Tight shoot outs, no respawns and claustrophobic maps; Rainbow Six: Siege is the most tense shooter Matt Martin has played all year.
"Friendly fire is just one of many elements that make short Rainbow Six: Siege matches some of the most tense shooting experiences I've had in years."
You don't have to be good at shooters to enjoy Rainbow Six: Siege, but make sure whoever's on your team understands the meaning of "friendly fire".
Because friendly fire is on. You know, live rounds. We are not playing around here, people. Bullets kill, which is fine if you're pointing the gun at an enemy, but not if you're accidently waving it around in front of your squad mates, fumbling with the safety and asking "what does this button do?"
Friendly fire is just one of many elements that makes short Rainbow Six: Siege matches some of the most tense shooting experiences I've had in years. Honestly, years.
Playing with four other randoms on your team is fine once lessons have been learnt quickly. Both teams in Siege get 30 seconds before the match begins to prepare. The attacking team controls remote cameras to zip around the map, trying to locate enemies, the objective and anything else that might help breach the building.
The defenders get to whack up barricades on windows, doors and plaster walls, and hand out any supplies that might be useful to other team members. It's at this point, during round one, that a teammate accidentally shot me in the back. I was just securing a window and I'm dead within the first couple of seconds. Yes my friend, your gun certainly does work. There's no respawn here.
Round two goes better. Defending a building is about placing your barricades where you anticipate enemies to come from, and this changes depending on where you objective is. Maps are small from a bird's eye view, but with multiple stories, corners, doors and cover, they feel like they've had as much attention put into them as any sprawling open world map.
This makes for intense gameplay. You can squat and camp, covering a door and a window and maybe another exit from one spot. But plasterboard is weak and liable to explode with gunfire, so there are lines of fire you won't see until someone opens them up with a shell or explosive. You're not just attacking other players, you're attacking the environment.
While attackers need to push to the objective, there's good reason for defenders to be more pro-active. You can sit on top of your objective all day but will enemies expect you to come and meet them at the gate with a shotgun? This mental tension, where you try to out-think your opponent and one-up them, is what drives Rainbow Six forward. The mental pay-off of outsmarting someone is as rewarding as the act of putting a bullet in them.
One gunshot can lead a whole pack of enemies to your location, or it can take down the final bad guy. The constant gamble feels unique in this combination of co-op and competitive. You need to communicate closely as a team of five to stay alive and achieve your objective at the same time as wiping out your foes. And it's all under a time limit, with limited firepower, gadgets and no mistakes allowed. You die and you won't get back up again.
"Entire matches balance on a knife edge; on a split-second reaction, a single bullet, well-placed mine, glimpse in the corner of your eye or a simple, stupid mistake."
The third round is bitter sweet for me but it shows how the game turns on a dime. The clown who accidentally shot me earlier leaves to be replaced with one of the dev team. As he takes up his position during the 30 second countdown his "finger slips" and he sprays the nearest wall, me included. I'm down to 10 percent health. Can you believe this shit?
Regardless of the damage, I manage to hold my ground, defend the objective and get the last two kills of the match to push us to victory. One was a lucky panic shot but the final kill was down to some slick spacial negotiation and fortune-favours-the-brave attitude. Rainbow Six can bring out the best in you.
A game like this takes real skill to craft and I'd expect it to find a dedicated group of players. It has that same appeal as Counter-Strike did back in the day (and still does), where tactics evolve the more you play it. It seems minimal to begin with - 5v5, small maps, no respawn - but it means that every small variable counts. Because entire matches balance on a knife edge; on a split-second reaction, a single bullet, well-placed mine, glimpse in the corner of your eye or a simple, stupid mistake.
Rainbow Six: Siege launches on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on October 13.