Game review: ‘Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege,’ a violent shooter has …
2015, the year in games: Rainbow Six Siege, Fallout 4.
To say the video game industry hasn’t always been a model of inclusion and diversity is a bit like noticing that the sea’s wet or that Jeremy Hunt needs to be lowered quietly into a septic tank; it’s so blindingly obvious it’s hardly worthy of comment. Call of Duty and Battlefront, the big mainstream titles, are all about empowering the player and making them feel like a one-man army – easy enough in single-player, if your explosions are big enough, but much harder in multiplayer.
The venue was enjoyable, tactics such as the rappel and breach-and-clear, added some strategy to clearing rooms, and the Terrorist Hunt mode was entertaining to play. The earlier entries in this Tom Clancy-branded series were popular for their unforgiving, simulation-heavy approach to virtual combat, and when later titles attempted to make this more accessible, they predictably flailed (with the exception of the excellent R6: Vegas). A survey of the industry taken around the same time found that just 22% of game developers were women; that’s double the number in 2009 thanks to more open recruitment practices, but still tragically low. A story mode is completely gone, instead replaced by training exercises (Situations) that can show you different aspects of the game and help you earn credits early on.
To this end Siege has minimal single-player content – 10 scenario missions, set across the 10 multiplayer maps, which introduce mechanics like breaching. Even in traditional boys-y bastions such as Rainbow Six Siege, there are female special forces operators every bit as effective at blowing holes in walls, floors and terrorists as their male counterparts. In Fallout 4, one of the year’s highest-profile titles, the sole survivor of the nuclear apocalypse can not only be a man or a woman, but also gay, straight, or robo-sexual (for those interested in stretching diversity in new and potentially painful directions).
Greater sophistication is emerging in other areas of gaming too, as technology frees the medium from having to limit character interactions to those involving live ammunition. Meanwhile, the attacking team uses remote control drones to survey the house, spotting traps that have been laid and trying to find out where the round objective is being held, such as a hostage or bomb.
The most striking aspect of Siege is its buildings: each level is constructed around one or more structures, which have to be assaulted by an attacking team and held by the defenders. In Siege, the attacking operators can rappel up and down the building, enter through windows or certain walls, and once inside even blow through the floors. Instead, it had time to explore protagonists’ friendships and motivations in more nuanced ways and with far more pronounced consequences to your words and actions.
If attackers are rushing past the wall next to you, providing it’s not reinforced, you can give them the surprise of their soon-to-be-over lives by unloading through it. Indie studio The Chinese Room made its reputation with PC games such as Dear Esther, in which you explored a craggy Hebridean island while listening to a man read letters he’d written to his dead wife, and Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, a dark and atmospheric survival horror. Boarded-up windows and doors can be destroyed by gunfire, or melee attacks, and bullets will go through all manner of surfaces – wood, glass and certain types of wall. There’s plenty of ways to advance room to room, and you’ll never know if a trap is waiting for you until you’ve burst in and see the bullets flying.
A thoroughly English take on the end of the world – casting you as the last person left in a Shropshire village, and possibly the world – its 80s ephemera and perfectly pitched voice-acting made its mysteries a singular pleasure to unravel. This makes Siege a game where the defending team has an obvious advantage – the enemy must come to them – but the attackers can choose how and when to go about it.
Likewise, Psyonix’s Rocket League, sold on the unprepossessing-sounding premise “football with cars”, has become a runaway hit that will no doubt spawn imitators and big-budget sequels. It’s best to buy a few operators before you go into multiplayer by completing challenges in the single player, as two people choosing the same operator will set one of them to a generic team member. Engagements are fast and brutal, with one headshot or a few body shots securing the kill, and so the key skill is knowing where the enemy is rather than twitch aiming. Meanwhile the most anticipated title of 2016 is Hello Games’ No Man’s Sky, a game that lets you explore the entire universe, made by a small team in Guildford.
Matches take place over up to five rounds, with the teams switching roles, and death means you sit out the rest of that round – gung-ho stuff, as new players learn, has no place whatsoever. There’s a long way to go, but the days of video games as an exclusive club for simulated gun-toting adolescent boys are finally on their way round the U-bend of history. And they don’t run along the tops of walls, bunny-hop, or perform flying dives into a firing position – not that any of these things are necessarily bad, but the more realistic approach of Siege fits perfectly. Minor movements really matter: while aiming, you can lean to either side to acquire sightlines while minimising exposure, a tiny edge that provides innumerable kills.
In essence the controls and the style of Siege make a virtue of something that many FPS players hate – camping, which is to say hiding in one spot and waiting for other players to come to you. The greatest asset a defender has is often their sense of hearing, with footsteps and even slight movements audible from every direction – including above and below. One of its neatest touches is a brief period at the start of each round where the defenders dig-in to their position by reinforcing walls, setting up booby traps and picking their hidey-holes – while the attackers pilot small tube-shaped drones around the level and try to find them. In each round the terrorists will have to stay near to the objective – a hostage, a bomb, or some hazardous material – and so finding it means the attackers know exactly where to focus the assault. Blitz, on the other hand, has a big riot shield that can “flash” enemies and take enormous punishment – but he’s slow and has to expose his head to aim his pistol (rather than hip-firing it).
The difference in how you approach a given situation as a particular attacker is enormous, and the defenders are equally bespoke – some set traps, one focuses on jamming drones, one has a mounted gun, one gives out armour and so on. The defenders have limits on how many fortifications and traps they can set, and ditto for the attackers’ gadgets – meaning that as you get better at the game, so too does the use scale. So much tension is created by the sound design and cramped environments that the moment where two teams clash is always a genuine thrill – a test of nerves as much as a test of aim. Hostage scenario is the most interesting game type, because in that kind of situation stray fire can kill the hostage easily – one popular attacker has a cluster bomb, and it’s always a joy to see him picked for these. The attackers also have to extract the hostage from the building, leading them by the hand, which is a great last chance moment for any surviving defenders.
The scenario means that at some point attack must confront defence, but the possible vectors of approach and different gadgets let either team spring surprises. The destruction technology is no mere gimmick, but used to give Siege’s levels a dynamism that contrasts sharply with the ‘static’ maps of Counter-Strike. Despite retailing as a full-price game, Siege contains microtransactions which can speed up the levelling process and unlock cosmetic items, which on top of the ‘season pass’ (for future DLC) feels more than a little mean. Counter-Strike GO looms large in the background of much of what Siege does, and that game supports a miniature economy of skins and other items – but also built a following for a dozen years over several entries before this.
The recent “free” weekend on PC may be a sign of things to come and, if so, how convenient that a free-to-play business model will fit this economy so well. As if things couldn’t get worse, the matchmaking is often slow and in Casual matches – which you have to play a lot of before the Ranked playlists – there are frequent drop-outs during matches. This year has already seen Evolve, a promising competitive shooter that didn’t build a community because it was widely seen as price-gouging consumers. This is a shooter with consequences – one where a bad angle or a predictable position kills you long before the bullet lands, and where death is everything rather than an inconvenience.
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