Rainbow Six Extraction Review
Fighting a whole new threat with a conflicting battle plan
Not every franchise gets the opportunity to have multiple entries, let alone a spinoff. But after years of being the most prominent tactical shooter on the market, the Rainbow Six series went on a bit of a hiatus. It briefly returned with the enjoyable Vegas sub-franchise, and more recently with Rainbow Six Siege, going from a mission-based single player design to a competitive multiplayer shooter. The slow-paced and tactical approach remained key, but it moved the series into a more modern design concept. Siege in itself could perhaps be considered a spinoff, though given its prominent and long-standing success, this is likely the new direction for the series. With the newly released Rainbow Six Extraction, we have possibly a spinoff of a spinoff, moving the series ever further away from its origins.
R6 Extraction is a cooperative experience that takes the gameplay elements of Siege, and puts them into a new scenario, where Earth has been invaded by an unknown alien parasite. A new organization called REACT has been put together to fight this threat, and the members of this team are the Rainbow Six Siege operators. Their job is to visit a variety of isolated Containment zones and eliminate the enemies they come across, all while gathering intel and completing objectives. The narrative of Extraction is fairly thin, and while there are a couple of cutscenes, the details are mostly told via blocks of text that you uncover as you complete gameplay objectives, and/or come across items on the levels. Everyone is constantly thanking you for helping researchers when you complete missions, but of course it doesn't actually lead to anything, given the open-ended and replay-focused nature of the game.
As a first-person, mission-based tactical shooter, Extraction tries to offer a mix of stealth and action. Players will be deployed on missions in four different areas across the US, from Alaska to New York, but each of these four areas has just three levels, so there's not a ton of content to explore. Each level is fairly small in size for a game of this type, and perhaps comparable to the larger maps in Siege. You can choose which particular area and level you want to deploy into, or just set your matchmaking to find any. The locations are largely indoor - a museum, a research facility, and so on. There are various doors that can be opened, destructible walls which can be reinforced, windows can be barricaded, and so on; this level design that should be familiar to Siege players.
For a game centered around replay value, the levels strangely stay the same. You will actually get to know the layout pretty well after a few incursions to the same destination, and it's a bit surprising the game doesn't use randomized levels. The incursions consist of visiting three sub-zones of a level, which can happen in any order, and you also get dropped-in at one of the few preset points. The objectives in each zone get randomized, as do the enemies. You can move on to the next subzone via airlocks, or if things are going badly, you can extract from the level at those same two or three drop-in spots. You don't lose anything by leaving a level early, and it's often a good decision depending on the situation.
The levels are covered with alien goo-like sprawl, which slows you down if you walk on it. It can be cleared just by shooting, or using a late-game special flashlight attachment unlock. You'll also encounter nests, which pose no threat unless a nearby enemy sets off an alert, at which point they begin spawning aliens endlessly until destroyed. The Archeans are a variety of alien creatures that occupy these levels, and need to be dealt with. If they spot you, you only have a few moments to eliminate them before they alert all others nearby, including nests, so stealth is typically the best approach, especially on higher difficulties. The Archeans range from typical grunts that are either melee or ranged, and can be eliminated with a single headshot, to the much tougher armored foes that hide their weak points and have large health pools. Interestingly, even the toughest foes can be eliminated by a stealth takedown from behind, which again tries to shift the gameplay to a quiet approach. Each sub-level does have a 15 minute limit, at which point it gets swarmed with foes, but this rarely comes into the equation even when taking your time. All guns also come equipped with a special ultraviolet light that helps see enemies through certain surfaces, letting you pull off incredibly satisfying headshots through walls and helping be more aware of dangers lurking nearby.
To undertake these incursions, you've got a roster of R6 Siege operators to choose from, including Sledge, Doc, Fuze, and IQ amongst others. They bring over their signature gadgets as well, from Alibi's hologram, to Finka's adrenalin boost, to Pulse's scanner device. Each operator has a primary and a secondary weapon, and you unlock a couple more as they level-up. The weapons have two or three scope options (all low-range), and attachments – but overall the weapon and attachment selection is very limited. Weapons have stats, but other than using different types – rifle, LMG, shotgun – you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between one SMG to the next. The feel of the action is the same as R6 Siege – with slow, deliberate movement without jumping, no reloading while sprinting, guns with a ton of recoil when firing in full auto, and so on. Most weapons, sans shotguns, do start with silencers by default.
