In one recurring mission in Rainbow Six Extraction, your Special Ops veteran is transported into a hellish parallel dimension where they face off against a malignant, mutated facsimile of one of your fellow Operators from the Rainbow Six Siege cast. An armored, multi-tiered health bar appears across the top of the screen, and it depletes as you dump clip after clip of ammunition into their scaly carapace. It is a cosmic, apocalyptic boss fight, and it’s hard not to think about just how far this series has strayed from its once-dogmatic faithfulness to gritty Navy SEAL realism. In Extraction, Ubisoft successfully brings the series to its wildest frontiers yet, but while this high-stakes co-op creates thrills out of the gate, it doesn’t seem to have the same staying power as its competitive cousin.
Extraction does make a meek attempt to justify its science fiction: There are some short cutscenes hovering around the margins and an unwieldy codex overflowing with flavor text that explain the massive onyx obelisks that protrude from the ground all over the globe. Some are the size of skyscrapers — one impaling the Statue of Liberty — and they’ve unleashed a band of zombified parasitic aberrations annoyingly dubbed the “Archæans,” which were first introduced in the 2018 Outbreak limited-time event in Siege. Those same heroes have been deployed to hold the line, and as a party of three, a party of two, or by yourself, you delve deep into the fetid underbelly of this grotesque insurgency. It is pure pulp – body horror blended with steely tactics – and as someone with an appreciation for Rainbow Six’s sillier side (like its two trips to Las Vegas) I relished the chance to steep into this bizarre new world without asking too many questions.
So yes, Extraction is very much a traditional co-op shooter augmented by the sublime mechanics Ubisoft mastered in the ever-popular Siege. Stealth is key; you slither through the muck with your two friends, hoping to take down the demons in silence in order to avoid unleashing the latent mob lingering behind every corner. From a game design perspective, this is a no-brainer: Extraction is a chance to enjoy Siege’s one-of-a-kind gunplay in a slower-paced environment than the mother game’s madcap competitive matches. Siege lets you annihilate targets with surgical precision: you can score headshots from across the map through plaster walls, or locate a target by the mere sound of their footsteps. But Siege has also cultivated a fully calcified playerbase who’ve obsessed over it for seven years, and jumping into matchmaking as a less-experienced player often feels like walking into a buzzsaw. Extraction, on the other hand, lets us play with those shooting mechanics while aiming at dumber, slower NPCs. We can indulge in the euphoria more than ever.
In fact, Extraction often resembles an elaborate expansion to Siege – in another world, this could have easily been presented as a generous DLC pack. All of the Operators you and your friends can choose from are directly imported from Siege, right down to their special abilities and character models. The in-game geometry is tight and compact like a 5v5 map, which is a departure from the elaborate, cross-country treks demanded by games like Back 4 Blood and Left 4 Dead. In fact, everything from the art design to the gun models bear an uncanny kinship to the formula Ubisoft laid out in 2015.
The only incongruity is the thick layer of gristly, galactic muck splayed across every surface. I mean this in the best way possible: Rainbow Six Extraction is gross. Walls and floors bubble with black, speed-dampening ooze, and bulbous pustules glow in the dark and can be popped like water balloons. The enemies range from terrifying, minotaur-like beasts stalking the corridors to bloated quadrupeds that detonate with noxious gas when struck with a bullet. Hell, when an operator is KO’d they’re smothered in a crusty yellow coat of foam that, apparently, preserves them – it’s one of the most viscerally unpleasant things I’ve ever witnessed in a video game. Extraction is like a bizarre alternate reality where David Cronenberg directed Rainbow Six Siege, awakening a virulent nightmare that had been lying dormant.
I don’t mean any of that as a criticism. After all, Extraction has been advertised as a loud, proud spinoff of Siege, and as a casual player of the mainline series it was nice to pick up a beloved operator like Tachanka and know innately what role he fills on a team. But anyone expecting Extraction to serve as a bold new chapter for the Rainbow Six canon will be sorely disappointed. This is a wild experiment that brings to mind Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Both were bold endeavors that offered a radical new interpretation on established gameplay systems, but didn’t muster much staying power or advance the actual story.
