A teammate is yelling at the hostage to be quiet. Whether they've had a serious mental break causing them to scream at what amounts to a collection of polygons on a screen is up for debate, but what is certain is that you're both in deep trouble. What was believed to be a fortified, secure room is now anything but. Instead it's a sea of debris, there are more holes in the walls than you can count, and the bodies of your teammates are lying strewn around the room. What's even worse is that at any moment the opposing team is going press home their advantage and put an end to both you and your unhinged counterpart. In Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Siege every life counts, so to say that things get tense would be an understatement.
A more tactical approach from a multiplayer shooter feels quite refreshing these days – especially since most recent additions to the genre have had a bigger and faster design philosophy that's led to herds of players charging around a virtual meat grinder, where death is pretty much inconsequential. In contrast, Rainbow Six: Siege scales things back to five person teams, with each side taking turns attacking and defending an objective located in the interior of a building, in a best of five round match. This setup leads to close range, intimate battles, and when you add in the fact that there are no respawns and friendly fire, you get a much more deliberately paced game that rewards coordination and team work.
Matches start with the attacking team scouting out their target with small drones to find the location of the objective, be it a bomb to diffuse, a hostage to rescue, or an area to secure. While this is going on, the defending team are building barricades, reinforcing walls, and generally doing whatever they can to secure the objective. Failing to find their goal puts the attacking team immediately on the back foot, as matches only last four minutes, so the last thing that you'll want is to have to search a location room by room.
Going it alone can be a viable tactic in certain circumstances, but most of the time it'll end with you on the receiving end of a salvo of bullets. The main reason to stick together with your comrades is the level of destructibility in the environments, which means that you're never 100 per cent safe. Indeed, when the inevitable carnage kicks off, walls will get destroyed left, right, and centre, opening up new lines of sight all over the place, so you'll want your teammates on hand to cover your back.
While not every surface can be destroyed, a fair number of interior walls – as well as some floors and ceilings – can be obliterated with explosives or breaching charges. You can even shoot bullets through them if you think that an enemy is on the opposite side, or just want to get a peek into a room without using the all too obvious doorway.
Right from the start, the granularity of the destruction caused by each type of weapon is seriously impressive, and not something that you'll have seen in other games. This ensures that after only a few hours you'll have plenty of stories to tell about some seriously intense fire fights, such as that time you were the last man standing and took down three players with just your shotgun, or that moment you rappelled upside down to a window, then crashed through taking the opposition completely by surprise.
Previously seen in the larger scale Assassin's Creed games, the AnvilNext engine makes the action on screen look pretty great, and as you watch walls disintegrate into a pieces, and machine gun fire splinter the furniture in a room, the framerate thankfully keeps up with the action with hardly any dips in performance. On top of that, the music – or complete lack of it to be precise – helps ramp up the atmosphere even more, and as you listen out for the slightest sound that could give away an enemy position, or get nearly deafened by the roar of everyone's weapons during firefights, you'll find yourself completely absorbed in the game of cat and mouse playing out between both teams.
Rainbow Six: Siege feels a little like a MOBA in terms of the characters that you can select at the start of a round, as each has a tough sounding name – like Thermite, Blitz, or Bandit – and has a clear role that they can play on a team. With 20 available right now – more are being released down the road – these operatives are evenly split between those that you can pick when attacking or defending, with ten on each side of the fence.
All of these operators are drawn from various real-world counter terrorism teams including the SAS, FBI, and Spetsnaz, with each sporting their own pieces of unique equipment and weaponry. Attacking characters favour kit that'll help them breach walls and avoid traps, while the defenders focus on reinforcing their positions, and planting all sorts of nasty surprises to catch the attacking team unawares. Particular stand outs are Blitz who carries a shield, which when triggered produces a flash to temporarily blind your opposition, and Smoke who can plant gas bombs, which can be blown up at just the right moment to injure and obscure the view of any attackers caught in the noxious cloud.
Overall there's a really good selection of personalities to choose from, and most are quite handy, with only a couple seeming to have limited usefulness outside of certain specific circumstances. Unfortunately, none of these operators are open to you from the start as you need to unlock them using Renown, the in-game currency. On the upside, watching a few tutorials videos will get you enough to unlock your first operator, though you'll probably still spend some time using the generic unnamed operator initially, as only one of the sixteen named characters can be in play at any one time during a match.
Not having access to all characters right from the start is a pretty disappointing. Fortunately, this is tempered by the fact you can earn Renown at a good rate just by playing the online multiplayer, so you'll still be unlocking operators at a satisfying frequency. This is something that really needed to be right, as the inclusion of another in-game currency – Rainbow Six credits, which are purchased with real-world money and can be used to buy limited time income boosters – would have felt horribly exploitive if the Renown ramp wasn't spot on.
Renown can also be used to unlock attachments for each operator's weapons, as well as skins, though there are also some skins that can only be unlocked by spending the aforementioned Rainbow Six credits. This could have been yet another reason to grab the pitchforks and head for Ubisoft's offices if it wasn't for the fact that they are purely cosmetic, and most happen to look absolutely hideous, making you wonder who in their right mind would shell out Renown – yet alone their hard earned cash – for any of them.
Unlike previous Rainbow Six games, there's no single player campaign, but instead there are ten "situations" that you can play through, which act as a sort of primer for the game's mechanics and has you using some of the operators so that you can get familiar with their capabilities. These provide a short burst of fun and can be quite challenging on higher difficulties. Ultimately, though, they just can't hold a candle to the multiplayer, and outside of providing some Renown for completing certain challenges in each scenario, they're not really worth putting much time into.
The final game type is Terrorist Hunt, but before you get all excited that the mode that brought joy to so many in previous Rainbow Six games has returned, the only thing that's actually back is the name. Rather than being a tense clearance of a terrorist infested location, this re-imagining basically takes the multiplayer scenarios and has you – either on your own or with other players – conducting an assault against a cadre of AI protecting an objective. Once again, this mode just ends up reminding you how much fun the adversarial multiplayer is, and while it can provide an entertaining diversion, the call of human opposition will likely prove to be just too great to keep you battling the computer for long.
There was a pretty big question mark about how stable Rainbow Six: Siege's online performance would be after a pretty disastrous open beta, and news of microtransactions in the final product also contributed to a general aura of bad feeling that's overshadowed its release. Should you decide to give it a chance, though, you'll realise that a lot of these concerns were unfounded, and Ubisoft has actually delivered a thoroughly enjoyable tactical shooter that feels like an antidote for anyone fatigued by the breakneck run-'n'-gun in other multiplayer titles. While its slow deliberate pace won't be for everyone, if you're looking for shooter that's trying something different, then the impressive destructibility and intense close-quarters battles will almost certainly bring the house down.