I’ve accidentally called it ‘Quarantine‘ like a million times
I’m at the point where some classic franchises are utterly unrecognizable. That can be a good thing…sometimes! After decades in operation you’d expect some kind of change to happen, especially if a new creative team/generation is taking over, or a new company entirely. Rainbow Six Extraction fits neatly into that mystery box.
Rainbow Six Extraction (PC, PS4, PS5 [reviewed], Stadia, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S)
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Released: January 20, 2022
This is a game where an alien threat crash lands on Earth (not unlike Spider-Man‘s Venom), where you’re instructed by a high-tech AI to locate new information on an unknown invasive threat — it’s not exactly concerned with realism. And there’s pros and cons to that approach! Using the Rainbow Six name is going to ruffle some feathers, for one. I remember playing the original at launch and being completely blown away with its tactical approach. Over the years that grounded tact has waxed and waned, to mixed results. The same mixed reaction is going to happen to Extraction. I went through it myself.
Your alien/virus-fighting travels will predominately take you through New York, San Francisco, and Alaska, amid a few other nondescript locations. So the loop is ironically kind of like the old Assassin‘s Creed games, which consisted of a pool of objectives. In Extraction they range from luring a parasite to a location and capturing it, to “collecting specimens” via melee attacks, to the classic bombing runs just like Counter-Strike, to straight-up kill missions (which spawn an elite at the end). And, just like Assassin’s Creed, there’s an escort variant. There’s a good chunk of objectives, and hardcore players can bump things up to “cautious” difficulty to add a new wrinkle (where you need to go through gateways to do extra things), or bump things up further with severe and critical settings to make things tougher.
To that end, you’ll be taking one of Extraction‘s 18 “operators” — yes, the hero shooter schematic is back with a vengeance — into the fray. You have the medic, the guy with the hammer, the person who surveys the battlefield, and so on. All of them can take a primary or secondary weapon, as well as two sets of gear: usually a consumable grenade of some sort, and a more proactive special piece of equipment. So, this is easily going to be one of the more polarizing parts of Extraction, but with 18 archetypes to choose from, I was happy enough with the amount of playstyles available.
Of course, all of them “level up” via XP, which is something I’m more annoyed with. It’s commonplace in modern shooters, but here, it’s part of the rat race. Success is sometimes partially predicated on having higher-level operators with more bonuses depending on the difficulty setting, all of which can be stalled because of how the game works (more on the MIA system in a moment). You also need to level up to gain access to all 18 operators, which is super annoying, and there’s an in-game shop for costumes (that’s seemingly cosmetic-oriented so far).
Part of Extraction‘s hook is pressing your luck. Once you finish a zone you can “bank” your earnings or gamble and try for bigger rewards. This is, for me, the most interesting part of the game. It’s a clever way to reward all sorts of different playstyles, as people can interact with Extraction casually on the “moderate” difficulty and choose to take things easy. Or you can play on “veteran,” where you waste magazine ammo if you reload early and friendly fire is enabled. There’s also going to be weekly events, and a few “jacked up” modes are already live.
The elites, called Archæans, are basically the Left 4 Dead-like minibosses and bosses. These designs are probably the most cynical aspect of Extraction. You have the thing that explodes when you get near it, complete with boils on its back. There’s the swift-but-vulnerable melee creature. There’s the giant Thing-like thing that’s tough. And the stealth alien — you get the picture. They’re even called “Bloaters” and “Lurkers!” You can guess what those two do.
It does get more flashy, to an extent. Mutations can impact how you deal with all of them, which are extra parameters (like sludge creation after death, or thicker fog) straight out of other recent shooters. “Random changes” can be a cheap way to encourage replayability, but there’s enough going on in Extraction where it does work. And when Extraction works, it works. You might need to keep going to the next zone out of sheer panic. When the game drops you in, you might be starting somewhere else where you’re not quite as familiar with the layout, and how to get to the subsequent zone door or the extraction point.
If an operator dies in the level itself (and isn’t revived and doesn’t extract), they cover themselves in a compound that prevents death or infection, and become “MIA.” Upon entering that same level, one of the missions will automatically become an MIA rescue, which requires players to extract someone from an alien tree, alongside of a micro-puzzle (where you shoot/disconnect roots as the tree tries to absorb the operator). If you succeed you can bring them back to an extraction point. If you fail, you have another MIA operator.
I can see what the team was going for, especially in an attempt to add more urgency to the game and even some roguelite elements — but it’s more of a pain than anything. Given that operators have to “rest” if they’re damaged on top of the MIA mechanic, it becomes a weird forced timer that has the benefit of allowing you to see more of the cast, but also feels like another gate. It’s going to be one of the more contentious parts of the game, guaranteed.
If you can get over that hump, the juice is worth the squeeze. Again, “emergent gameplay” has become such a buzzword in recent years, but I did feel that rush often with Extraction. It’s such a simple idea with so many weird classic and modern moving parts whirring about all around it. If it was even more arcadey and didn’t need to go the traditional and “expected” live service/leveling busywork route, Rainbow Six Extraction would be an even stronger game.
Playing it, I can see frequent flashes of many highs of the series. Gunplay is on-point for most of the weaponry, and there’s a good chunk of loadouts and different approaches to go with, to encourage you to keep playing. The issue lies with the frustration of the gated unlocks and by proxy the MIA system, which doesn’t feel so much like a feature as it is a hindrance, to prevent you from ranking up quicker.
So to be clear (and this was verified by Ubisoft), there is no offline mode, and there are no AI squadmates, but solo play is possible — and we tested solo as well as squads. Triggering a solo mission will even start a unique cutscene noting that the Extraction team is “authorizing” lone missions. You can tell it was made with solo in mind because of the auto-revive items, and the game also adjusts to each player count (one, two, or three). With squads, jacked up on a higher difficulty setting, it can get pretty hardcore. Teammates can die easily, and if they’re MIA, that operator needs to be rescued at some point by someone.
And that’s basically all Rainbow Six Extraction has up its sleeve, and some of the replay value you’re going to wring from it relies on whether or not you have friends to play with. While it doesn’t execute fully with its foundation, it does take more risks than I expected, to the point where it’s going to be worth a look for some folks — but only just so.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. You can follow Destructoid’s ongoing coverage of Ubisoft over here.]