Rainbow Six: Patriots Preview
Military games have a tough time of it when it comes to narrative. If you’re ever going to present gamers with a logical reason for killing hundreds of digital soldiers, you have to be sure your writer can strike a balance between jingoism, genuine war horror and believability. Is it any wonder World War II took off as such a popular setting?
It gave developers a clear set of rules to play by with good guys, bad guys and one hell of a moral fighting cause. Today though, many resort to archetypal enemies such as Russians or Koreans, tapping directly into residual Cold War feelings or modern-day paranoia.
Even the Middle East, which rise in popularity as a setting coincided with the conflicts actually taking place there, have now cooled along with the wars (or at least the public perception of the region).
As those conflicts became more complicated and drawn out (not to mention heavily criticised in the mainstream press), the lines between good guys and bad guys blurred.
You might argue that should give developers an even greater palette to tell some never-before-seen war stories, but like the big blockbusters of Hollywood, war in games is best presented with a degree of separation.
Or, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Emotions are always raw and sensitivity is an important issue when it comes to the realistic portrayal of any conflict, but when war-like events occur on home soil, like the shocking attacks of 9/11, the nerve they touch in the public consciousness can be a powerful force.
It’s a modern military game, therefore it must have a rapel section, right?
It’s one of the reasons Ubisoft Montreal’s return to Rainbow Six has us quite so excited. Patriots is not only a return to the original Tom Clancy series that catapulted the brand into the gaming zeitgeist, but it’s also Clancy’s most controversial and provocative series.
Patriots, even an entire year away from release, is looking like one of the most ambitious narrative-focused shooters for sometime. It’s tapping directly into America’s fears of terrorism, and the lack of control it experiences when its citizens are forced into the firing line and it’s doing it all with the customary tactical play we’re used to.
There’s every reason America should be scared, it’s a legitimate fear considering the country’s recent history, including 9/11 and even the Oklahoma City bombing, proving these sorts of horrendous acts can and will happen.
Clancy’s globetrotting anti-terrorism unit is back on watch, though this time looking to the rich source material of the original novels as inspiration, and the stakes have most certainly been raised. Gone is the clinical edge of the original game’s surgical operations.
Also left by the creative waysides are the bright lights and Bruckheimer-thrills of Vegas; for the Rainbow Six chaps, this is a step in an entirely new direction and one that sees Ubisoft Montreal flex its creative muscles.
The biggest of the big blockbusters can no longer rely on increasing the explosions quota, it has to add some brains to the proceedings, too. While the Clancy brand could never be described as lacking in the action department, the games, at least, have generally failed to move beyond panto villains.
In proper high tech fashion, the Rainbow Six team can use different optic tricks.
All that’s changing with Jonah Treadway, leader of the True Patriots. Not much is known of his past, but he speaks with a convincing and un-forced American accent hinting that the threat currently high up the teams list is home grown.
He also hints that his motivations lay behind the recent economic troubles stating to one victim and family man “you cashed in on the foreclosures”. This marks Ubisoft Montreal out as one of the two studios looking to reality for inspiration (along with Rockstar with GTA V).
There’s nothing more dangerous than a villain who believes what he’s doing is right and releasing America from the vice-like grip of the corporate giants and corrupt politicians that preside over the countries future, in Jonah’s eyes at least, would be a fitting task for a group calling themselves the True Patriots. It’s one possible storyline that Ubi, annoyingly enough, is keeping locked away as we take a look at an early build.
A balance is being struck in Patriots, between the traditional shooting the series is famous for and leading players on a narrative journey justifying the action. Though some fans of the series might take umbrage with this approach, it’s hard to deny the drama and excitement it can create.
Alternative perspectives have quickly become the industry’s new creative tool to giving players a glimpse at the bigger picture. More than just showing a family videotaping their young daughter on a London street, moments before she explodes, Ubisoft is exploring the avenues storytelling in this way creates.
The closest technique in film is found in the most explosive blockbusters; it’s akin to the scenes of destruction in Armageddon that jump from one incidental character to another giving you a tiny glimpse into their lives, while also revealing what’s happening on a wider scope.
New York seems to be a popular target for video game terrorists, but it works.
It’s the first thing that springs to mind when our character opens his eyes to see his wife approaching with a birthday cake. ‘Press X to blow out candle’ instructs a prompt, offering the minimal amount of engagement on our part.
It’s unclear if these incidental characters will be anything more than interactive story fillers, but, right now we’re happy to go along with things and it’s not long before Jonah (at least we’re assuming it’s him) is strapping a bomb to our body and shoving us into a truck with instructions to get across town as fast as possible.
The power in this narrative trick comes when we’re given control of the ‘true’ lead character, James Wolfe, squad leader of the Rainbows. Perched atop one of New York’s iconic bridges we spy a whole mess of trouble on the gridlocked road below.
For those worried that the series’ staple strategic edge will be lost among all the theatrics should quell most of those fears with the knowledge that headshots are as lethal here as they are in reality.
Though we’re only privy to a small section of gameplay, and with the release date so far into the future almost everything is subject to change, the balance between action and accessibility seems remarkably well struck.
The lethality of modern combat is constantly reinforced, too. Bullets sound deadly and, if you were in any doubt, witnessing a panicking civilian violently slump to the floor as they catch a stray bullet tells you everything you need to know.
As always, teamwork is the key to success.
There are no superheroes or recharging health screens here. If that’s enough to put you off after months of playing COD, imagine the shock we felt when the enemy AI began to strategically flush us out.
Ubisoft Montreal is particularly proud of the AI and it’s easy to see why. These buggers are way harder to kill than your usual cannon fodder. Ubi is already boasting that in previous games the average life of a terrorist was around four seconds.
In Patriots it’s close to 40. That should give you a good idea how savvy they can be. Things aren’t made much easier with the panicky civilians running around like headless chickens, or even the NYC cops that are doing there best to contain the situation, even if that means shooting at you because you’re a heavily armoured military type.
To give you the edge, the Rainbow’s customary tactics are available, but are accessible via a layered command issuing system, that offers as much or as little tactical choice as you need.
Enhanced vision brings Batman’s vision mode to mind, but it ‘s only useful to an extent. Caution and precision are the order of the day, and Ubisoft is making sure even the best soldiers will face choices difficult to fathom.
Moral options in many games lean towards the binary, but in Patriots the life of your squad and the millions of innocent citizens rest on your soldiers; can you justify killing the few to save the many? Or, more importantly, can Ubi create a story worthy of asking such questions of its players?