Time played: 21 hours
Getting a surprise from AAA video games feels like a rarer and rarer occurrence the longer you’ve been in the space. Usually, after years of speculation from early E3 announcements, previews, trailers, breakdowns, interviews, and various marketing material, you generally have a pretty solid understanding of what you’re getting into when you finally boot up the final product.
Rainbow Six Extraction is a genuine surprise, though. It’s likely not the game you have in your head when you hear co-op alien shooter; those words tend to conjure up titles like Left 4 Dead, the blueprint for the modern co-op shooter where you fight an existential threat. It would make sense to make that comparison, too, as the genre seems to be somewhat in vogue with the recent Back 4 Blood reviving the genre and Redfall promising to bring more soon. It really felt like a co-op shooter full of Rainbow Six Siege characters would slot delightfully in that mold.
However, Rainbow Six Extraction is not like Left 4 Dead. Instead, what it offers up is something much more akin to XCOM, only that when you play it, it’s a little like a souped-up Terrorist Hunt from the title's sister game, Rainbow Six Siege. If that sounds weird, you’re right. Rainbow Six Extraction feels like one of the strangest AAA titles in a long while.
Rainbow Six Extraction price and release date
- What is it? A co-op shooter based on Rainbow Six Siege that puts you in charge of repelling an alien threat
- Release date? January 20, 2022
- What can I play it on? PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC, Google Stadia
- Price? $39.99 / £44.99 / $AU79.95
The game is set in an alternate reality where an alien threat, the Archaeans, erupts out of the earth. The gooey parasitic creatures are grossly organic, leave a black ooze all over, and have all sorts of creepy stalagmites and appendages that cause terror to the poor people of earth.
This is where REACT steps in. This is the organization you lead through the invasion, and the Rainbow Six Operators make up its weaponized personnel. The goal is to perform missions, learn about the threat and figure out some way to overcome the hostile visitors.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect out of the gate for those looking for 'Left 4 Dead with their favorite Siege Operators' is that you're taking a much wider view of the REACT efforts. The Operators are pawns for you to use, rather than characters you embody. While you take control of your choice of Operator in a mission, once you're out of it, you manage them like they're a resource. Operators need to take breaks after missions to heal, and they can even ‘die’ in mission, causing them to be encased in foam and in need of rescuing on another one of your missions.
As you complete incursions, you also learn more about the alien threat and unlock new technology to make use of in the field. You're managing this effort that doesn't use brute force against the Archaeans, but rather precision missions to gain more information about your enemy. It’s research instead of all-out war.
Again, it’s not hard to bring up the specter of XCOM that hangs over the structure of the game. It’s nowhere near as in-depth, but it is surprising. It is strange. It’s, in its own sort of way, kind of charming.
There’s not much out there that's trying to do what Rainbow Six Extraction is aiming for. That’s rare in AAA games, and it’s easy to root for the title as it tries new ideas, even if it can be clumsy when it comes to the execution.
In the field of screams
However, that is more the package of Rainbow Six Extraction. The on-the-field action makes for a very strange bedfellow with the overall structure. Incursions, while playing like Siege, also have aspects of 4X games like XCOM, especially in how it tries to create random encounters.
In a mission, either you or up to two other squadmates can land on one of twelve maps. These maps each have three sub-areas to travel through, where you complete an objective per area. Completing one will let you leave the sub-area and move to the next. If at any time you and your team feel like it might be too much of an ask to complete the next objective, you can choose to be extracted early. This creates a neat risk assessment aspect from area to area that can be compelling, especially if your group took significant damage earlier in an incursion.
While Rainbow Six Extraction isn’t a pretty game, and at times can be downright ugly, it does have a convincing atmosphere. The Archaeans are gnarly looking, with a great variety of bodies that are both threatening and interesting. Part humanoid, part fungus, part insectoid, their black ooze that sprawls across the levels with a life of its own is unnerving.
It’s with good reason too. A mission can go wrong with the slightest mistake, as Archaeans can hit hard and offer various challenging forms and environmental hazards. It makes skulking through the halls of these infested locations harrowing at times. That mixed with a pitch-perfect electro-gothic soundtrack help build an atmosphere that lifts the whole thing leagues above the sum of its parts.
The seams of how the missions are randomized are plain to see, though. The twelve maps can start you in one area or another but you’ll always be moving through the same locations bit by bit. The way it creates the missions is to use one of twelve set objectives. That can be anything to luring out an enemy to kill, tagging nests, activating a succession of devices, rescuing hostages, or sabotaging alien structures.
However, they all feel like busywork. They feel like Rainbow Six Seige-y objectives that are on a set map with aliens strewn about. Because that’s what it is. Completing objectives feels like box-ticking to make it feel like a close neighbor to Siege, but it never really makes the objectives particularly compelling.
That’s fine in a group and it's novel how the game generates the objectives on the map. However, in doing them, it never really feels like your repelling or learning about an alien threat. It feels like you're just on a busy map doing video game-y type objectives like standing in a zone until it tells you to go stand in another zone. Despite every map being randomized, with new objectives every time, the experience never actually feels that different.
These kinds of level building are a staple of the genre too, but it’s too easy to see the joints here. There aren’t big story moments past some fairly innocuous cutscenes to drive things along. There is context for a broader progression in-game, but it never feels connected to what you just did in an incursion. Taking zones doesn't feel like you're downloading key data, and capturing a specimen doesn't feel like it will advance the research with alien knowledge. It all feels like doing menial objectives to get nondescript experience to make one progression number go up and hit the next milestone. In essence, the game can feel like playing an endless string of side-missions, rather than a cohesive experience.
Crashing to earth
Here’s the key problem at the heart of Rainbow Six Extraction. XCOM felt like it had a compelling story driving it; special missions to really drive home big moments. It also had a ton of various progress bars, and you decided how to manage that. If you invested poorly, you could work yourself into a corner and realize you had to start your save over. Also, your best characters, despite getting stronger and stronger, were still mortal. They could be lost forever.
The absence of these kinds of stakes stops Rainbow Six Extraction from landing its lofty ambitions. No key story moments are dragging you along. There is only one real progression track that all experience pours into. The worst your operators can do is go missing for a couple of missions and come back with a fraction of their progress gone. There's just a sense of fallibility that is absent from this vision that feels like it was begging for.
None of this is to say that the game is without merit, however. Again, Rainbow Six Extraction is surprising, weird, unique, and with a decent amount of potential. That’s rare in AAA games and it makes it really easy to commend the spirit of what the game is going for.
The experience is charming and easy to root for, as much as it is repetitive and disjointed. It has a lot of ideas, and it feels like the basis of an idea ripe for expansion. If Ubisoft puts in a lot of time and effort, it could become a fantastic experience. Being in charge of the operation to repel an alien threat, which is also a co-op first-person shooter built on the bones of a great competitive game, has a place in the world.
If you or your squad are in the groove or grinding through some missions, it can even bring that nice zen that doing a lot of repeatable side-missions in games can bring. However, that’s where it also falls down.
It can often feel like being handed more and more appetizers as you wait for the main course that fails to materialize in any timely fashion. The final experience just feels too marred down in overly simplified systems, a lack of cohesion selling the experience, and too safeguarded from true failure that the game can often feel like the Operators who get bogged down by the gooey substance that coats its levels.
Without exciting peaks, it all ends up feeling one-note, and when it comes to grinding out levels and hitting progression goals, the charm that fuels early enthusiasm slowly dissipates. Like the Archaeans at the heart of the game, the experience is strange, unique, and fascinating but ultimately difficult to connect with on a human level.
- Thinking about trying Rainbow Six Extraction yourself? Here's a guide on how to get your hands on the game with relative ease