These days it seems like a lot of military shooters have an identity crisis. They want to provide these deep, meaningful, dramatic experiences about the horrors of war, but they also want to provide a fun, casual adrenaline rush. They know their most beloved feature is multiplayer, yet they focus on delivering a cinematic, scripted single-player campaign because that's what all the cool kids are doing. They want to go bigger and more complex, but really this plays just as big a hand at alienating newcomers as it does pleasing the already dedicated.
Rainbow Six: Siege knows exactly what it is: a narratively bare-bones, multiplayer-focused tactical shooter set in smallish, dynamic environments. That's not a bad thing to be.
Ubisoft admits that it developed multiplayer first with this resurrection of the MIA shooter franchise. After all, any kind of scripted storyline would inevitably be less interesting than the hostage takeover situations that play out with real people. And while the minimalist narrative provides little context, its ambiguous framework is open to interpretation.
On the surface, it would appear that the the riot squad is trying to rescue someone being held against their will, but playing as a criminal it almost feels like you're protecting the hostage from some heavily armed forces trying to extract her. Sure, the way she pleads into the spy cam for assistance somewhat contradicts this, but I'll just pretend I didn't see that - willing suspension of disbelief, etc. For all we know, this could take place in a Nazi-run alternate history where we're nobly protecting a poor woman from the Big Brother-like society trying to capture her against her will.
It is a her, though... at least in the demo. A MacGuffin in the form of a barefoot, blonde woman, she has the purpose of a flag and about as much personality. In a vacuum there's nothing wrong with this. In the industry's current climate, however, it's more than played out. Hopefully other levels and game modes are filled with less cliched bounties. Might I suggest Ubisoft go the Spelunky route and have missions where you extract kidnapped pug dogs?
No matter. The focus isn't on who or what you're obtaining/protecting, or why you're doing that, but rather how it plays out. And oh boy are there a lot of ways matches in Rainbow Six: Siege can play out.
As a criminal, you begin each match with a minute to set up your defences. You have unlimited wooden barricades to seal windows and doors, along with a set number of reinforced barriers to secure sections of the (very destructible) walls.
While the crooks prepare for battle, the titular Rainbow Six squad sends in controllable drones to skitter about the floor observing what the opposing team is doing. The kidnappers can spot the drones and shoot them, but they're small, swift and hard to notice when you're frantically setting up your makeshift fortress.
Once this planning phase is over, it's time for action. While the rescue team can breach walls and rappel across the house's exterior, the outlaws can check the security feeds for a few cameras set around the interior. It's asymmetrical game design at its finest, with each side's unique abilities effortlessly combating one another in this tense game of cat and mouse.
Having played both sides of this disarmingly clever set-up, I'm taken with how many ways there are to psyche out your opponents. In one case, I was playing as a bandit when the SWAT team breached the complex by blowing up a nearby wall. I ran to the other room while the smoke cleared, hoping to sneak up on the infiltrators as they came rushing in. They didn't rush in. Instead, the breach was merely a diversion for some of them to rappel in from behind while our attention was diverted by the explosion. Well played, Rainbow Six.
There's a lot we still don't know about Rainbow Six: Siege. Its single-player campaign is in its embryonic form, while other types of game modes are currently under wraps. But the general interplay between those guarding their prize and those trying to steal it is splendidly sophisticated and only promises to grow deeper as players get a firmer grasp on its map layouts and arsenal.
Based on the little I've seen and played, Rainbow Six: Siege may not think outside the box, but it has a keen awareness of what it is. It's not Battlefield, it's not Call of Duty, it's not Titanfall and it's not Killzone. Instead, it's Counter-Strike by way of Panic Room with a healthy dose of Minecraft's fortifying and destruction tossed into the mix. None of its individual components are unique, but they're elegantly arranged into a unified vision.
In an age where every triple-A game is trying to be every other triple-A game, Rainbow Six: Siege stands apart as a fine re-enactment of the most climactic four minutes of your favourite heist film.