As you play with each operator, they earn individual XP, which levels them up and adds passive improvements such as faster movement speed and new weapons. The only time you get to choose your progress is when unlocking new React Tech - a type of special item that you can bring on missions, from stun and smoke grenades, to the recon drones, extra ammo and body armor. New gadgets become available as you level up your overall profile, and you then unlock them one at a time for use across all operators.
The operators are handled as a roster of hero characters, which means you can't always pick the same one – after each deployment, they need time to recover health, so they are not immediately available to go again. If your operator happens to perish during a mission, and you are playing solo and/or your team is unable to recover the body and bring it to extraction, the operator is marked as MIA. This means they are not available until you rescue them from a specifically marked mission location, and you also temporarily lose a huge chunk of your profile XP. To rescue them, you undertake the marked mission, and one of the three sub-levels will have the rescue objective. This objective, by the way, is a really weird one, as you complete a mini-game of pulling your operator from an alien tree as it grows new roots which you must pause to shoot.
Your choice of operator will depend on objectives presented, and chosen difficulty. There are four levels of difficulty, with the toughest option requiring your operators to be high level, and where stealth and ammo/gadget management are key to success. Higher difficulties give you more experience, but also have more enemies, and introduce mutations – game modifiers such as encasing nests in protective armor, covering the map in fog, or making the sprawl not only slow down but also damage players. Objectives themselves can also vary in difficulty. You may need to take a few nests without destroying or alerting them, or find and activate three laptops in a certain order. Other objectives include either killing or luring a specific foe to a trap, or guiding a trapped civilian to extraction – who likes to cough and give away your position. These objectives are not too tough – you just take your time to clear the level of threats first, and then do the necessary tasks. In fact, early on you may find that it's easy enough to almost sprint through, as the enemies don’t pose much threat.
But there are tougher objectives, which pivot the game strongly towards all-out shooting. For example, you may have to defend either a series of areas or two bombs from waves of spawning enemies, or destroy a few special nests while they constantly produce foes. There are no stealth options here, as the game becomes a shooting gallery. If you happen to get one of these combat-focused objectives while playing on higher difficulty levels, R6 Extraction becomes quite a challenge as the operators are fairly fragile. Finding health and ammo is random and you may just get a bad break and have to extract without accomplishing your goal. Or you may resort to cheesy tactics, like spamming stun grenades and running up to the toughest enemies to take them down in one attack.
It's in the end-game that this internal conflict, between trying to be a stealth game and an action game, comes to a head. The final two activities in R6 Extraction are rotating special missions and an extended incursion. The extended incursion, called Maelstrom Protocol, has you go through 9 sub-levels instead of 3, with each increasing in difficulty, the same random objectives, artificially limited operators you can use, and constantly changing map mutations. It's a very tough mode where even being perfectly stealthy does not matter, because if you get a combat-focused objective, you have no choice but to shoot your way out and likely barely limp along to extraction. Similarly, the current weekly special mission has the usual random objective, but also adds a requirement to unlock the airlocks before you can extract. When you start the unlock process, the game spawns absolutely overwhelming waves of enemies that you need to fight against while waiting for the countdown. Considering that the end-game has you revisiting the same locations and same objectives as you've seen for the past many hours, just making everything highly difficult and action-focused doesn’t solve the game's lack of variety or extend its value. Unless you're really into cosmetic unlocks - which include operator skins and helmets, weapon skins, and charms.
To get more fun out of the experience, you can play online with others, in a group of up to three operators. The matchmaking works well, though in a game like this you are always rolling the dice on whether or not your random teammates will have any interest in maintaining stealth, or force you to get into combat early and have to extract without even completing all three sub-levels. The advantage of playing with others (especially with folks you know) is that working together can be satisfying, and you'll have to, as the game does scale its objectives and enemy numbers for more players. If you happen to fall, they can also carry you to extraction, to prevent your operator from going MIA. Playing with others also gives you more flexibility in what gadgets and operators to bring, so that your team is prepared for whatever objectives the game presents. There is even in-game voice chat, a rarity these days. Cross-play support should also hopefully keep the online population in a decently healthy state.
Rainbow Six Extraction is a bit of a strange case. It's a spinoff that takes the serious tactical military franchise and sends them off to fight an alien parasite, with a focus on fairly quick missions and replayability. It brings over the operators from R6 Siege, but their use is highly situational, and the randomized nature of the objectives can throw some real curveballs where you have little choice but to escape early. The stealth elements are functional and often satisfying, but the game often forces you into gun fights – especially in the end-game, which makes its slow movement mechanics become a point of hindrance. And by the time you get to the end, the lack of variety and no layout randomization may already make you feel a bit bored with it all, despite the ramped up difficulty. