Tom Clancy's Rainbow 6: Patriots First Look Preview -- Terrorism EvolvedBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Nov 28, 2011
There’s an unapologetic, almost raw vibe about the new Rainbow Six, Rainbow 6: Patriots, that we haven’t felt before from Ubisoft’s tactical assault series. It even feels like a series reboot, accentuated by changing the franchise branding from “Rainbow Six” to “Rainbow 6.” If it’s not a reboot, it is at least an evolution, something that Ubisoft Montreal is mindful of--along with inspiration from current events--to shape this latest installment in series. The developer/publisher has left Vegas in favor of a serious channel of expression. It’s not about making demands or trading captive officials for prisoners; in Ubisoft’s eyes, many of today’s terrorists are patriotically motivated by this simple thought: We just don’t like you.
The main theme of Rainbow 6: Patriots is what the studio dubs ‘The New Terrorism,’ implying how much things have changed since the series’ 1998 debut. From the game’s perspective, international terror has taken a backseat to the possibility that the real threat can be living right next door. From domestic militia groups to political radicals to former military, the prejudicial approach of assessing someone simply on how they dress has long been thrown out the window. Today, if you want to know what a terrorist might look like, just look in the mirror.
Based off the recent trailer, we know of at least one reference to the foreclosure crisis, and we’re sure that won’t be the only nod to domestic current events in this game. It’s a topical, almost ‘ripped from the headlines’ draw that makes a near-future game like Homefront appear fantastical by contrast. Speaking of which, Rainbow 6: Patriots will have an minor international element, relegating about 20 percent of the story mode content to places outside of the United States. Coincidentally, 20 percent of the gameplay will unfold through the eyes of characters outside of the Rainbow 6 squad.
How Far Would You Go?
Rainbow 6: Patriots is a game of mushy gray areas, where the developers want us to appreciate the motivations of all the characters, no matter how destructive their goals. Ubisoft also wants us to start a morality dialogue, both internal and external. The old dilemma of weighing the deaths of few in order to save the lives of many is a topic that the studio says will play heavily in Patriots.
Even in 2011, it’s a subject very few games have touched, and for the few that do, it’s often limited to a scripted narrative without putting choice in the hands of the player. Rainbow 6 promises to deliver that sense of choice, which would potentially mean different narrative outcomes. As a gamer who seldom ever plays first/third person shooter story modes more than once, the promise of multiple playthroughs of a Tom Clancy game is certainly something worth looking forward to.
Ubisoft might have this goal of making you empathize with every side of the conflict, but they still managed to include a clear cut antagonist to help define the opposition to Rainbow 6 and the game’s main protagonist. This terrorist leader goes by the name of Jonah Treadway, and he’s willing to be a martyr to his cause, especially if it means affecting lasting generational change.
Thankfully our playable Rainbow 6 squad member is the type of guy willing to take ethical shortcuts. However bold the narrative might be, Ubisoft stays grounded by sticking to the traditional three-act storytelling structure. They even went as far as to unveil the titles of the acts (in order): ‘Hunting the Wolf,' ‘Dance with the Devil,' and ‘Scorched Earth.’
With this emphasis on the U.S. comes the incentive to find compelling domestic environments. For Ubisoft Montreal, the vastness and diversity of locales of this country didn’t make this task much of an issue. In replicating the dry, desert settings of the Middle East that has been used over and over in shooters, the studio has their eye on the part-desert, part-lake surroundings of the Salton Sea in California. They also cited Times Square, a place not uncommon in shooters, but Rainbow 6 looks to take it a step further by moving the action underground, to the waterworks beneath the New York landmark. It should be noted that the multiplayer mode will have a more even mix of domestic and international maps.
Heavy Rain of Terror
In showing actual gameplay, Ubisoft presented us with the same series of events that played out in the gameplay trailer, just with a few minor changes. It’s a sequence that begins like a first person take on Heavy Rain, where the player is presented with a couple not-so-life-or-death choices: reading an iPad or watch TV? Within seconds his wife, who has gone from a brunette in the trailer to a blonde, shows up with a candle-lit cupcake.
A button press to blow the candle, another to kiss your wife, the promise of intimate alone time is interrupted by a doorbell ring. The overly idyllic setting and the unusually long time the camera focuses for the wife as she opens the door leaves this blissful setting in doubt. Terrorists barge in, the wife is subdued, and you’re overpowered by men who strap a bomb on you for what is presumably a one-way trip to Times Square.
Like the trailer, the scene transitions with a chloroform haze to the shootout sequence on the Brooklyn Bridge, now with an added background music sample of "I Want You (She’s So Heavy)" by The Beatles. The other noticeable change is that this event is now set at night. Our bomb-strapped hostage and his captors are trying to break through an ambush, taking cover behind car after car. Then suddenly, the camera flies to the perspective of the game’s actual protagonist and his squad.
