In 1996 author Tom Clancy, famous for his military novels such as The Hunt for Red October, set up Red Storm Entertainment to move into the world of video games, with the original plan being to develop a game revolving around special operations on an international scale, such as rescuing hostages and defusing bombs. It just so happened that at the time Clancy was writing a book called Rainbow Six, and from there the series of the same name was born, following an elite group of operatives working to take down international terrorist groups, often discovering dark secrets along the way.
When Rainbow Six was released for the PC in 1998, it was advertised as "a combination of explosive action and real life strategy," and part of its appeal was that it wasn't like other shooters. Instead of blasting through hordes of enemies, this was far more tactical, with bullets killing enemies in a few hits, an emphasis on planning, and the use of a team rather than simply being a lone wolf. This started a successful series of Rainbow Six titles that would prove to be popular in future generations too, spawning a number of games and expansion packs for a variety of consoles.
Throughout the series there have been many changes in terms of gameplay. Rainbow Six: Lockdown, for instance, had you participate in sniping missions, a bit like a shooting gallery, and also included rather linear levels. Later we saw a major change with Rainbow Six: Vegas. Vegas 1 and 2 used third-person perspectives in times such as rappelling and in cover, as well as regenerating health and tougher AI, all of these new features signalling a change of pace for the series.
In 2011, Ubisoft announced Rainbow Six: Patriots, which would involve Team Rainbow going into New York City to deal with a terrorist group called the True Patriots, the first new entry into the series since Rainbow Six made their way to Las Vegas. In 2014, however, the project was cancelled, along with the concept, and in its place came a new game - Siege.
This latest release in the series arrived in late 2015, which was the first since Tom Clancy's passing in 2013, and this also saw a couple of big changes to the series, the biggest of which was the absence of a single-player campaign. Like Star Wars Battlefront in the same year, Ubisoft had decided to take out the campaign to focus the game more around multiplayer, a bold move considering the heritage of the series. What this meant, though, is that the whole game was crafted with this aspect in mind, and it was deeper than any multiplayer Rainbow Six experience before it as a result.
Ubisoft were clearly keen on getting it right on release, even delaying it from October to December of 2015 to try and adjust, improve, and utilise feedback from testing. When the game did eventually come out on December 1, there were 11 maps, but from the start Ubisoft made it clear that they were committed to the longevity of the game, as additional maps and weapons were always planned as free DLC for players. Microtransactions were also included to speed the accumulation of points for items, but Ubisoft insists this doesn't give an advantage in gameplay.
A season pass was also announced for the game, including exclusive skins, cosmetic bonuses, and early access to DLC packages, however, the important thing to note is that the paid-for content is purely cosmetic, and doesn't affect gameplay, so there's no in-game advantage to those who shell out more cash.
The first year's free maps have already been released in their entirety, the first, Operation Black Ice, being released in February last year, followed by Operation Dust Line, Operation Skull Rain, and Operation Red Crow, released in November. That's not all, though, as Ubisoft has confirmed that a second season's worth of content is coming, with four new maps planned, set in Spain, South Korea, Poland, and Hong Kong respectively, with the second season also bringing additional content aside from maps as well, the same early access being given to season pass holders.
Highlights of the first year's maps include Black Ice's Yacht, which sees you take on a yacht embedded in ice, with a labyrinth of tight corridors and hallways to explore and fortify inside. Another highlight is Favela, included in Operation Skull Rain, which includes back streets of vivid favelas in Brazil, with bright colours and plenty of hiding spaces available.
Why has Ubisoft committed to a second season already though, something that we don't often see being done? Well, for a start, the first year was very well received, and the game itself got a positive reception when people started playing it. Although the launch wasn't earth-shattering in terms of sales, players appreciated the nuanced, tactically-driven action, with the tense matches being a key part of this, as defending and attacking both rely on make-or-break moves that can tilt the game in your favour. With little margin for error, the matches in Rainbow Six: Siege are always guaranteed to be exciting.
But the appeal isn't just in the tense gameplay, it's also in the design. Destructible environments, for example, are a key feature players can use to get a tactical advantage over their opponent, as walls can be broken, barricades breached, and ceilings destroyed to provide entry points or lines of sight, meaning the tactical options are almost limitless. You always need to be on your toes then, and work together to make sure your team uses the environment in the best way. If one member of your team drops the ball, you can be sure the rest of you will know about it.
Audio feeds into the considered design of Rainbow Six: Siege, as it's so important to pay attention to the sounds around you. Footsteps, breaches, gunfire, and more can all give away enemy positions, and it's therefore critical to use these to locate where the action is going on, especially considering how eerily quiet it can be waiting for the enemies to pounce on your fortified position.
On top of all this, new content keeps all of these options fresh and varied, as new operators, maps, and weaponry all allow more tactical options to be explored (whereas the new skins and other cosmetic features just let you look cooler). Take for instance Capitão, who was introduced through Operation Skull Rain; his crossbow can fire asphyxiating bolts which can flush enemies out of a certain area from afar, something that wasn't possible before. Defensively, Frost was another newbie introduced in Operation Black Ice, and also allows a new option in that her welcome mats can exploit those who try to rush in and don't check their surroundings, incapacitating them.
The great thing about these operators is that they also don't need to be paid for. Sure, you can use real life money to pay for points to unlock them quicker, but you can also instead earn points through playing to unlock them, something which fans appreciated. It wasn't an unreasonable time demand either to accumulate these points, and the fact that no one operator is solidly better than another means that its not pay to win, it just means you have the option to pay if you want to unlock more varied characters quicker.
With such a reliance on tactics, it's no wonder an esports community has been built around the game. ESL has run two seasons of the Rainbow Six: Siege Pro League so far, and there's an upcoming invitational tournament in Montreal, Canada, in February this year as well, with $200,000 US dollars at stake. In these tournaments, the tactical side of the game is considered much more carefully, and watching teams execute plans with precision can be masterful. Big names have already established teams for Rainbow Six: Siege too, such as FlipSid3 Tactics, Ferocity Esports, and GiFu.
So with an esports scene that is still strong, along with a community of players who continue to enjoy the game, there's no reason why Siege can't continue to be a popular tactical shooter all the way through 2017, bolstered by new content to keep fans on their toes. We definitely haven't seen the last of Rainbow Six: Siege, and we're eager to know what else Ubisoft has in store for the game, both for the 6 Invitational and beyond.