Sunday, October 4, 2015

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege Beta Impressions!




                Writing an article about an Ubisoft game is rather difficult as my experience with their games in the past years wasn’t the greatest. There has been a lot of potential washed away on titles that didn’t have the necessary development time or support and got mainstreamed for sales diminishing their quality. So every time I see a promising game from this publisher I fear for another wasted opportunity and Tom Clancy’s Rainbows Six Siege might be the next one.
But leaving my personal feelings aside, even if they are more than justified (remember the 30fps vs 60fps explanations or the Watch Dogs downgrade?) I want to talk about Siege, because I’ve spent a lot of time in the game during its prolonged Beta test and I’ve got quite a few things to say.

                Rainbow Six Siege is a multiplayer only game of 5v5 tactical combat that has Attackers and Defenders facing off in a best of five round system in what seems like an odd war between antiterrorist organizations from around the globe (anyone care to explain this?!).
                The beginning of each round serves as a preparation split in two steps. The first step offers more time than it’s necessary to browse through the available Operators (some sort of unique classes), weapons and gadgets to be used in the upcoming round while also picking the spawn position to attack or the objective position to defend. This time consuming step is followed by another one which, ironically, might not offer enough time for the Defenders to do their job. In this second step both teams play what can be called a weird tactical game of hide and seek. The Attackers try to infiltrate their drones zigzagging through the enemy’s shots in order to spot what the Defenders’ team does and gather as much information as possible before being destroyed or the time expires. The Defenders’ team has to barricade every opening, laying out traps and reinforcing positions while trying to stop the drones from getting any information about the objective’s position and the defense layout.
Watched from an exterior perspective this entire process might seem rather comic but in reality it is deciding the fate of the round. It’s the beginning of an entire match of mind games and tactical decisions taken to outsmart the opponent team into making mistakes which can be easily penalized through a simpler but deadly shooting system.
If I have to get metaphoric about the beginning of each round, I would say that it is like a dance between two enemies trying to find as much as possible about one another before having to face each others on the battlefield.
Small but detailed.
I can see you!
An invitation to go around.


                As the real round starts the game gets extremely intense to a point where I could feel the adrenaline popping through my entire body. Every decision counts being tactical or just the spur of the moment making the difference not only between life and death for you but also for your teammates.
                The Attackers have so many ways to approach the building and the objective to such a degree that makes going solo equal with having a death wish or playing a suicidal mission. As the Attacker team breaches the perimeter the inside of the building opens up like a web of corridors which have danger written all over making advancement a slow-paced coordinated effort where covering ones back is more important than trying to get a few shots on an enemy that is already under fire. The maps might be small, but the traps laid out by the Defenders and all their mischievous tactics transform the short distance to an objective in a hellish walk that seems hundreds of meters away.
                The Defenders’ job is to guard the perimeter around the objectives which is an enclosed almost claustrophobic area filled with barricades, reinforced walls, traps and broken holes in walls offermore vantage position over the enemies. It might sound boring, but it’s far from being so. The Attackers can come from multiple angles and their steps can be heard through the thin walls of the buildings as they tactically breach in from upper or downer floors and even through the windows transforming the patient waiting into a nightmare. A planned defense can succeed without problems even when the riot shields start to swarm in and the bullets fly left and right, but mastering the defense is a hard thing to do. Each map has a building with multiple floors with their own gimmicks that come in handy in certain situations and knowing when to take advantage of the floor’s design is part of a steeper learning process.
                I must say that the few minutes it takes to complete each round were some of the most satisfying I had in an online shooter in quite a while and as a gamer with a liking in tactical play, Rainbow Six Siege is exactly what I was looking for.
The first line of attack.
Come in!


                As is the habit of today’s games, finishing a match awards experience that goes into a ranking system which has no restriction on the player’s progression. Aside from the experience the players are awarded Renown points which is the currency required to unlock Operators, weapon upgrades and some extremely colorful weapon skins. The unlocking system is better than what I’ve seen in most other shooters, not through complexity and variety, but by the liberty of unlocking what you want when you want. The rank doesn’t limit what you can unlock and just by having the Renown necessary you can pick any operator or weapon upgrade in what order you want. The downside of having an unlocking system stands in the fact that the competitive nature of the game doesn’t synergize well with having unlocks into it and this could bother a lot of players, even if the system itself is pretty well designed and it creates less of a problem than it does in other online shooters.
A tank.
Finally some points!


