Rainbow Six Siege isn't just exploding through the door of FPS convention and blasting the competition away with its snazzy physics, but it’s got the opportunity to bring the series back to its roots. When the original Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six debuted in 1998, machismo laced brawny shooters like id Software’s Doom and Quake dominated the genre. It was a time where twitch reflexes and a speedy trigger finger took precedence over careful strategy and teamwork. But Rainbow Six changed all that. Suddenly careful planning and communication were tantamount to
success, and, crucially, charging  into battle lone wolf style was more likely to take you out of the game than secure an early match lead. The No Respawn rule was the reason that game had such lethality and tension and it is one of the defining choices that shaped the development of the latest sequel in the franchise, Rainbow Six Siege.


“It was a surprisingly good change and we didn't think it was going to work,” says game designer and former SOCOM developer Chris Lee, on the game’s official blog. “I thought that only the most hard core players would like it. It turned out that it really opened up the game to many different types of players.” What it did was establish the three core pillars that underpinned the gaming experience: teamwork, tactics and tension.

For months, Ubisoft Montreal had a more traditional respawn system put in place and found during internal tournaments that not only were the same few players crowned victorious time and time again, but also they weren't playing as a team. Once the No Respawn rule was instigated (or the One Life system as it’s referred to internally at the studio) it required a completely different mindset and shifted the emphasis away from twitch reflexes.
 “The One Life [system] puts well rounded players at an advantage over pure run and gunners”
“The developers who were longtime FPS players initially found it difficult because they were only good at reaction time,” continues Lee. “They weren't communicating, playing tactically, or thinking about the consequences. Their K/D ratio was high before, but after introducing One Life, they stopped thinking about K/D ratios and more about how each player could work together for the win.

“Developers who weren't as good before played slower, thought carefully about the situation, and ended up doing better on the leaderboard. Because One Life rewards this kind of behaviour, it puts well rounded players at an advantage over pure run and gunners, which is what the Tom Clancy franchise is all about. They utilise a complete skill set and the rest of the development team really liked that, since going back to its roots is what we wanted to do and the rule stuck. It wasn't something we predicted, and we were really happy with how it turned out.”

Of course, it’s not a new concept. Counter-Strike has utilised the model for several years, and there are various modes in popular console first-person shooters that also adopt it for more tactical playstyles. But there's a reason why it hasn't become the predominant game type and that’s because it presents an inherent problem: what do you do once you’re dead? If your operator has been taken out of the round in other games you’re turned into a spectator, spending a lot of minutes waiting to get back into the action. Who has the patience for that these days?

Not a lot of people, by Ubisoft Montreal’s reckoning. That’s why the studio is doing something a bit different with One Life, deciding to keep players actively involved in the action even after they’ve been taken off the battlefield.

But what you lose in firepower on the ground you gain in information. From the viewpoint of drones, security cameras and the dispatch chopper hovering above the location, your dead teammates can relay important intel about enemy activity in the operation zone. The studio is calling this Support mode, and it’s an integral component to the central gameplay, balancing firepower against information. And it also enabled the designers to construct something unique within the genre.

“One example is that you might find that the objective is in the master bedroom,” explains game designer Andrew Witts on the game’s blog. “As defenders, you have a strategy where you put a guy on each floor to flank and punish attackers sieging the house. As soon as one defender goes down, though, you have to regroup the entire team around the objective. Maybe you’re down 4 vs. 5 and the attackers are coming in through the basement. There are only two stairways up and your dead teammate gives you info on where they’re coming up. You trap one stairway and blow a hole in the other one, rerouting the attackers through a choke point where you can get the drop on them.”

It’s all about teamwork, map awareness, planning, adaptability, communication, and leadership. Why Rainbow Six Siege is looking so impressive isn’t just because of the swanky physics that let you blow through a wall, unload a few shotgun rounds in an enemy, before surgically extracting a hostage from the location. It’s because of a combination of ideas and mechanics that mould the game into an immersive and tactical shooter that requires more than just aiming your crosshair and holding down the trigger. Time will tell whether the One Life system and its attempts to keep downed players integrated in the match will drag shooter enthusiasts away from their holy Team Deathmatch. But in looking back at where the series began, Ubisoft looks to be pushing the series forward in an exciting new direction.

 “I think it’s really cool to rediscover and reiterate on some old points and basics in a tactical game,” says Wells. “When you go back to  Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, you go back to one of the first tactical shooters, seeing what makes it tick, deconstructing it and then reassembling it for the current generation. Being a part of that is really cool as a fan of the previous games. I’ve seen the metamorphosis and it’s great to rediscover the basics.”