Tactics, Teamwork and Tough Choices in Rainbow 6: Patriots

How far would you go to save a life? To save lives? Would you sacrifice an innocent civilian to save a hundred more? Ubisoft's recently unveiled tactical shooter Rainbow 6: Patriots aims to tackle those tough (or at least, dramatic) questions. Last week, I headed down to Ubisoft's headquarters in San Francisco to get an early look at the game. While it's not yet in full production—it's slated for release in 2013—what I saw looked like a strong iteration on Rainbow Six: Vegas's tactical gameplay wrapped in a single-player campaign that just may present a new perpective on video game terrorism.

Shortly after the press arrived at Ubisoft HQ, we were shown a slideshow laying out the general vision for Rainbow 6: Patriots. The theme for the new game will be the "New Terrorism," the threat that comes from within. In the single-player campaign, a group called The True Patriots, led by a man named Jonah Treadway, have set into motion a plan to cause unspecified havoc in America, targeting New York City in particular. Team Rainbow is being led by a man named Wolfe, a man who "knows that counter-terrorism fails. He knows that he has to eliminate the True Patriots, and he's willing to take ethical shortcuts to get ahead of them."

Yes, okay, this does not sound particularly gripping or original. In fact, it sounds something like Ubisoft's own 2007 game Splinter Cell: Double Agent, or maybe a season of FOX's long-running (but now-cancelled) TV show "24." The True Patriots are upset about the way that the elite of the country have taken advantage of the poor (which is a timely hot-button issue) but also that some are former military servicepeople who returned home from fighting abroad to discover that their country had abandoned them. That second reason is less interesting to me, only insofar as it was the same motivation as Ed Harris' band of terrorists in The Rock, and feels a bit like an excuse to have lots of highly trained enemies to fight.

The most interesting-looking thing about the story is how it will be presented from a variety of perspectives. 80% of the campaign will be played from the perspective of the counterterrorism team Rainbow 6 (Who have changed their name from "Rainbow Six," as it was in past games) but the remaining 20% will be played from the perspective of other characters, from innocent civilians to first responders like ambulance drivers and firefighters, to even the terrorists themselves.

Ubisoft's Phil Therien took us through a single player mission that was, essentially, the same as the target gameplay video that Ubisoft released a couple of weeks ago. (You can watch over to the side). The main difference was that it was running on a PS3 and the graphics had been rendered into the Assassin's Creed engine—basically, everything looked more like a video game and less like a pre-rendered target video. Also, it was playable—Therien was really playing the game was we watched, so a few small things came out differently.

(Ubisoft did not send along any in-game assets, so the images of the sequence in this post are taken from the target video: they aren't new, and aren't quite representative of how the game we saw looked. That said, the underlying events are almost identical.)

To sum up the events of the video: It starts with a scene from the perspective of a man lounging around his lovely house with his beautiful wife, his baby sleeping in the other room. It's his birthday! How nice for him. Suddenly, a group of armed men kick the door open, knock down his wife, and savagely club the man into unconsciousness. When he awakens, he is tied to a chair—the terrorist leader stands over him, knife in hand. The man's wife is bound and gagged, his baby crying out for him in the other room. "Very nice place you've got here," the terrorist leader says, "You really must did cash in everyone else getting foreclosed, didn't you? Today you're gonna make up for that." The captive is placed inside of an explosive-filled vest and given a detonator, which he must keep depressed, let his vest explode. He's informed that he must make it to Times Square or the terrorists will "field dress [his wife] like a deer." His baby, it is promised, will receive the same treatment.

A quick cut later, the hapless bomber is in a van crossing the Brooklyn Bridge when he and his new terrorist chums come under fire from unseen enemies. (Side note: In the target video, I swear that the guy who says "We're not going to make it" is Elias Toufexis, the voice actor who played Adam Jensen in Deus Ex: Human Revolution). Bullets fly through the walls of the van and one by one, the bomber's armed escort go down. In the new demo, there was an added sequence where the man makes his way behind his captor through cover while holding down R2 to keep the bomb from going off. Soon after making his way outside, a car in front of the man explodes, knocking him backwards to the ground. (This is all a little bit different than the target video.)

Tactics, Teamwork and Tough Choices in Rainbow 6: Patriots

At this point the game quickly switches perspective to the counter-terrorism team Rainbow 6, who are stationed on top of one of the Brooklyn Bridge's supports. The elite team is firing down at the terrorists on the bridge, a triumphant American Flag flapping in the background. Seriously. The flag we saw was about eight times bigger than the flag in the target video. Anyway, the team uses a sort of augmented-reality vision to track the man with the bomb (the same man who we were just controlling), and after clearing out some of the enemies around him, they rappel down the front of the support and down into traffic, killing a few terrorists on the way down.

Therien fought his way up to the bomber, who was standing still and trying to explain the situation. Team Rainbow's leader Wolfe came to the front, making the call that there wasn't time to disarm the bomb before it blew, hoisting the man up and over the edge of the bridge just before he explodes, sacrificing him in order to save Team Rainbow and everyone else still on the bridge.

Players will no longer use the snake-eye lens to look under doors, opting instead for a red-hued augmented reality lens similar to detective mode in Batman: Arkham City.

After showing us this segment, Therien demonstrated a controlled demo of the new tactics and AI tweaks. The setup was a breach-and-clear scenario that would be familiar to anyone who played Rainbow Six: Vegas. Inside of a square space, about eight terrorists were holed up with a single hostage held at gunpoint in the back of the room. Team Rainbow—the player and two AI teammates—was set up outside.

