Before diving into the biggest issues with the current Alpha build of Rainbow Six Siege, I have to step back and offer Ubisoft a bit of credit. Hating on one of the biggest publishers in the world is definitely a popular trend, but for Ubi to release a playable alpha that was indeed, you know, an alpha is fantastic.
In today’s world, alphas and betas seem to be marketing tools more than open tests that developers can use to make the launch game better. The Destiny First Look Alpha was nothing more than a smaller version of the Beta, which itself was just the first part of the finished game. Hell, none of Destiny‘s biggest pre-launch issues (overpowered multiplayer vehicles, an world that was lacking any semblance of unification, repetition, and long loading times) seemed to be changed after the countless hours console gamers spent “testing” Bungie’s hugely popular title. The Evolve Alpha and Beta did give Turtle Rock reason to patch the still-overpowered Wraith, but other than that those early builds seemed to be geared more towards building up hype for a title that clearly has lost its place in the mind of the public. For Rainbow Six Siege to be playable in its current development state, visual downgrade and all, shows that Ubisoft is committed to making their upcoming tactical first-person shooter the best it can be. This is one of the roughest AAA alphas we’ve seen in quite some time, but the fact that it was put out there in a closed setting is certainly intriguing.
With that said, I’m not entirely convinced that Rainbow Six Siege is actually fun. You can iron out all of the technical issues you want (believe me, there’s no chance that this comes out in 2016 unless Ubisoft Montreal’s around the clock polishing crunch period starts right now), but that won’t mean much if the core concept is flawed. For a title that seems to be billing itself as an action-packed, strategy-filled, immersive experience, it sure has a lot of moments where players are sitting around doing nothing. If I find myself wondering how many games of Threes I can get in during pregame lobbies, post-death waiting periods, and loading screens, that’s a bona fide problem.
This isn’t to say that Rainbow Six Siege does everything wrong. The latest Tom Clancy title does have a number of tense moments, namely when a player is the only person left on his or her team or when someone figures out the best way to get a kill through a wall. Winning a round single-handedly, or with the help of a well-organized squad can be incredibly rewarding. Still, it’s not as if tense, single-life multiplayer gameplay hasn’t been done before. The one mode included in the Rainbow Six Siege, in which teams alternate between defending and trying to capture a hostage, is essentially Call of Duty‘s Search & Destroy mode with said hostage replacing the bomb. When you think about it this way, the only real changes Ubisoft Montreal is making to gameplay we’ve seen for nearly a decade is the inclusion of destructible environments and pre-defined character classes sporting some interesting equipment. Yes, this last point does make Siege intriguing in a sense, but when you consider that its shooting is nowhere near as polished or tight as that of Call of Duty (which is still the standard for modern first-person shooter mechanics), the trade-off eliminates a great deal of its novelty.
Rainbow Six Siege‘s biggest crime is its dreadfully slow pace. I willingly acknowledge that some gamers are looking for a plodding, methodical first-person shooter, but when you combine Siege‘s low game-speed with its insane intermission lengths, the result is a game you spend more time watching than playing. Ubisoft Montreal may have been able to get away with this a decade ago, but it’s hard not to wonder if this will turn of a great deal of its player=base in a time where dozens of shooters are constantly competing for our attention. Aggressive play is almost always punished with a swift death, something that isn’t inherently negative on its own, but Rainbow Six Siege lacks the gameplay variety necessary to ultimately make conservatism engaging. You’re basically forced to play a certain way, and if you deviate from that path, you’re probably going to find your round over. Again, some players enjoy tiptoeing around a map or sitting in a corner for minutes at a time, and I’m not saying that those who feel this way are wrong, but the hoards of other shooter fans who don’t find this fun should steer clear of Rainbow Six Siege entirely.
Of course, the always convenient excuse of, “It’s just an alpha, dude,” can be used to refute a great deal of the points made in any preview for Rainbow Six Siege, but this logic is often used lazily. If a certain gameplay element is totally awesome, you never hear people telling others that this is simply a pre-launch build and things could change. Likewise, anyone’s negative opinion on anything, no matter how well it’s backed up, can be brushed off with this type of comment. For the sake of argument, let’s say that the two-to-three minute load times between rounds and matches completely disappear by the time Rainbow Six Siege officially launches.
If you’re the type of person who would counteract my complaint about the Closed Alpha’s excessive loading with a remark about its early status, I 100% can see where you’re coming from. However, in a game where all of your classes are pre-defined and there are only ever four spawn points to choose from, how can thirty second selection periods for each of these things be justified? That’s a full minute to do two things that often take five to ten seconds each, at best. Take that extra forty to fifty seconds and add it up over the course of seven rounds, and this feels like a fatal design flaw. It’s entirely possible to die within ten seconds of a round in Rainbow Six Siege, so there’s a chance that sub-par players could find themselves waiting over seven minutes over the course of a game to try their luck at improving. I consider myself to be a completely average Siege player, and these insane intermission times turned me off in their totality. The idea that players looking to get into a more tactical shooter could find themselves waiting to play more than actually playing and learning brings up a critical question: is Rainbow Six Siege‘s design and pace holding it back from potential mainstream success?
It’s worth going into some of the issues with the PC version, and the Closed Alpha as a whole, of Rainbow Six Siege, as a great deal of issues lend credence to the idea that a delay is imminent. From the looks of things, Rainbow Six Siege has received a pretty noticeable visual downgrade since it stole the show at E3. Perhaps this is a result of there being no PC graphics options other than resolution and VSync, but it’s still a bit shocking to see textures with zero detail and assets that look like they’re straight out of the doldrums of the Unity Asset Store (check out the tools in the House’s garage). A great deal of the surfaces in Siege have different destruction properties, and there should be a tangible level of surface distinction that simply isn’t present at this time. The audio quality of Rainbow Six Siege‘s voice chat is downright atrocious, an unforgivable sin in a game that’s biggest appeal is teamwork-based action. Combine this with a dedicated lack of push-to-talk and it’s clear that communication needs some serious work. Finally, it’s disappointing that more surfaces, namely building exteriors, aren’t destructible. This limits the amount of freedom that Siege is able to grant players, a painful fact when you consider that Rainbow Six Siege thrives on improvisational destruction.
Even though I’ve been openly critical of Rainbow Six Siege up to this point, I still found myself weirdly addicted to it. It’s weird to think that I generally disliked my time with a game that I couldn’t stop playing for a few days, but that’s exactly what happened. Still, even if Rainbow Six Siege is addictive for a great deal of those who wind up purchasing the final version, it’s hard to see a great deal of its design choices panning out in the long run. I, for one, hope I’m completely proven wrong, since no one wants to see major games disappointing the masses. Hopefully this Closed Alpha tempers the public’s expectations after Rainbow Six Siege stole everyone’s hearts at E3 2014 because extended playtime reveals a title that doesn’t quite maintain its initial positive impression.