Now it’s a tense sniping sequence, one that isn’t as clear cut as you might think. The immediate threat isn’t the hostage so much as it is the police on the bridge shooting at him, cops who don’t realize what the hostage is carrying. Therein lies one of the game’s many choices: 1) hurry up and take down the cops, lethal or not, or 2) attempt to take them out of the gun battle by shooting them in the leg even if that takes more time, thereby increasing the chances of the hostage’s bomb getting shot.
After this, the game then goes vertical: a rappelling-while-shooting sequence borne out of Ubisoft’s research into South Korean Special Forces rappel training. As impressive as it was to move methodically as a hostage minutes ago, there was even more tactical precision from the squad when approaching and neutralizing the terrorists. While this was kept as a hands-off demo, it was easy to get a grasp of the "familiar but evolved" tactical user interface.
It’s a U.I. that manages to implement one-button commands without making the experience feel dumbed down. Eventually the hostage is confronted; I say "confronted" as opposed to "saved" since this presents one of the many choice-based sequences found in Patriots. Instead of a remotely triggered bomb countdown and the singular outcome of the scene in the trailer, this new version actually presents the player with a decision: Do you rely on your team’s bomb specialist to disarm the explosive with the little time that’s left or just toss the hostage over the bridge and let him blow up?
It’s a compelling sequence no doubt. Yet, the definitively narrow, out-in-the-open design of a bridge may not be the best setting to showcase the wide variety of tactical approaches that the player will experience through the majority of Rainbow 6: Patriots. As if on cue, the Ubisoft demo spokesman moved on to a utilitarian tech demo to deeply illustrate how tactics on both sides have changed.
Observe, Plan, Assault: Tactics Evolved
As this is a game where perspectives are shifting, there’s a motivating factor in developing intelligent A.I. for all sides. It’s the kind of artificial intelligence that works systematically, not off a complex script. The spokesman brought up an unsubstantiated (but somewhat believable) anecdote that the average lifespan of the typical first/third person shooter enemy--upon encountering by the player--is three seconds. This was to make the point that Ubisoft plans to extend those lifespans much longer in Patriots.
He went on to cite the well-known shooter A.I. exploit of standing outside an enemy-occupied building and firing a gun in the air, thereby triggering a steady funneling of foes out the front door, making them sitting ducks. The spokesman was adamant that won’t happen in Patriots. As he put it, every enemy will have an agenda, a role based on his or her group’s ideals, even if that character might only last eight to 12 seconds from the player’s perspective. To help balance this out, the classic snake cam has given way to a surprisingly revealing vision cam, inspired by the see-through capabilities of the full-body cams at airport security checkpoints.
To illustrate all this, we were presented with a tech demo constructed around the most basic of tactical infiltration structures: a box, stylistically designed as a hostage situation in a simple auto mechanic’s workshop. In the span of 10 minutes, we were presented with about a dozen different ways a three-man squad could approach the single room building, of course with varying results of success or lack thereof. And so begins the questions you play through your head.
With doors on three of the four sides of the building, do you direct your squad-mates to divert attention by kicking down one door while you neutralize the enemies by entering from the door at the opposite side? Do you all charge in through the same door? If so, will you give the privilege of kicking down the door to a teammate, or do you want all the glory of kicking the door yourself?
Of course getting in is half the battle; depending on how you get in the building and let your presence be known, the next stage of engagement within the structure is just another layer of tactics and scenarios you have to consider. Of course, this is unsurprising stuff for any fan of the franchise. How Ubisoft aims to surprise experienced players is a more blended experience between the infiltration and assault aspects of the series, something that the developers admit their past games lacked.
We rounded off this thorough presentation with a demo of Patriots’ multiplayer. Play is spread across similar environments from the Campaign, although tailored to MP, so you’re not using the exact same level from the story. It’s a multiplayer mode where there is just as much time spent on preparation as there is on mission execution. This is accentuated by the Sandtable, a three dimensional blueprint of your chosen MP map.
Sandtable offers the opportunity for a pre-match analysis of the environment and lets you set markers to take advantage of your squad’s skills. Got a good sniper on your team? You can label spots that you think your marksman could set up with his rifle. Perhaps your squad, in a given day, is more assault oriented; now would be a good time to find the best spots on the map to get the upper hand in tighter situations.
As much as we are not short of shooter games in the marketplace, the timely, topical premise of Rainbow 6: Patriots is arguably under-explored, making this theme of domestic terrorism all the more compelling. Whether it be the enthusiast or mainstream press, this game will surely provoke a discussion. Its setting will most likely hit too close to home for some consumers, and the grey-area characterizations will frustrate those used to clear-cut friend/foe classifications.
As a gamer, I’m looking forward to testing my own abilities to think clearly in these time-sensitive scenarios that not only affect me and my squad, but also the public at large. My younger self would gleefully enjoy the trial and error aspects to Rainbow 6: Patriots, where I’d replay certain sequences over and over until I think I got the outcome that I wanted. When Patriots ships in 2013, I’ll resist the compulsion to retry scenes and hopefully feel a great sense of responsibility with all my initial choices.