Therien stressed that the development team was still focusing on the Rainbow 6 standard progression of Observe, Plan, Act, or "OPA." The first big change was to the "Observe" part, as players will no longer use the snake-eye lens to look under doors, opting instead for a red-hued augmented reality lens similar to detective mode in Batman: Arkham City. Enemies are highlighted in red through the wall, which allows for tactical planning. While it would appear that the Augmented Reality system can only be used for limited periods of time, Therien set up a cheat to allow him to leave it on so that he could show us what was happening in the room.

Therien sent his team into the room in stealth mode. The player's teammates can no longer be split up, as they now act as a complimentary AI pair and theoretically react realistically to the situation around them. They know what is the best plan of action for a given space, and behave much closer to real people (or at least, hopefully less like total morons) than they have in the past. Therien then showed us a number of different ways the scenario could play out if he instructed his AI teammates to clear the room while he himself stood aside and watched.

They could go around the side and kick a door right into one of the terrorists, going in loud—that cost the hostage, but allowed them to clear the room of bad guys. They could also go in silent, and Therien was able to tag different enemies for different unique tactics. He tagged one guy in the room with a smoke grenade icon, and tagged the man holding the hostage with a "shoot first" icon. The team then knew that their orders were to lob a smoke grenade into the room and attack, and would automatically understand that it was better to throw the grenade first, then shoot.

That sounds kind of funny—this is fairly elementary stuff for a an elite anti-terrorism unit. But given the boneheaded ways that teammates have acted in some past Ubisoft games (Ghost Recon comes to mind, as does Rainbow Six: Vegas), smarter teammates will be entirely welcome.

Therien finally got involved in the action himself, which yielded much more successful results. By having his teammates breach from the left while he entered from the right, he was able to plan out some fairly specific tactics, cuing shots at specific enemies and relying on his team to cover one another and him as they breached.

Tactics, Teamwork and Tough Choices in Rainbow 6: Patriots

The tactics on display weren't hugely different from those of Rainbow Six: Vegas, but they were more granular and refined. I'm not entirely certain that the granular controls (e.g. telling my teammates who, exactly, in the room gets a smoke grenade in the face) will be necessary, or if they'll actually make the game feel all that different from Vegas. That said, Therien seemed confident in how different it feels to play, and after speaking with him, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In a cool touch, the ability to give your team voice commands will make a return to Patriots. While Therien wouldn't comment specifically about the Kinect, he allowed that it made sense that the Kinect is what they would be using for the Xbox 360 version. Given the Kinect integration on Ubisoft's other tactical Tom Clancy franchise Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, it seems all but assured that we'll see Kinect voice-commands in Rainbow 6: Patriots.

After the single-player demo ended, we got a short look at Multiplayer. Ubisoft's Simon LaRouche, Patriots's lead multiplayer designer, took over the presentation. He started with the game's menus, which are designed to be immersive—once you begin playing Rainbow 6: Patriots, you do most the menu navigation from within Team Rainbow's virtual headquarters.

Tactics, Teamwork and Tough Choices in Rainbow 6: Patriots

I liked the look of the Sandtable, which contains holographic representations of each multiplayer map, each of which players can visit solo or as a team to walk through and plan out tactics. This is very cool. It appeared to be possible to assign various routes, positions, and tactics to button shortcuts that can then be called up on the fly during an actual match.

This is particularly useful because the game allows for multiplayer team leaders to give orders on the fly. Each team can easily select a squad leader, who is then able to issue waypoints and tactics that are only visible to his teammates. I didn't get a sense of how players will select team leaders—it's easy to imagine that many deathmatches will be leaderless free-for-alls—but it's a neat feature, and highly reminiscent of Ubisoft's other upcoming tactical shooter, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier.

After planning tactics in the Sandtable, players enter a matchmaking lobby, which continues the focus on immersion by looking like the belly of a jump-jet. As each player enters the "lobby," they'll have a seat across from the other players.They can then talk to each other, cordially asking about the weather, talking about their day, and generally having a fine old time. Or, you know, calling one another bitches and offering profanity-laced predictions about the probability of future teabagging.

So, how far would I go? I'm not sure yet.

Despite all of the focus on planning and teamwork, I still get the sense that Patriots' multiplayer will be quite a bit like that of past Rainbow 6 games. Spotting and tagging enemies will play a big role—after entering a room, you'll have an "instinct icon" that flashes at the bottom of the screen, notifying you that someone has eyes on you. (This would be a good time to take cover.) If you spot an enemy, they can remain "spotted" for your entire team, showing up on their huds in a red outline until they go out of sight, after which point the outline fades after three seconds.

LaRouche didn't share too many details, since much of the game is so early in production that he couldn't comment on many specifics. When he and Therien were asked about the popular Terrorist Hunt mode from past Rainbow 6 games, they both smiled. "It should be cool, if such a thing existed," he said, winkingly. "That's a good idea. Maybe we should think about it." So: most likely, we're going to get some kind of Terrorist Hunt in Patriots.

All told, Rainbow 6: Patriots is shaping up to be a strong tactical shooter, but the jury's out on whether it will truly deal with terrorism in a new, challenging way. I was more impressed by the target video than some, and speaking with Therien assuaged a lot of doubts that may have lingered. (I'll have a full interview with him up soon.) At the very least, the Patriots team is honestly trying to do something different.

So, how far would I go? I'm not sure yet. We've got a long way until Rainbow 6: Patriots is complete, and I'm certain that Ubisoft will show us more of the game between now and then. For the time being, it looks like fans of the new direction the franchise took with Vegas will find a lot to like in Patriots, as will multiplayer shooter fans looking for a game that values tactics over twitch.

how far would you go
to right the wrongs of the world?
would you bake a pie?


You can contact Kirk Hamilton, the author of this post, at kirk@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.