Rainbow Six Extraction Review
Get in, get out
As someone who finds deeply tactical shooters daunting, I’ve always preferred it when Rainbow Six has diverted from its long-standing uber-realistic, every bullet counts level of seriousness. Rainbow Six Extraction leans heavily into the realms of improbable alien sci-fi in a way that’s unexpected for a game bearing Tom Clancy branding, and that slight shift in tone combined with squad-based PVE gameplay brings a level of chaos and levity that puts this distinctly in my wheelhouse.
I spent most of 2009 — thirteen years ago! — tackling Terrorist Hunt in Rainbow Six Vegas and the idea of another Rainbow Six game that wasn’t as hardcore as Rainbow Six Siege had plenty of appeal. That’s not to say Extraction doesn’t require some degree of tactical nous, however. Playing as a team, communicating well, and knowing your Operators and preparing your loadout accordingly will absolutely help. Still, it’s good to know that when the Sprawl inevitably hits the fan shooting your way out is as viable an option as any.
Whilst Extraction may not be the authentic military shooter that Siege certainly is, it builds upon the solid foundations that Ubisoft Montreal has toiled over and tweaked for almost seven years. As a more casual fan of online multiplayer shooters, getting to properly experience the series’ comprehensively detailed and first-rate gunplay in this setting was fantastic. There’s a true satisfaction to taking out the Archeans that roam Extraction’s incredibly tight close-quarters maps. Seeking out one of these towering creatures using their footsteps and other sound cues, taking them out silently, and then shooting their friend with a well-timed headshot through a wall before they alert others is proper skin of your teeth stuff. That level of precision is not always possible however and the game allows for plenty of room for error before throwing a horde of angry aliens your way. Should things get hairy — and they will — shooting your way to survival is also a valid tactic.
After facing down a horde, you’ll want to get out of there pretty quickly. If you don’t survive then your Operator will go M.I.A. and not only is your squad down a member, but that Operator is unavailable until you rescue them. As you might expect from the title, this is one of the core mechanics of Extraction. It’s also the most interesting. Placing M.I.A. Operators in a semi-permadeath state builds in some much needed stakes to a game that would otherwise mirror any other squad-based first-person shooter on the market. An Operator will be declared M.I.A. if they are not extracted from a mission — either because they couldn’t be revived and their foam-encased body extracted or because they were otherwise stranded. It’s important to ensure that your Operator makes it out of an Incursion one way or another because an M.I.A. Operator also has their XP and your overall progression put on temporary hold. Operators going M.I.A. or returning from a mission injured does provide ample opportunity to test drive all of the eighteen playable characters in the game. I always had my favourites, of course, but it’s good to have options.
The stress of trying to get a teammate extracted is palpable, especially if they’ve woken up an entire map of Archeans and you’re down to just your sidearm. Failing to extract an Operator results in a rescue mission in a later run. This is easily my least favourite part of the game. It devolves Extraction into a primitive and frenzied shooting gallery that’s rarely fun to play with a tug of war mini-game becoming the focal point. There’s still an element of thought required depending on the particular area an Operator is located, but it feels disjointed compared to the much more considered approach that the game asks of players.
It took me a few hours to get my head around all of this. Understanding Extraction’s give and take structure and how best to approach a mission is vital to having a good time. Failure is most definitely a part of the game and something to learn from. Although, failing over and over again is tiresome and Extraction will send you down that slippery slope if you let it. Knowing when to call it a day on an Incursion is the most vital skill you can learn, and you’ll only really have that epiphany by failing a few dozen times — or I did, at least. Not that that stopped me feeling frustrated as I was trying to find my feet. The game’s brief tutorial ‘VR Missions’ helped a little, but they were very basic. Taking on Incursions alone is also possible, but I wouldn’t recommend it. To be honest, anything other than a three-person squad makes things difficult despite what the game says about scaling.
