Rainbow Six Siege review: Light tactics, heavy explosives, and a few networking issues

It’s quiet. Eerily quiet, after a minute spent nailing boards across doors and drilling tripwires into walls and tossing barbed wire on staircases. Now there’s silence—silence in the house, silence on my headset.

An explosion happens—distant, its boom muffled and hollow. The other side of the house. I shift to cover the door in that direction. A clip on my gun rattles as I turn. Silence again.

A board creaks overhead and then chaos as the ceiling explodes, shards of wood tumbling to the ground even as my team sends bullets back up. The body counts come fast: 5 versus 4, then 5 versus 3, then 4 versus 3. The wall behind me explodes. I die.

Rainbow Six Siege is a shooter where the best part involves not shooting. Rounds start with defenders trying to fortify a position to protect a hostage/defend a bomb/just not die. Rounds end with attackers poking holes in those defenses and trying to save the hostage/defuse the bomb/kill everyone.

But in between, there’s silence.

That waiting period, right dead in the middle of the match—that’s the draw of Rainbow Six Siege. It’s the FPS equivalent of a Shepard tone, an ever-ratcheting tension as two teams of five draw closer to violent conflict. Every creaking board, every jingle of boot-on-barbed-wire, could be a harbinger of imminent death.

And then it’s over in a split second, minutes of set-up cascading into chains of cause and effect. Windows blow open, doors explode, a man with a sledgehammer breaks through a wall. Rainbow Six Siege’s level destruction has been toned down a bit since it was first showed off, with most levels boasting quite a few “unbreakable” walls—a shame, I think. But it still plays into every round, with carefully-laid traps and labyrinths circumvented by brute force until one team’s left to limp off the battlefield.

It’s brilliant, really—an incredible five-minute loop, this sine wave of frantic action, horrible tension, and then more frantic action. And an incredible twenty-five minute loop too, given that matches are played to best-of-five (with attackers and defenders swapping each round).

You find yourself learning, studying, reacting to your enemies. The first two rounds everyone goes in blind, picking their Operator (read: character class) at random. But then you start to make informed decisions—countering the defense’s penchant for reinforced walls with a character who blows them up, for instance.

It’s a shame, then, that Ubisoft puts so many barriers in your way. I’m not as mad about the progression system in Siege as some people, but I do think it hampers strategic play, especially at lower levels. You start with zero operators unlocked and have to earn “Renown” to gain access to the game’s twenty different characters.

Renown is earned pretty quickly at first, even if you (rightfully) choose to ignore Ubisoft’s feels-sort-of-shady microtransactions. By playing through the game’s extended tutorial scenarios you can earn 6,000 Renown—enough for half a dozen Operators to start.

The problem is that all Siege Operators are not created equally. Some are clearly niche use cases, like the sniper or the person who senses electronics through walls. It’s hard to justify unlocking the guy who’s useful one time out of ten when you can unlock the Operator who busts down walls or gives teammates armor—something that’s useful in every single round.

The result In early casual play you tend to see the same five or six operators all the time. This problem will go away eventually, but it’s a bit odd for a game that’s built on that rock-paper-scissors feeling to lock away so many options at the start.

It’s a small hiccup though, and one that pretty much disappears by the time you’ve reached Ranked matches. Plus there’s something to be said for a player who really understands an Operator, who chooses two or three characters to focus on instead of bouncing around.

And I think what I like most about Rainbow Six Siege is the community. This surprised me, because typically games of this sort—where even one tiny mistake means a loss—are plagued with toxic behavior and people who could use a decent anger management therapist.

Rainbow Six Siege has been wonderful though. I wish more people actually used the microphones the game says they’ve hooked up, but those who do have been uniformly friendly and supportive. My favorite moment so far has been a teammate who won us a round by slamming his shield into an opponent. We all sat and quietly watched the replay, when suddenly a deep Texan drawl came over my headset. “Sometimes you just gotta lay the beat down on ‘em,” he said. I laughed.

Unfortunately it’s an incredible core let down by some nefarious technical issues that can lead to what appear to be “cheap” deaths.

There were a lot of rumors going around Reddit at launch that the game’s servers were slow to draw information from the client, creating situations where people were shot when they thought they were already behind cover, shot before they saw their enemy, et cetera. The most common estimation was that Ubisoft was using a tickrate of 10, meaning the game updated itself from the server ten times per second. So far as I know, this has been disproven—but not by much. The official rate is apparently 30Hz, which is still pretty damn low for a competitive game. Typically, games of this sort aim for at least 50, (Counter-Strike uses 64 in matchmaking, 128 in tournaments).

There’s another possibility, which is that the game’s hit registration and lag compensation need to be fine-tuned. Lag compensation is how multiplayer games determine you’ve hit someone, even if there’s a half-second delay between your two computers. Too much leeway and you’ll get the same “He shot me even though I was around the corner” problems.

Whatever the root of the cause, it’s frustrating—especially in a game with no respawning, where every death can mean the difference between win or loss. Not every encounter comes down to split-second timing, but I’d say it happens at least once per match in Siege.

It sounds like Ubisoft has heard the complaints and is working to up the tickrate, but at the moment you’ll need to be prepared for umpteen “unfair” deaths. Though on the other hand, it’s a convenient excuse if you’re actually terrible at the game—just yell “Damn it, Ubisoft and your low tickrate” and I’m sure all your teammates will forgive you.

Rainbow Six Siege is, to me, an indicator that maybe we don’t always need new genres of games as much as we need to reexamine our approach to old ones.

It’s not that anything Siege does is particularly new—tactical play (Counter-Strike, Arma, et cetera) mixed with a bit of destruction physics (Battlefield, Red Faction). But by taking these two aspects and expanding them to a scope supported by current hardware, Ubisoft has created a compelling game that feels unique.

The usual multiplayer-only caveats apply—“Will the community shrink and disappear in a month or two”—but for my part I intend to enjoy Rainbow Six Siege while it lasts.


Hayden Dingman

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