                Rainbow Six Siege is a more complex game than it seems at first with a learning curve focused on positioning, strategy and knowing the maps more than the shooting itself.
At first what the newcomers need to know besides the basic mechanics is that Rainbow Six Siege is not your common run and gun shooter and when the player understands this the game becomes a whole lot bigger. Taking the step from understanding the game’s basics to extreme tactical approaches is an exciting adventure. Planning and executing a tactic designed around a specific map is much more complicated than it seems. Due to the game’s extreme physics a huge part of the learning curve resides in knowing the map and using its destructible terrain to create advantages. The players must know every nook and cranny of a map because even the tiniest crack in the wall can hide a gun waiting to be unloaded. It might feel like the campiest experience a shooter has ever produced (it might as well be), but it is also a mind’s game where solid teamwork and intelligent strategies win over hiding behind cover and waiting.
                The shooting doesn’t require much time to accommodate with. It takes a few shots to kill even the heavy armored Operators and this makes every weapon viable. A pistol bullet in the head is as efficient as a shotgun slug and knowing what weapon to pick for a situation sometimes feel more important than handling it masterfully. Don’t get me wrong, the shooting requires skill because every weapon has enough recoil to require player control in order to be effective and the spraying starts as soon as the finger stays a second too long on the mouse, but I’ve always felt that my position and combat engagement played a more important role than shooting like a pro.
A good variety of upgrades but not enough weapons.
I'm not worried because I have shield!


                I’ve talked a lot about positive stuff about the gameplay, but am I hyping this game? No, this is how I feel about it after probably more than 20 hours of playing during the Beta. Maybe I’m starved for shooters and especially competitive shooters, but Siege’s gameplay is strong and its potential is even higher, but not without flaws.
Many of the game’s problems that bothered a lot of players come from what means to be a Beta Test. Unstable servers, matchmaking failures, lag, tons of errors, balance issues and various bugs are common things that shouldn't really worry the players too much (but being annoyed is completely understandable). The purpose of a Beta is to highlight issues so they can be fixed before launch. But another purpose of testing a game is to gather feedback on the things that need changing or tweaking and I think there is a lot to talk about that here (brace for criticism!).

                With the launch being only two months away there are a few things that worry and there might not be enough time to fix or change them before the game’s launch.
                I’m going to start with the game’s menus which are extremely console friendly and annoying to navigate on PC. But who spends a lot of time in the main menus? Well, anyone who tries to play in a premade Squad has to waste a lot of time in what seems the most uninspired Squad interface I’ve ever seen. The problem comes from Uplay integration into the interface which automatically excludes some of the basic features of the Squad interface. As the invites go through Uplay it means you can only invite friends into your team and because it works as an interface in another interface noticing that you are invited is a harder thing than it should be. It’s hard to understand why a developer would take such poor decisions in a matter that seems so simple and it has been properly done so many times before, but I can’t stress enough the dire need of a change that the game’s interface needs in both functionality and visual aspect.
                The second problem that bothered me to no end comes from a mix of servers, netcode and VOIP. There is something rather odd happening to this game which apparently has dedicated servers but doesn’t behave accordingly. The netcode is skimpy and this comes up a lot when the visuals don’t properly match the hit detection leading to awkward shooting scenarios when one dies behind walls for no reason. The kill camera doesn’t help either since it is the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in such a game, with the replay never matching what actually happened in the round. But that’s not all, the VOIP program has a strange peer to peer hosting system that sometimes freezes the game for one team as the host migrates to a new player, while the other team can move freely.
All these issues put together add to, at times, a clunky gameplay experience that shouldn’t be part of high production value game.
                Last but not least of the problems comes from the game’s AAA price. Siege feels like an AAA title with good graphics, amazing physics and excellent sound design, but I’m not sure it has the content to back it up. The Beta had 3 (small) maps available with 2 game modes, while at launch there will be 11 maps available and an unknown number of modes (probably still 2). The upcoming maps will be available for free so they don’t split the community, but there is still a Season Pass which might mean that future Operators and weapons will be available only for those who pay (terrible thing for such a game). While the number of unique Operators is pretty good the number of weapons isn’t and they tend to repeat from one Operator to another.
                In opposition to any Rainbow Six game to date, Siege doesn’t come with a singleplayer mode or campaign and the only thing that is remotely close to that is the Terrorist Hunt mode which is a coop or solo mode which has players facing a large number bots on the game’s preexisting maps scaled to three difficulties. The diehard fans of the series are going to be extremely disappointed and it’s understandable why, but the series has already changed so much from its original roots that I don’t think this comes as much of a surprise for anyone.
                There are more features missing in the Beta that haven’t been mentioned by Ubisoft officials as being part of the game. Yet, what bothers me the most is the potential lack of a leagues system which ranks players based on their performance and has the matchmaking working accordingly. This feature is the backbone of any competitive title as it expands the game’s life and intensifies the spirit of competition between players.
                Ubisoft’s complete silence in the matter of content is worrying and makes me afraid for this game’s future. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege could turn out to be the competitive shooter that many have been waiting for, but still it’s in the danger zone of disappointment and of dying out without showing its true potential.


                Rainbow Six Siege Beta was a wild ride, with unstable servers, lots of black screens and unrewarded matches yet I loved the game. It has that tactical and competitive feeling that I’ve been searching in the newer shooters but I couldn’t find. Still, I’m not convinced that I won’t be tricked into another déjà vu experience riddled with problems. Ubisoft has to prove that is ready to release an online game free from the problems of the past and support it as its community deserves. Is Rainbow Six Siege going to be that game? I hope so, because this game deserves the best. It’s up to you Ubisoft…




Nodrim

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