I'll cop to it. I'm the guy who, for years, has been saying "I'd prefer it if developers of multiplayer-focused games would stop creating half-hearted single-player campaigns to appease an already uninterested audience". I haven't been saying exactly that for years, because it's a mouthful, but that's roughly the gist of it.
It's a case of prioritisation, in my opinion, as developers can either spend time and money on story elements and AI, or they can pour those resources into making the multiplayer as good as they can. And in the year 2015, two big games have launched doing precisely that. EA released Star Wars Battlefront, and Ubisoft has launched Rainbow Six Siege.
And both games would probably do better with single-player campaigns.
It's not really as simple as that. Both games have issues with the way they handle multiplayer. Both insist on using matchmaking on all platforms, ignoring that the PC has had a superior game finding solution in place for decades -- the server browser. And worse still, both of these games have ignored the superior ways others have treated matchmaking -- neither Star Wars Battlefront nor Rainbow Six Siege take advantage of informative UI elements like player counts to give people searching for games an idea of their potential success rate.
Neither game has a great party system, either, bound as both are by the trappings of the publisher-driven storefront overlays -- Origin for EA and Uplay for Ubisoft -- which complicate an otherwise simple system.
The similarities between the two games aren't all negative though. Both Rainbow Six Siege and Star Wars Battlefront are brilliant when you're actually in a game, once you're past the trappings of online connectivity in 2015.
So let's talk about what makes Rainbow Six Siege special.
Those of you who played since the early days of the series might be in for a bit of a shock. The nature of modern videogames is such that the methodical planning and execution of the original games no longer really works -- today's quickfire entertainment means that spending 45 minutes planning the perfect course of action is no longer... economically viable. Certainly games like Frozen Synapse and Door Kickers deliver a degree of the complexity and brilliance Rogue Spear offered players, but it's a risk a modern publisher probably isn't going to take.
Instead, what we have is a game far more reminiscent of the Irrational Games classic SWAT 4 -- but competitive and multiplayer. Certainly elements have been sped up -- you use a drone or CCTV cameras instead of a fibre optic wand for example -- but otherwise the game is as faithful as you might hope to the tactical shooter experience.
What you're looking at is Blu verse Blu training missions carried out across a range of maps and in three different scenarios. There are no 'terrorists' in the Player vs Player modes -- both sides are created using heroes, and all heroes hail from the ranks of various law enforcement and special forces organisations (as is the Rainbow mandate).
So the game involves two asymmetrical teams of five doing battle. One team attacks, the other defends, and the game keeps score as you play. Constructed clearly with eSports in mind, there's a lot to like about this setup -- a scoreboard at the top of the screen gives players a clear idea of where they stand at all times, while icons fade as operators perish on the battlefield.
Depending on your current objective, the game plays differently as well. On Attack, the game is at its SWATiest
as you and your teammates do reconnaissance, formulate a plan of attack, breach a room and complete your objective. On Defence the game is quite different -- there's an air of paranoia as you twitch at every nearby noise or flit between the CCTV cameras to get more information on your opponent.
The real core of the game is in the Operators though. Drawing deep from the MOBA well, Rainbow Six Siege gives players a selection of heroes to choose from, all of them quite different. Split between offensive and defensive heroes, the variety of operators is enough to force you to think about your team composition, but not broad enough to make hero selection a deciding factor in a game. If, when Attacking, nobody on your team decides to choose a hero with a Shield (which is capable of blocking far more gunfire than it should) it isn't the end of the world.
It's a balancing act Rainbow Six Siege executes very well -- you never look at your teammates and resign yourself to playing a role you're not interested in (unless, of course, your teammates have already chosen all the roles you're interested in). Still, some heroes seem like no-brainers. On Defence, Kapkan's booby traps are easily spotted by anyone who is paying attention, but dismantling them forces players to give away their position by shooting out the laser devices or using Thatcher's emp grenades -- and he gets to use the Saiga 12 gauge automatic shotgun as his primary, which gives him devastating passive and active options. On Offence I can't see why a player wouldn't take Blitz, whose shield can block Tachanka's mounted machine gun fire while the forward-mounted flash device can blind anyone looking his way.
Beyond your Operators, you're given a limited amount of customisation options as well. You can add attachments to your weapons like different scopes, silencers and grips, and some of these seem like no brainers as well -- Glaz's Bullpup SVD variant is a million times better with a silencer on it, for example. But overall, it's mostly about preferences -- preferences and progression mechanics which are so common in games these days.