Three is the magic number in Extraction. Incursions consist of three core objectives on one of the game’s twelve maps, all of which feel remarkably similar despite locale and decor changes. XP is earned for completing each objective and more XP is added for extracting successfully. These tasks range from stealthy takedowns of Elite enemies, planting tracking devices, defending bombs and other standard military shooter fare. Higher difficulty levels will pit you against occasional boss-like encounters, but there’s not much in Extraction that players won’t have faced before in other games. However, procedural generation of enemies, items and a rotation of the objectives were enough to keep me on my toes and allowed for plenty of replayability.
Repetition can be a bit of an issue, however, particularly in the first few hours. however. I found myself playing a game of inches early on, completing one objective if possible before extracting to bank my XP. This did make progression slow, but I felt like it was natural to build up an understanding of the maps, enemies and how best to approach each objective. Moving through each of the game’s four difficulty levels on each map presents additional challenges and additional variables. Perhaps you’ll find Archeans covered in yellow spores that blind you or that they produce extra Sprawl as they die. They affect the game, but not a big enough way to keep me replaying particular maps.
Speaking of Sprawl, this black viscous ooze covers the game world and emphasises just how far away from a true Tom Clancy title Extraction feels. This gunk will slow you down as you fight, so you’ve got to deal with that on top of the array of different Archeans populating each map. These distorted humanoid-like aliens come in a few varieties; many of which will feel familiar. There’s your garden variety grunt that will run headlong into a hail of bullets, but joining them are ranged enemies, enemies that explode, toxic enemies, and even ones that will do their best to root you and your squadmates to the spot. They all have their weaknesses but, outside of Elites and Proteans, none are so invulnerable that a few shots won’t take them down. It’s the sheer numbers of them that cause the most trouble. One wrong move and they’ve alerted all of their friends and the surrounding Nests (which are always my first priority) start pumping out waves of these ghoulish creatures.
The ability to become completely overwhelmed is why I found working as a three-person squad so vital. Moving through an Incursion and taking on the next objective increases the amount of enemies and their variety. This element of risk versus reward is a core tenet of the game. Choosing to gamble and succeeding pays dividends, but it could also result in you losing everything. Thankfully, if you haven’t got two friends to join you, I found the matchmaking to be incredibly solid. Having the two other players carry me through some levels early on helped a lot, both in terms of me learning how the game works and also my overall progression. With three people things felt much more comfortable and beating Incursions was much more achievable. That all might sound obvious, but it’s important to note for anyone looking to play Extraction without a full squad. And for anyone worried about matchmaking, I had a positive experience with the vast majority of the people I’ve played with. A testament to the Rainbow Six community perhaps? It’s also important to mention that Rainbow Six Extraction does feature cross-play functionality. So despite playing on PlayStation 5, I linked up with a friend on Xbox Series X and we were joined, via matchmaking, by an additional Operator playing on PC. All of this works pretty seamlessly and was impressive to someone yet to experience cross-play properly.
Early on in my time with Extraction it's safe to say that frustrations were running high and I had my reservations as to whether this radical left turn had paid off for Ubisoft Montreal. Balancing the precision of a tactical shooter with an outlandish alien invasion scenario seemed difficult. However, the more I played the game the more I enjoyed my time with it.
Alas, that time was short lived. Solid foundations, inventive gameplay additions and an engrossing core loop help to separate it from its competitive older brother and establish Rainbow Six Extraction as more than just another squad-based shooter. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty content poor and a swift descent into repetitive Incursions stops Extraction short of its full potential. There’s ample opportunity for replayability and the artifice of procedural generation helps to keep things interesting, but only if you can tolerate replaying its dozen or so objectives across what are characterless and highly interchangeable maps. Thankfully, the hooks are there to expand on what is a strong, although somewhat a shallow, start.
I had a lot of fun with Rainbow Six Extraction but, after about twelve hours with the game, I felt like I’d seen everything it had to offer. It’s a good time for a short time though, and whilst I’ll likely go back to take down some Archean hordes with friends, I’m happy going M.I.A for now.
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