Aside from the obvious drama of kicking in a set of French windows while wearing a gas mask, Rainbow Six Siege offers a powerful fantasy about winning and losing. It presents the idea that during a hostage situation or bomb threat a clean resolution is possible provided you make all the right decisions. It goes without saying that these days happy endings are unfortunately rare. Nonetheless, part of Siege’s core appeal is the way it mirrors our world, while at the same time reminding us that, yes, it’s still just a game.
Siege is the latest entry in the long-running series inspired by novelist Tom Clancy’s constellation of techno-thriller military fiction. Its take on the special forces versus terrorists model is one that embraces the gritty and brutal physics of each scenario. How these play out depend on knowledge of space and the players’ ability to disrupt it. Being comfortable with a little digital risk-taking doesn’t hurt either.
In this edition of ‘If you like,’ I look at films, books, and comics that all give a hat-tip to the fiction of special operators and the unbelievable work they accomplish, often in secret.
Who Dares Wins (The Final Option), directed by Ian Sharp
This 1982 film pits the men of Britain’s elite Special Air Service against violent, anti-nuclear terrorists who take American officials and diplomats hostage. Its plot, which was heavily based on the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege, centers around the secretive activities of the SAS as a whole, but also around the work of one Captain Skellen, an officer ostensibly forced to leave the service after abusing his command authority during a training exercise.
In terms of its cinematography, music, and general attitude, Who Dares Wins is very much a product of the late Cold War. Nuclear weapons, and their apocalyptic consequences, push people of all political persuasions to extremes. In this film, the terrorists are bent on total, worldwide nuclear disarmament, even at the expense of civilian life. It’s up to the SAS to breach and clear their way to foiling the terrorists’ plans. For a more modern look at similar, all-or-nothing themes, you should also check out Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 hunt for Osama film, Zero Dark Thirty.
The Activity, story by Nathan Edmondson, art by Mitch Gerads
In this comic series by Edmondson and Gerads, we see up close the work of those who back up the special operators—the US Army Intelligence Support Activity. Drawn with graphic realism and written in a clear, dramatic voice, The Activity presents a fictional interpretation of recent geopolitical events. In this way it gives insight into the men and women who operate a layer or two deeper inside the secretive world of the US special forces and intelligence community.
Collected in three volumes, the series dives into special ops from multiple angles. If in Rainbow Six Siege we witness the very sharpest point of the spear—the stormed compound or raided jetliner—then in The Activity we get to see the dangerous groundwork that leads up to these spectacular set pieces. We witness political maneuvering, intelligence gathering, as well as the personal sacrifice that this secretive group requires of its members. A well-drawn, well-told story of an aspect to special operations that’s not well-known.
Executive Decision, directed by Stuart Baird
While the “terrorists on a plane” scenario might have a different resonance in the 21st Century than in the one that preceded it, it’s actually been a classic action movie setup since the 1970s. And with 1996’s Executive Decision, what we get is a rather fresh, if fantastical, approach to the problem. In so many films, the ultimate push to stop a terrorist action marks the end of a slow-burning story to set up the characters, establish routes of entry into a guarded space, and then finally, break up the plot. With Executive Decision, the entire movie is the siege.
The basic premise is that a hijacked airliner is headed for the United States with terrorists onboard. Their plans are suitably evil and push the US government to attempt a dangerous mid-air attempt to retake the plane, both to save the civilians onboard and prevent mass casualties on the ground. On its face the plot seemingly lacks a baseline of plausibility. But thankfully the film pulls together some convincing and worthy performances from its cast, which includes Kurt Russell, Steven Seagal, Halle Berry, Oliver Platt and John Leguizamo. Mercifully, despite his pedigree in this genre, Seagal exits the stage relatively quickly and leaves behind a supremely tense and entertaining thriller.
Without Remorse, by Tom Clancy
If Tom Clancy’s original 1998 Rainbow Six novel is where it all began, then Without Remorse is the story of how we got there. Set during the Vietnam War era, it details the backstory of CIA operative John Clark, the man who would go on to help found the covert Rainbow Six group years later. Long considered to be one of Clancy’s best creations, Clark, as you might guess, carries some dark baggage from his past.
A Navy SEAL originally, Clark has another name and another life in this earlier work by Clancy. The novel traces two main story arcs, one in dealing with POWs in Vietnam and one that sees the war brought home to Baltimore. Both storylines ask the protagonist to confront the consequences and moral boundaries of violence. What are individuals willing to risk in order to prevail? It’s a long read, but the 1993 novel is Clancy at his page-turning best, setting the stage for the Rainbow Six universe.
Patrick currently works as web editor for Hinterland Studios, which is making The Long Dark. For more installments of ‘If you like...’, check out the other games he's covered in this series below: