There are a lot of first-person shooter games out there. The list is so staggeringly long, it’s imperative for developers to make their game unique. This is why the most recent Call of Duty games have evolved from the modern feel of their recent hits and jumped into the technological future. Yet no matter how many changes are brought on to make a game or series different, there is usually one typical truth: the bigger gun you have, the more likely you can kill your enemies. Sure, any gun is deadly, and a real pro can do a lot of damage with your typical assault rifle or even a pistol. However, it’s much easier to survive if you’re the one using a chain gun, well-stocked rocket launcher, or even a freaking tank. It’s entirely possible for a lone player to win an entire match if they know how to use a single vehicle or gun properly in nearly any game.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six set out to change that usual style. When the first game was spun-off the hit novel way back in 1998, its appearance wasn’t unlike its competition. Someone holding a gun can only look so different after all. What made Rainbow Six unique was its approach to using those weapons in your character’s hands. Instead of games like GoldenEye or Call of Duty where it took several bullets in succession to take someone down, Rainbow Six was heavily focused on keeping its content realistic. Sometimes all it took to complete a mission was a single bullet and a few minutes. However, the same reality applied to your controlled character, which meant you really needed to plan before storming in to kill terrorists or rescue hostages. Constant repetition was necessary if you wanted to survive, and death was permanent for supporting characters so you’d have to start over if you really wanted someone around. Suddenly, all the players who were used to running in with a hail of bullets had to step back and think their actions carefully.
Other games had done this before, but Rainbow Six is what made the style popular and gave it an official title: tactical first-person shooter. These games are occasionally nicknamed “soldier sims” because, compared to regular FPS games, they’re more in line with actual military combat. It also meant a much greater emphasis on teamwork. The vast majority of games, regardless of how normal the setting is, put you up as the lone wolf. You could play a game like Medal of Honor with World War II as the setting and completely pull yourself through the war solo like a freaking superhero. If you were to pull this in Rainbow Six, you’d lose fairly quickly. You need your team to win because a good soldier is nothing without their fellow fighters. This leads to entirely new modes of gameplay and some very intense multiplayer matches.
The series focus on counter-terrorism group Rainbow also fits the tactical genre much better. Even though all actual military forces operate in a manner similar to this, games that feature full armies usually have the big gun, lone wolf format. This is simply the mainstream style and it’s how the FPS genre has become so popular. In an effort to delineate away from the norm, any games featuring special or covert operations have a vastly different appearance. When you look at Rainbow, you’ll notice that no member is wearing the typical military gear of a regular soldier. They’re all decked out in full black (or whatever better suits the environment) with armor and not a lot of weaponry. To gamers, this is how a specialized group should look and act. It’s a style this Tom Clancy hit made popular and one that many other games have emulated over the years.
Of course, money is power, and it’s extremely risky to keep pushing against what the vast majority of people accept. For all the realism Rainbow Six maintains, Call of Duty is still the industry FPS leader. Mainstream culture actively prefers games that let you win matches with big guns and storming into rooms armed to the teeth. This is why, as Rainbow Six grew and original developer Red Storm Entertainment was picked up by Ubisoft, the series began adapting more mainstream elements, not entirely unlike the hit Counter-Strike. The multiplayer was tweaked, weapons had larger magazines, a save feature was added, etc. All this was done to make the series more appealing to a wider audience. It’s still the Rainbow Six people fell in love with, but it has a few more of the usual additions.
Like with every other Tom Clancy game out there, my experience with Rainbow Six is non-existent. There was no active avoidance on my part or a general disdain for the brand. I just prefer the typical FPS games that proliferate the market. Perhaps a big part of it stems from my own play style. I can be a bit rash when playing video games, frequently not even thinking about my actions before I do them. This is why the franchises with all the biggest guns appeal to me so much. I like being all about action and just storming in as dangerously as possible. Yeah, it doesn’t always work in my favor, but it’s still a lot of fun. This is also why if a game has a stealth option, I usually focus more on making my character stronger to beat everyone in combat rather than sneaking around. I make a terrible thief.
The latest release, Rainbow Six Siege, is a bigger deal than normal. Several games and expansion packs have existed since 1998, but after Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 came in 2008, the series took a break. The cancellation of Rainbow Six: Patriots prolonged this hiatus to seven years, which is critically long in this rapid release industry. With Siege, fans finally got the new installment they wanted. It maintains the tactical shooter style as well, except this time the environments are completely destructible. Why sneak around a corner when you can blow through a wall to destroy your opponents? It’s a pretty major change to a franchise that probably needs it in a crowded field. Reception is fairly positive too, and you can bet Ubisoft doesn’t ever want to end such an iconic brand, so Rainbow Six will stick around for quite a while. Hopefully the next game doesn’t come after such a long break.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.