You can only buy Operators or attachments for weapons with Renown, the game's in-game currency. And you earn renown by playing the game -- doing the single-player 'Situations' (which are essentially tutorial missions designed to get you accustomed to the various Operators) or by playing Ranked and Casual matches in the game's matchmaking.
I actually don't have a problem with progression mechanics at all, and I think that you earn enough renown in the single-player situations to unlock a good handful of characters -- but if any sort of micro-transaction puts you off instantly, you should know that the game features a 'Booster Pack' that players can purchase (with real money) which allows them to increase their renown earning speed. I actually don't have a problem with this either, because -- except in the case where a player has zero available operators at all -- there's no distinct advantage to be gained from earning renown faster, just more options.
The game features some spectacular levels, though only time will tell as to whether any compare to the classics from previous Rainbow Six games. A lot of thought has been put into each level, however, to make sure neither side has a distinct advantage, and it's a stark contrast to the attention paid to multiplayer levels in a lot of games these days -- especially when you realise that most walls need to be destructible.
Walls, floors and ceilings can all fall to pieces in Rainbow Six Siege, turning a relatively defensible position into a nightmare area very quickly. It turns into an arms race of knowledge as players commit to craftier and craftier things. Go prone, blast a hole through a wall and use a street sweeper to cut down anyone as they walk past. Next time, your enemies will fill any hole in a wall with lead to make sure you can't get them on the sneak.
Or, knowing your enemies have secured the top floor of a building you could stand below them, send a drone into their room to tag their Tachanka and then shoot up through the ceiling, like Bruce Willis hiding under a boardroom table. Suddenly Mute's ability to block drones is vital to denying your opponents information, and players who can master the jammer placement are of high value.
This play and counter-play is the essence of good competitive gaming, and Rainbow Six Siege appears to have it in droves. It's more than just operator abilities -- barricading the correct walls can create firing lanes, and using barbed wire in the right position can be the difference between winning and losing.
Naturally this all leads into one very important thing -- map knowledge is the key to victory more than any other factor in Rainbow Six Siege. Map knowledge is the difference between destroying CCTV cameras or allowing the defenders to know where you are at all times, between creating those chokepoints mentioned above or allowing the attackers a free path to the objective. It's why I'll keep playing the game -- because map knowledge has always been my favourite element in competitive shooters, be it knowing the perfect path in Q3DM6 or where to throw a flashbang to disrupt an AWPer on Dust. Map knowledge is key to true competitive gameplay in a shooter, and Rainbow Six Siege is basically all about it -- every other bit of knowledge funnels into that one area of expertise.
Unfortunately the game is not without its issues. There are bugs -- a lot of them -- and many of them have carried straight across from the beta (which ended a single day before the game went live). The game uses voice activated VOIP regardless of whether you've set it to push-to-talk or not, and enough players are hot-micing with crying babies or barking dogs to force you to mute your teammates at the start of each round regardless -- a bad start for a game as reliant on communication as R6S.
Since the game launched, matchmaking has been pretty solid -- at least, in my experience -- and you rarely have to wait more than a minute to find a match -- which is more than you can say for most MOBAs. But as I mentioned earlier, it could be much, much better than it is. The Ranked queue appears to be Solo and Team queue combined, which means Solo players have a terrible disadvantage compared to those in a squad (who are probably using independent VOIP services like TS or Skype).
With Situations and Terrorist Hunt, players can take on AI enemies without needing to worry about players. To be honest, the AI is about what you might expect from a game focused on competitive multiplayer -- too good at aiming, not terribly competent at anything else. They're reminiscent of the early Counter-Strike bots -- you'd never learn anything from them, but they're perfect for sharpening your reaction times.
I could see myself playing a lot of Rainbow Six Siege. A lot of it. For it to be successful, it will need players and it will need proper, consistent support from Ubisoft. The team at Ubi has already made some solid commitments to the future of the game -- maps will always be free, Operators will be purchasable through both in-game currency and real world money and the only thing locked behind micro-transactions are cosmetics. It's a pledge of support which is necessary in this day and age -- consumer cynicism is (some might say correctly) at an all-time high, and so it's important for big publishers to say the right things -- but it will be more important to see Ubisoft carry through with their commitment.
For me, the game does all the right things. It might not be the return of Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear, and it might have more than a few bugs to iron out before it's competition ready, but it's exactly what I expected -- competitive SWAT 4 -- and Ubisoft keep saying the right things about their post-release plans. Only time will tell though. To quote the mantra of my favourite fictional FBI officer... "I want to believe."