Barricaded deep within the basement, I train my shotgun towards the nearest entry point. A deadly path of razor wire and explosives rests between myself and the stairs. Nearby, a teammate sets up a deployable shield near our hostage and attempts to hide them from sight. We are prepared, we are ready, we will not be taken easily. Bang! My digital ears ring as the ceiling comes crashing down. I turn towards the newly formed hole. Flashbangs clatter to the ground before bursting into violent white. Blinded, I reflexively pull my trigger. Once. Twice. The feed on the right side of the screen tells me that I’ve scored a kill and as the room comes back into existence, I am just able to spy the crumbled body before a burst of assault rifle fire slams into me and claims my life. Within mere seconds, the rest of my team is dead on the floor. My heart is pounding. A strange, inexplicable smile cuts across my face. We lost but I can’t remember being more excited to lose. Incredible.
Such is Rainbow Six: Siege during its best moments. When everything aligns properly, it is a game of remarkable tension that gives way to explosive action the likes of which I’ve rarely seen. It is my deep regret, however, to say that this sublime chaos amounts to a minimal amount of playtime. More often than not, Rainbow Six: Siege is a cold, compromise-ridden pile of cowardice. What little respectability this franchise still held has been taken behind a shed and summarily executed by design decisions that leave a product that would have been better off as a free-to-play experience and not a full-priced title.
In theory, Siege is a welcome addition to the team-based first person shooter realm: it’s a competitive game that largely eschews flashy gimmicks for a veneer of realism. You play as a counter-terrorist operative for one of many governmental agencies and compete against a team of ne’er-do-wells in a handful of scenarios that will be familiar to any Counterstrike player. You’ll be defusing a lot of bombs and rescuing plenty of hostages. What sets Siege apart, if barely, from other titles is a focus on claustrophobic, urban levels, tactical decision making, and environmental destruction. If you are an attacker, you will start the match in control of a surveillance drone, attempt to locate your objectives, and coordinate the best actions with your team. If you are defending, you will place a host of traps, decide what doors to barricade, and find the best positions to hole up in. It’s not hyper-intellectual, but it does attempt to put you in a more heady space than other, more reflex-driven shooters.
This push towards confident decision making is all that remains of the highly thoughtful gameplay found in early franchise installments. The original Rainbow Six titles were highly curated affairs. Players drew up actual battle-plans for their AI partners to follow, gave radio commands, and methodically proceeded through the game space. Siege’s gameplay comes off as a sophomoric imitation, which is all the more hamstrung by an obnoxious upgrade system wherein players purchase generically named characters to play as. Each character has their own unique abilities but the process of playing a match, earning “renown”, and spending it on upgrades or unlocking new operatives undercuts Siege’s desire to be something different than Call of Duty or Battlefield. This pretension buckles under the upgrade system’s presence and utterly crumbles with the inclusion of microtransaction currency that can be spent to get experience boosts and customizations. It doesn’t help that weapons do not feel distinct, modifications make no appreciable impact, and that the roster of characters only hosts a few with unique and useful abilities.
As a production, Siege is competent. The maps themselves are not inspired, but they decay and break apart beautifully during firefights, which are bolstered by a heavy and confident sound design. Gunplay itself finds a fair balance between being too comfortable and too realistic; you’re going to need some trigger discipline to do well in a firefight, but you’re not going to need to go to a virtual range and study recoil patterns either. It’s safe. Every facet of Siege’s design eschews risk in favor of a reliable, focus group-tested form of play. Nothing seems particularly inventive. The end result is an experience that is the very definition of average. It is too generic to be great but also too meticulously assembled to be terrible. It’s a corporate game, assembled by committee, and feels like it. Any successes exist in spite of itself.
If you’re looking for anything comprehensive for offline play, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Siege offers a handful of “situations” to play through, but even the series classic Terrorist Hunt was unavailable to me unless I was connected to the internet. You can play a single player round of that game mode, sure, but you’re still going to need a connection. There’s no particular context given to the single player situations, which function more or less as tutorials for online play. Playing through the situations unlocks a small story mission but it’s so forgettable it may as well not exist. Rainbow Six isn’t a series known for powerful narratives– the closest we ever got were the two Vegas games– but it is still a real shame that Siege can’t even be bothered to cough up anything beyond the bare minimum.
“Can’t be bothered” might as well be Siege’s mantra. This is a game that wears real-world influences on its sleeve, but it doesn’t do anything interesting with those influences beyond basic gunplay. Let’s be honest: this game is basically a power trip for anyone who’s seen a domestic terror incident and wanted the SWAT team to go in guns blazing. Siege wants to offer that, but maintains a tone of political apathy that turns the affair into sterilized entertainment. It could have said so much, but neglects to offer any opinion other than “guns are cool!”. The original Rainbow Six gave context for missions and its wide roster of characters highlighted a theme of international cooperation. It might have chosen strange targets (such as the villainous environmentalists of the first game) but at least it chose to say anything at all. Siege wants to keep the real world affectations and pretensions towards realism, but also wants to remain a politically neutral affair. In the end, it just feels cowardly.
If you’ve played fifteen minutes of Rainbow Six: Siege, you’ve basically played every moment. It is a passable game and it can deliver moments of genuine excitement but it is such a painfully milquetoast product that it can only be recommended to either first person shooter fans desperately looking for a new fix, or hardcore franchise fans. There are Game Boy Advance titles in this series that are better experiences than Siege, and I’d honestly recommend hunting down those before purchasing this one. Shots fired, tango down.
Heather Alexandra is a freelance writer and critic who thinks your hair looks nice today. Her work has been featured at Paste Magazine, Kotaku, and other outlets. She can be found on Twitter and at TransGamerThoughts.