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Long read: The beauty and drama of video games and their clouds

"It's a little bit hard to work out without knowing the altitude of that dragon..."

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What's it like to play Rainbow Six: Siege alone?

Squad goals.

This is new: an addiction to skylights. There are two on the roof of the Consulate map in Rainbow Six: Siege, and I can't leave them alone. You don't need to use up a breach charge on a skylight, you just smash the glass - they'll hear you coming - and then rappel down. I like to hover, on the first skylight, between the first and second storey landings. I like to hover upside down, and wait for those jerks with the explosives strapped to them to venture out to investigate the sound of breaking glass. Then I shoot them. Or at least I shoot at them. Sometimes I accidentally unrappel myself due to adrenalin and general clumsiness. That gets awkward! But not for long. Not for long.

I went into Rainbow 6: Siege's closed beta with two questions. Was there anything here for somebody who's too much of a liability to ever play with real people? And would I enjoy blasting through walls and floors half as much as I thought I might?

The answer to the first question is tricky. Despite the lack of a single-player campaign, I'm finding Terrorist Hunt an awful lot of throwaway fun. It's you - and a team, if you fancy - against bots. On the closed beta, that means a handful of chums, potentially, against 20-odd terrorists, holed up in a variety of cluttered and mischievous maps. You can play it solo, and the whole things starts to feel like Die Hard. This is all good as far as I'm concerned, but I don't know how long the thrill of Siege will last if you're the kind of person who really, really doesn't want to play with others.

I spend an awful lot of time like this in Siege.

The maps are a delight so far, anyway. I find stuff like the suburban house one a little too small - and a bit ridiculous when you walk up to the modest property only to be informed there are 26 terrorists packed inside. Are they all wedged together in the kitchen? How do they have lunch? Consulate, however, is just perfect: snug interiors split over a number of floors, with dead ends to get stuck in and interesting multi-room sightlines to uncover.

And it's got those skylights. Even playing by myself, I'm becoming a bit of a liability with those, and I'm exhibiting a fatal weakness for just hanging upside down out of windows I've just breached, as if the baddies are going to race out to meet me, and allow themselves to be cut down by my invert-stanced gunfire. Playing on Normal (and a bit on Hard), the bots aren't that stupid, but they are definitely limited. I don't see much flanking. Nobody goes up to the roof to see who's camping there, descending occasionally to cause havoc. Also, they will linger at times, while you plug away at them, and you can sometimes creep up close enough to pick their pockets and they won't always notice you.

They at least seem smarter than they probably are: their chatter rings through the building as you plot a route in, and it's thrilling to hear them swarm and react to your movements. The maps have been pre-booby-trapped pretty smartly, too, with windows blast-shuttered and barb wire tangles waiting to slow you down in doorways. If half the pleasure of single-player Siege is shooting people while hanging from the ceiling, this is the other half: knocking the Consulate to pieces - tactically, hopefully - as you hunt your quarry from one room to the next. The joy of trashing stuff and tracking people actually helps to cut against inherently conservative play, too - conservative play that's baked into a game that offers such rich opportunities for standing outside and firing through windows.

There is a Robotron-ish delight to a confined space and awful odds.

Plenty of games have made use of destructible environments before, but Siege really fetishises the act of knocking in doors and blowing through floors. The breach charge animation is swift but strangely luxurious, and most of the deeper delight of the game is knowing which parts of a map to bring down and which to reinforce.The beta's three main tutorials are almost entirely focused on how you can punch through pieces of the landscape to create sightlines or get the drop on enemies, and by the end of them, you'll have heard so much about the different qualities of drywall and steel-frames that you'll venture onto the battlefield feeling like Kevin McCloud with a shotgun. I'm all for this, of course, particularly if the rules of Grand Designs ensure that somebody has to live in a campervan while the architect grows increasingly bitter and marginalised. And also because the destructibility works both ways: you can barricade doorways as well as clearing them, while spikes sticking out of the back of a piece of flimsy stretch of walling mean that it's been bolstered with steel, so you're bang out of luck, sunshine.

Different materials allow the designers to limit your destructive impulses somewhat - this is particularly true for anyone who wants to rip up the flooring with abandon - but there's still lots of choices to make. Alongside blowing down shuttering with charges, you can pick away at it, shooting out individual slats to get sights on a target. It was a real thrill - if a painful one - when I took cover in a kitchen, trigger ready as I eyed the only entrance, merely to have the tilework behind me shredded by gunfire that eventually killed me. Maybe they do flank after all.

This stuff with actual friends sounds brilliant too, but I really worry that they'll have to be the right friends. Rainbow Six: Siege is definitely shaping up to be a multiplayer game that rewards dedicated groups: if you're rubbish, or having a bad day, you're going to make a lot of people angry at you. Still, I am rubbish, and I had much more fun than expected with bots. What's more, I'm already eager to return to that skylight.