Graham: I might have shared this before, but I think Peter Gabriel wrote a song about my favourite thing in Rainbow Six: Siege.
Is there a song about your favourite thing in Rainbow Six: Siege, Pip?
Pip: I couldn't think of one but now I have Ariana Grande's Break Free in my head but you don't get to play as the hostage so that's useless. A great tune, though. Are we discussing Ariana Grande?
Graham: Not today. We're discussing Tom Clancy's latest. How familiar are you with the Rainbow Six series specifically? Do you want a potted history? Does anyone?
Pip: A potted history would be good – I always forget which bits of the Clancyverse go where. Is this the one with the seeing-through walls or is this the one with the snake cam or what?
Graham: I think they all have those things. Rainbow Six was the original Tom Clancy action game, and I'd wager most people's first experience with it was with the first iteration co-developed with Ubisoft, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. It was unusual at the time for having realistic settings, bullets that killed in a single hit, squad-based tactics where you could give your team orders in a pre-game planning screen, and assume direct control of any of the members of your squad upon death. The series then made a number of attempts at grabbing mainstream success by betraying parts of what made it initially interesting, hitting bottom with Rainbow Six: Lockdown (which felt like a cheap attempt at Counter-Strike) and last being seen (with the excellent though overlooked) Rainbow Six: Vegas 2. There was also a brief previous attempt at a revival with a game called Rainbow Six: Patriots, but that was mercifully cancelled after only a single hateful 'target render' trailer was released.
Rainbow Six: Siege, then, is a multiplayer-focused attempt at reviving the series, and it feels like it's still trying to find a middle-ground between realism (bullets are lethal, it relies on teamwork) and giddy fantasy (you can grapple up walls, rounds are quick, planning is carried out via remote control car).
[Post script: reading this afterwards, I realised I should explain the planning phase better. There is currently no top-down map view or pre-game talk. Instead, while the defenders have time to fortify their position, the counter-terrorists can scoot around in remote control car cameras. The hostage takers can shoot these if they spot them, and if the CTs manage to find the hostage during this pre-game phase, the position is then marked on their HUD during the game proper. It's an interesting mechanic and keeps the game moving and varied round-to-round.]
It also has one new technological gimmick in its destructive levels, which is sort of where the realistic tactics and giddy fantasy meet. Which I suppose is a good place to start. How do you find the destruction?
Pip: I've picked the character with the sledgehammer when I've been on the attacking side a few times now because I rather enjoyed caving in door and window barricades with it. It's pretty slow as you might expect but there's a pleasing crunch when you're hammering away. On the defence side of things there was a round the other day when I was crouching behind a desk trying to shoot an attacker in the shoes as they faffed around trying to destroy one of our fortifications. I've not done much that's been expertly tactical with it yet, though. You?
Graham: I too am far from expertly tactical. I've placed a few wall-charges, inaccurately sprayed bullets through a few wooden walls and, as Peter Gabriel can attest to, smashed down my fair share of barricades with the sledgehammer. The latter is my favourite since, as you say, there's a pleasing crunch.
For all my inept attempts at tactics so far, it at least feels like a game where tactics are going to play a significant role, and in a much more overt way than Counter-Strike or Call of Duty, which are obviously an influence. For example, there's abilities in there such as one class that's able to see enemies through certain walls. That's obviously only useful to the team if that player is on voice comms calling out to his friends. The current closed alpha has no system for connecting to servers with friends, but what's your experience been like playing with strangers? So far I've only encountered silence, despite microphones being always-on by default.
Pip: Really? I've had incredibly chatty teammates every single time. As soon as I hit the loading screen someone's chittering in my headphones. That said, it's mostly been in German and French so far. My German stretches to a nursery rhyme about a witch, the numbers one to five, and "Do you speak German?" In French I could direct them to the salle de bain and tell them about my hobbies as a fifteen-year-old. For that reason I do wish they had the facility to let you play with people you know, simply so I could start working out the synergies of the different operators.
There's another reason, though. I hate voicecomms with strangers. As soon as Rainbow Six: Siege dropped me in the game and voicechat was on and clearly necessary and expected I felt really panicked. I hate having to "reveal" I'm a girl when I'm playing games, especially when I'm just learning them. And that's what it still feels like even after doing it for years: "revealing" yourself.
Graham: I'm torn halfway between being glad that Ubisoft are comfortable making a game that seems to demand greater investment from its players than most of its rivals, and being sad that this is a game that's understandably going to exclude a lot of people as a result. Obviously I don't have the same problem as you, but voicecomms is often impractical for me based on where my computer is in the house.
But yeah, right now just silence. The only time anyone spoke in the games I've played was me, and it was just yelling "Sorry! Sorry!" after I panic-threw a grenade at an injured and prone teammate who needed healing. They just stared back at me, before the explosion finished them off.
Which I guess is the flipside of it feeling like a tactical, high-investment sort of game: despite being totes rubbish and clueless at it, I'm still having fun. There's enough that's satisfying and empowering to use moment-to-moment that I enjoy myself even if I don't accomplish anything. Heck, just spraying bullets and seeing them actual make holes in scenery is satisfying.
Pip: My favourite thing that isn't sledgehammering is barricading things. But I was a bit too enthusiastic one round and I accidentally barricaded myself and a fellow player into the dining room. The hostage was not in the dining room and ended up being rescued rather quickly.
Graham, maybe my song should be this:
I think this is why the destruction tech feels more than just gimmick. Normally in asymmetric first-person shooters of this sort, the defending team has an advantage because they can take up entrenched positions and simply watch the chokepoints. Being able to shoot through walls makes that moot, though. If anything I've found the game harder as a defender so far, and even if I manage to barricade myself in with the hostage, I often feel more trapped than protected.
There's two levels in the closed beta, one set in and around a suburban home and one on a parked passenger plane. Do you have a preference yet? I think I prefer the house, mainly for the ability to grapple up the outer walls and breach through second storey windows. I have had good times launching surprise-attacks on the hostage room that way.
Pip: I think this is where I fall victim to random chance – I've never been given the plane level yet. It's always been the house, which reminds me of a few maps in CS: GO. I'd really like to check out the plane though – what's different about it?
Graham: The plane one is set on a plane, which is like a house with wings.
Beyond that, the narrow corridor of a plane functions almost like a single, continuous chokepoint, which the level designers get around by making it a two-storey plane with copious areas to breach through floor and ceiling. This oddly makes it a more vertical map than the house, where you can do the same but have less incentive because the layout is more open and breaching wall is more commonly useful.
But the reason I like it less, I think, is mostly just that parts of planes are metal and you can't breach through those with a sledgehammer. There's still plenty that's destructible, but it's no longer all about that sledge, 'bout that sledge, sledgehammer.
Pip: They don't let you take sledgehammers onto planes nowadays anyway. Also I had no idea about this two-storey plane concept. I've googled pictures of them right now – what a time to be alive.
Graham: This is just a two-map closed alpha, but let's be DEFINITIVE in some way. What's your favourite: breaches or barricades?
Pip: Breaches. NO WAIT. Barricades. No! Breaches. I like being the snakecam thing and investigating the house PLUS sledgehammer. Breaches.
Graham: I'm going to go with breaches also. I like explosions and rubble much more than pocket walls. Bestest Best Breaches Of The Year. Breaches/10.