Case in point: Extraction has four different zones, divided into 12 primary levels, and all of them play out the exact same way. You and your friends will select your Operators and airdrop into a battlefront where you’ll complete a random selection of three objectives. Maybe you need to lure a particularly beefy Archæan into a trap, maybe you’re instructed to clear out a cell of hives, or maybe you need to rescue a terrified civilian, among others. To its credit, there are a good variety of these assignments, and while they’ll certainly recur between runs, I never felt like I was stuck in the same loop.
Once those three tasks are complete, the team can decide to pass through an airlock and attempt another mission or extract back to base with all of the experience points they’ve banked. It’s a fun push-and-pull which will undoubtedly reveal the conservative and aggressive tendencies among your party. I tended to err on the cautious side, while a friend was more than happy to push into the next bloc despite our dwindling health supplies. I like how Extraction engaged my more emotional sensibilities, beyond whatever group of enemies were in front of us. Sometimes, all I needed was a good pep talk to believe that my party was capable of surviving the next trial. Sometimes we were even right.
The most fun I had with Extraction, by far, is when someone in my group succumbed to the horde. In that scenario, their body must be escorted back to the extraction point – because if you don’t, the operator that person was playing as will be removed from their roster. Yes, if you go down for the count as Hibana, a red X will appear across her face in your next character select screen. If the whole party wipes, the only way to reclaim an MIA operator is to re-enter the level on a future run (with a different character) and attempt to pry them loose from the clutches of the parasite. Only then can they return to battle in a future run.
I love this mechanic. It reminded me of my most anxious XCOM 2 runs in which I tried to escort my trusty band of alien-killing agitators out of a fight gone bad. As a whole, Ubisoft has often opted for a light touch with its punishments – I mean, Assassin’s Creed autosaves roughly every 30 seconds – but in Extraction, every engagement is life or death. Even health points carry over between deployments, which means if Smoke is whittled down to within an inch of his life, he’ll need to spend a few sessions on the shelf to reconstitute. Better yet, if an operator is lost to the churn, you’ll suffer a sizable debuff to your prestige-style progression threshold until they’re rescued. I once lost a level after botching an assignment, which, while brutal, added a palpable sense of drama to every firefight thereafter.
This tension only escalates when you attempt Extraction’s higher difficulty thresholds. At its peak, this game is downright brutal. There are enemies that phase in and out of invisibility; enemies that can root your party helplessly in place; enemies that fire off darts of energy from their fingertips. There is never a scenario in Extraction where you’re only contending with a mindless horde, and it never offers an opening to cheese my way through an objective.
Unfortunately, I’m unconvinced that Extraction is capable of sustaining its many good ideas in the long-term. Like just about every other Ubisoft multiplayer game, this version of Rainbow Six is dripping with copious XP grinds that do not, in of themselves, provide much motivation. Your overarching profile slowly unlocks extra munitions for your troops as you climb through the tiers, and each of your operators have their own level caps, leading to more weapons and cosmetics for their subsequent runs. I played for about 10 hours, to the point where I’d unlocked all of the combat hubs, and already Extraction was running out of intrigue.
This is a game where you will be doing the same basic challenges over and over again, in slightly different permutations depending on the difficulty setting and a few curveballs assigned by the AI in the lobby. (For instance, a thick fog that blankets the map or toxic sludge coating the floors.) Ubisoft has plans for some weekly missions and seasonal events, and there’s a special end-game mode available for the most seasoned operators, but personally, I started to buckle under the drudgery fairly quickly. Chasing the carrot makes a lot more sense when there’s competitive glamor to aspire towards, but I didn’t find any ranked modes or leaderboards to compete on. But in a co-op game like Extraction, my biggest priority is to have fun with my friends, and while the ultra-rare battle armor lingering in the loftiest branches of the progression trees seems nice, it’s not nearly as enticing as it might be in Siege.
That’s honestly the biggest problem I have with Extraction. Siege kept me hooked because it’s absolutely enchanting to duel another squad within that airtight combat system. We reinforce walls, conjure exotic flanks, and dispense a wide array of weaponry to earn even the slightest edge over our opponents. Extraction is a lot of fun, but at the end of the day it’s borrowing some of the best shooting mechanics of all time and applying them to a set of enemies that, plain and simple, will never be as creative and dynamic as the human beings lined up across from us in a Siege pick-up group (something that Left 4 Dead sidestepped by letting a team play as the Special Infected to keep things from getting stale). That stark reality handicaps Extraction’s potential. It’s a good spinoff, but a spinoff nonetheless.