Rainbow Six Extraction is as much a trigger-happy horror game as it is a PvE tactical shooter. It's a spin-off of its older cousin, Rainbow Six Siege, and a fully-formed realisation of the squad-based shooter's limited-time alien invasion 'Outbreak' mode from 2018. Best played in multiplayer, Extraction is about hunting hostile and horrifying creatures in contained environments. It's about gathering intel and extricating fallen comrades who've succumbed to the new threat in battle. With the inclusion of familiar operators, such as Vigil and Sledge and Doc, it's a competent extension of the Siege universe. With a host of insidious parasitic and ability-wielding baddies, such as grunts and spikers and bloaters, it's a fine evolution of its source material.
All told, Rainbow Six Extraction is good at what it sets out to do. In its most frantic and explosive set-pieces, it can be great. In its quieter, more pensive and expositional moments, it can be terrifying. So why, then, does it feel lacking in identity?
Release Date: January 20, 2022
Platform(s): PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Stadia
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Before addressing that question, it's worth considering Extraction's long road to release. First revealed at E3 2019, the shooter, then known as Rainbow Six Quarantine, was pencilled for launch at some point the following year. Less than ten months later, however, the global pandemic offset Ubisoft Montreal's plans – forcing three subsequent delays and a name change, all within circumstances that better reflected a Tom Clancy novel than our pre-2020 reality. And yet unlike the opening cinematics of The Division and Siege – where we're sold a once far-fetched-now-entirely believable story about a global virus; and are introduced to a team of crackshot world-defenders by Hollywood actress Angela Bassett – Extraction's arrival is subtle, bordering underwhelming.
Set on New York City's Liberty Island, we're shown tourists shuttling between souvenir stalls and the Statue of Liberty, before getting our first glimpse of the Chimera Parasite. Arcing stalagmite, tree root-like 'Carapace' structures burst from the asphalt, as a tough, grey and gooey biofilm named the 'Sprawl' spreads itself with menacing purpose. With that, we're zipped off to the REACT HQ – the home of Extraction's expert team of anti-alien freedom fighters – and then, in essence, are dropped straight into the danger zone, to take down hordes of Archaeans in New York, San Francisco, and Alaska among a handful of other locations.
There's an air of uncertainty about the whole set-up, though. It all feels a bit rushed, as if Extraction is keen to distance itself from its drawn-out past, its previous ties to 'Quarantine' against the current reality, and the core themes we're otherwise used to seeing embellished in Rainbow Six games. Perhaps a broader introduction was whittled down over time, who knows, but, given the fact this is a breakaway project born from an experiment, a limited-time mode that launched three-and-a-bit years ago for a different game entirely, more on the narrative front would've helped me care more about the characters risking their lives for salvation. And I suspect the same will apply to newcomers unfamiliar with Siege whatsoever.
That said, it's also worth noting that, like Siege, Ubisoft has big plans for growing Extraction over time, of cultivating a player-base and tinkering with the formula post-launch assuming the interest is there. And, even if I'm reading too deep into how Extraction establishes itself, it is abundantly clear that the game is most confident with its boots on the ground.
To this end, New York City marks the first of Rainbow Six Extraction's four main deployment areas, each of which boasts three separate locations. These central locations are spread across a trio of so-called 'subzones', wherein specific objectives determine how you'll explore and plunder each map inside a 15-minute time-limit. The game describes this as its 'infiltration/exfiltration loop', which might see you storming an NYC police station to collect Archaean biopsy samples on one mission, or wading through the Sprawl-infested remains of a San Francisco casino to liberate a trapped VIP before transporting them over your shoulder to the extraction zone on another.
As you might expect, the deeper you go and the more experience you garner (and thus the better equipment, weapons, and tech you can unlock), the tougher things get. The breed of Archaean you face, and their propensity for parasitic mutation, for example, varies in-line with each incursion's difficulty. Moderate ventures only feature basic-level enemies, while Cautious, Severe, and Critical missions tend to feature a full ecosystem of foes (of which there are over ten), any and all of which can mutate into tougher, more formidable beasts – ranging from armoured nests that can spawn unlimited Archaeans, to invisible alien baddies and Archaeans that leverage Chimera Fog to get the drop on you. Not so tough spamming those smoke bombs now the aliens have their own, are you?
Those familiar with Siege will appreciate the nods to how Extraction sets itself up in battle. Over and above smoke bombs, players are encouraged to send ground-running drones into the danger zone to scope out targets, flag points of interest, and, crucially, identify enemy placement. But, unlike Siege, your Archaean antagonists pay little mind to the reconnaissance tech wheeling around at their feet, giving you free roam until the batteries run out of juice. Similarly, environmental destruction plays its part here – a central tenet of Siege since launch – but the wiser you get to each Archaean type's move-set, the more you realise busting down a partition wall with Sledge's hammer and going gung-ho with a shotty is a last resort against pretty much any other plan of attack.
Sleuthing around in the shadows and picking off prey undetected is instead a far better way of getting ahead, especially inside the infiltration half of proceedings. And it's in these moments where Rainbow Six Extraction shines – when it's doing its own thing, not striving to replicate Siege or be the next Left 4 Dead; when it makes you consider every decision, every action, every consequence, the XP you might gain or lose, and the resulting XCOM-like incremental decision-making you'll face at the other end. While each incursion is composed of three distinct subzones, you can extract at any time, again underlining the importance of the survival vs success dichotomy. Live, and make off with whatever XP you've scavenged to that point. Die, and lose it all.
When things do go belly-up, fallen operators are rendered MIA and placed in a stasis form within whichever map they've been downed. Anyone familiar with the television show The Crystal Maze will know the drill, but, while you lose immediate control of the fallen operator in these instances, you will ultimately get the chance to rescue them, and whatever upgraded gear and tech they're equipped with, during a later 'MIA Rescue' objective. These bouts involve shooting targets that look like glowing flowers attached to giant umbilical cords while pulling your pal from the clutches of a giant, slimy tree. Yes, really.
Friends and future
All of the above can be tackled in single-player mode, but it's invariably more fun with pals. In the absence of proper populated servers pre-release, I teamed up with two members of the GamesRadar+ team for some squad-based antics (maximum groups of three) in cross-play, with two of us playing on PS5 and another on Xbox. Extraction is fully cross-playable on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X via Ubisoft Connect, which automatically syncs on PC and can be linked to console profiles in-game.
Not that going it alone in Extraction isn't fun, but there's something infinitely more entertaining about undertaking a 'Specimen' incursion – wherein you're tasked with luring an Archaean from deep within the map to a trap mounted on the extraction site in order to capture it alive – while your buddies hum the Benny Hill theme tune through their headsets. Likewise, when conducting one of the aforementioned flower / umbilical cord / sticky tree missions (or 'MIA Rescue' as the game prefers), coordinating with gun-toting lookouts over each shoulder as hordes of Archaeans burst through walls in all directions really helped us recapture missing-in-action agents under pressure.
Moreover, later challenges involve travelling to alternate dimensions to take on shape-shifting 'Protean' Archaeans. These enemies mimic the likeness and skill sets of REACT operators themselves, and, bloody hell, three-player teams in these set-tos are barely enough.
With an ensemble of 18 playable operators to send into the breach, including a host of Siege-familiar favourites; upgradable tech, including body armour, revive kits and scan grenades; and a handful of explosive and reinforcements to tinker with, Rainbow Six Extraction offers plenty beyond the battlefield. In the weeks following launch, Ubisoft plans to evolve its uber-challenging 'Maelstrom Protocol' mode, with weekly assignments and combat and assault modes promising to add flavour to the get-in-extract-get-out fundamentals of the core Extraction experience.
The thing is, all of this depends on Extraction hitting the ground running from the off and garnering that initial player-base it hopes to develop, sustain, and grow. With its inclusion in Xbox's Game Pass initiative, and the fact that the remainder of this month is relatively light on the big releases front, Extraction has a good chance of doing so in the short-term. How Extraction will fare longer-term remains to be seen.
The fact that we're still talking about Rainbow Six Siege and (its now-retired) Outbreak mode today speaks volumes for their long-lasting appeal, but by flying so closely to its inspiration, Rainbow Six Extraction suffers a bit of an identity crisis. It's often good but rarely great. In its darker, action horror-driven moments, it can be brilliant; but when forcing gratuitous gunplay that fails to live up to Siege's prestige, it can be repetitive. If Rainbow Six Extraction is to achieve long-term success and build a healthy community, then it must play to its strengths, it must be its own thing, and it must escape the long shadow cast by the very source material responsible for its existence.
Reviewed on PS5 with a code provided by the publisher.