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Rainbow Six: Siege preview: Hands-on with the most exciting game of E3 2014

"Okay, so uh, let go of the button and you'll place a breaching charge." I dutifully do what I'm told by the watching-over-my-shoulder developer, lurking during my E3 hands-on with Rainbox Six: Siege. The breaching charge takes about five seconds to affix—an eternity as I hang from a grappling hook on the side of the house, completely exposed.

Finally it's in place, though, and I hear the developer pipe up again. "Yeah, so I'd recommend climbing down a little bit to get away from the charge." I do so. "Okay, that should be good," he says.

I trigger the charge and the entire side of the building erupts into fire and splinters. I've blown the entire bedroom wall off with a ferocity that startles even me. There's a pause as both sides admire the destruction, and then the guns go off.

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Preparing a charge to breach a wall in Rainbow Six: Siege.

Shots fired

Rainbow Six lives. It's been six years since the last entry, Rainbow Six: Vegas 2, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the franchise was dead.

But woe unto the unfaithful, Ubisoft has resurrected the series with Rainbow Six: Siege—kind of. How picky are you about names? Did you get upset when EA started slapping the BioWare logo on every damn studio in existence? How about when you played Super Mario Bros 2 and realized it played nothing like a Mario game? What about Battlefield: Hardline's weird tangent into a realm of militarized cops and robbers?

Okay, so Rainbow Six: Siege would be more appropriately titled "That successor to SWAT 4 you never received because Irrational went on to make BioShock and Sierra just sort of died." But that's not a very catchy name, and Ubisoft doesn't own the rights to SWAT, so instead you get Rainbow Six: Siege.

Try to contain your rage. Siege doesn't always play like a Rainbow Six game, but you're going to have to get over that. Why? Because this is one of the best multiplayer experiences I've had in a long time.

Siege eschews the enormous, convoluted environments of old Rainbow Six games for something more concentrated and claustrophobic. We played on the same demo map as the initial reveal trailer—a small house in the suburbs. Terrorists have hidden a hostage inside the house, and it's up to the counter-terrorists outside to either take out all the baddies or save the hostage.

There are two stages to each round: planning and action. In the planning stage, the defenders are out to barricade the house. Each defender is equipped with tools to reinforce walls, barricade doors, and windows, and throw barbed wire around the house. Attackers in this stage take on the form of small, cockroach-like drones that roam around the house, spying on the defender's plans and trying to spot the hostage. If the attackers spot the hostage they'll enter the action phase with a marker showing where the hostage is, saving time during the assault. Of course, defenders can also destroy the drones if spotted, blinding the attackers.

Lights, camera...

Action Phase is basically a fancy term for "Now you get to shoot people." I'm going to go ahead and say that Rainbow Six features an unprecedented amount of environment destruction. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 came close, since you could destroy entire houses with ease, but it was always a robotic sort of destruction—the chunks were so large, you could always tell which pieces you'd blown up.

Siege's focus on small, contained environments is a two-fold boon: It allows for near-constant action, even with a relatively small 5 versus 5 team structure, and it lets levels get beat to hell in progressively smaller chunks.

When you're no longer limited to doors and windows for entry, your options go up ten-fold. In one match, for instance, the terrorists hid the hostage in the basement. We sent two players down the stairs into the basement and had them draw fire. The rest of us waited on the floor above the terrorists until they were engaged, then blew a hole in the basement ceiling and jumped down behind. Chaos. Wonderful chaos.

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Sorry Keanu, you don't want to shoot the hostage in Rainbox Six: Siege.

You end up in an explosive game of chess, where terrorists are trying to anticipate how the attackers will breach the house and set up defenses accordingly. Are they going to come through the bedroom wall? Reinforce the wall so the attempt is met with cold metal. Will they try to shoot through the bedroom windows instead? Put up shields facing that direction so you'll have some cover.

And though our team was made up of a bunch of newcomers, there's plenty of space for high-level play. We watched the developers play for a few rounds, and the tactics they used were even more intimidating—shooting holes in the wall, for instance, so they could watch the other team walk up the stairs. We're so trained by decades of games without these features, it's easy to forget. We lost one round because an enemy took cover behind a wall, and rather than just shooting through it our teammate ran past the wall to try and shoot.

Rainbow Six: Siege is the first game I've seen make use of next-gen tech to enhance game mechanics, not just graphics, and for that it immediately became my favorite game at this year's E3. There's plenty that could go wrong—generic-feeling levels, exploitive tactics, toxic community, or an enormous skill barrier preventing new players from getting accustomed to the game are but a few examples of potential road bumps for the game.

As a demo, though? Rainbow Six: Siege is already a stunning testament to what can be done now that developers are unshackled from the restraints of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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