing during a two-day review event held by Ubisoft in London. We reviewed the PC version of the game on closed servers. We reserve the right to adjust the score depending on the performance of the game when the servers go live.