By Joshua A Thomas
The tactical, tough team-based shooter Rainbow Six Siege has picked up a lot of traction in the past six months. That’s been possible thanks to the release of new maps, new character releases, updates and bug fixes, turning one of Ubisoft’s more low-key releases of the past year into one of the best shooters out there. The game’s old-school gameplay has also attracted a terrific community of people with whom to play.
Siege’s rise in popularity is actually not a shock to me at all. I’ve been playing the game since its December release last year and I can tell you, all signs were pointed in this direction right from the very start.
This isn’t to say that the game did not come with its flaws.
Initial critic response labeled the game as a rather average shooter. At the time, the game only had one PVP mode, no dedicated campaign, and a only a handful of maps. Calling it average was actually being nice. To top it off, Ubisoft’s “updates” weren’t always stable either. Anyone remember the infamous T-Shadows? Characters would appear to have eight-foot shadows growing out of their bodies. This made identifying enemies and even staying in cover nearly impossible. It left the game nearly unplayable for an entire month before Ubi fixed it. Add in the presence of underage “team killers” and you have yourself the recipe for a pretty disastrous opening quarter to a well known franchise.
However, even with its rocky start RB6 Siege now thrives and actually has a lot of people playing it and singing its praises. What’s causing this buzz? I think it is one simple fact that I discovered the moment I turned it on: RB6 Siege provides some of the most heart-pounding and gut wrenching gameplay available on the market. Combined with it’s rather mature community, it’s emphasis on strategy and team play, and it’s unpredictable and unforgiving difficulty, Rainbow Six Siege sets itself apart as one of the boldest FPS’s in decades. Not only does the game stand out among the rest of shooters in this era, it pummels them in terms of sheer gameplay and replayability.
Rainbow Six Siege’s success is not in it’s ability to be fresh, but rather in its ability to be, well, old. From the moment I turned on the game back in December, I was immediately taken back to the ‘90s. I was back to sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of my mom’s tube TV with the original Rainbow Six cartridge plugged into my N64. I played that game religiously. My childhood friend and I would try to beat the game, playing co-op on the harder difficulties. And when I say it was difficult, I mean it was painful. The game was rated T for Teen back then, but, trust me when I say it was meant for adults.
The only thing easy about that original Rainbow Six was getting killed. That was something I loved about it. It was the challenge. The computer was unbeatable. I saw grown men struggle through it. That alone gave me hope as a young 7-8 year-old trying to master a game technically only made for people two to three times my age. And now that I am two to three times that age, I can say that RB6 Siege picks up amazingly right where it’s older predecessors left off.
Today’s shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield are more concerned with theatrics and run-and-gun gameplay. Granted, I think this is beneficial for the younger gamers of this generation. Let’s face it, this is the era of Facebook, Snapchat, self-driving cars, and short attention spans. But what about us old schoolers who like a slow, chess styled challenge? This is where RB6 Siege shines. The game is made for thinkers and strategist, for guys and girls my age who want to move slow and calculate, guys and girls who know that death could be waiting around that next corner.
Siege’s more strategic style of play has attracted more mature players to the game. I have never been surrounded by more mature gamers. I’ve played with cops, ex-military, firemen, postmen, and even some colleagues from a newspaper I worked for. Everyone is so mellow and calm on RB6 Siege, although you will have your cheaters and team killers. Ubisoft has done an amazing job in regulating them since the release of the game last year. For the most part, everyone acts with a level of class and respect. I have made many friends online playing this game. Most players I run with are older (late 20's- mid 30's). The fact of the matter is the game feels like it’s made for adults. Unlike COD, this is the game where instead of getting cursed out after death, you actually learn something and can apply it to the next round, or even help your teammates survive the ongoing round by giving critical information. This is largely due to RB6 Siege’s emphasis on strategy and team play.
Success in RB6 Siege is ultimately chalked up to the three C’s, Communication, Communication, and Communication. I have never played a game that relied on the comms as much as RB6 Siege does. Teams must plan and calculate their moves to be successful. I have spent many hours playing with and without my fireteam, and RB6 Siege is a completely different experience without communicating with others. If you think you can get in there with no mic and lonewolf it all day, you will get your feelings hurt rather quickly. Updated information is critical to your own survival. So being a quiet, “I will kill em all” kind of guy won’t get you or your team very far. Teams who coordinate their every move with one another usually obliterate teams with no communication. It’s such a stark difference that you can actually feel it when you are against teams that have no strategy. Players get a chance to think outside of the box–whether it’s by blasting through walls for entry, opening up floor hatches as escape routes, or even sniping from across the map.
The way the game pans out is ultimately up to you and how you and your team want to assault or defend. I love this aspect of the game. It let’s the players choose how to interact in these environments. There have been many times when I was the Marksman on our fireteam. I would follow closely to whoever wanted to be my shield (Usually Blitz). They would enter a room and absorb any fire with their shield and then drop down so I could pick off targets while shooting over their shoulder. While it didn’t work every time we did it, this strategy was a bread a butter for my team for a long time. This is just small example of the endless tactical strategy of RB6 Siege. There are no prompts or tutorials to give you this type of knowledge, either. My friends and I came up with ideas like these in the planning room or on the fly via comms. Yes there are other games like the Battlefield franchise which rely on communication and strategy as well. However, it’s RB6 Siege’s unrelenting and unforgiving no-respawn system that truly sets it above the rest.
To put it simply, this game is excruciatingly hard to play. When you die in a round, you are done. It doesn’t take much to die either. One bullet can take you out, especially if it’s to the head. Combine that with the fact there is no radar system (except Pulse’s heartbeat sensor) and no regenerative health and you got yourself one of the hardest games to stay alive in. Death is lurking around every single corner in this game. You never know who is about to come crashing through a ceiling, bursting through a wall, or waiting to somewhere secretly on the side of the map to come and flank you. This unpredictability is the absolute selling point in RB6 Siege. The fear of the unknown is hard to describe if you have never played this game.
I have legitimately been scared while playing. I would sometimes freeze and not want to move anywhere out of fear of being flanked. I chalk this up to the amazing sound design of the game. With proper headphones, you can hear everything happening in the world around you. This is especially eerie when playing on the defensive side and hearing the attacking team either through the wall or the floors above and below you. You know they are there, but what exactly are they doing? Are they preparing to breach? Or are they setting up a diversion to catch your attention? This type of tension is gut-wrenching. However, that is what I enjoy most about it.
Even playing on the same map two matches in a row can result in a completely different style of game. Yes, there are teams that run the same gameplans or guys who sit in the same spots at times, but that is all up to the gamer and how they want to play. Being an experienced Rainbow Six guy (have played every one of them since the original PC version) I can tell you that I still play the way I did when I was a young kid. I am still slow, methodical, and very cautious of my actions, because I know too well what could happen if I am not. I feel like I am 7-8 years-old again. This is the one game on the market that continues to give me that feeling.
Joshua A. Thomas is a cinematographer, writer, and gamer for life. You can find him on Twitter.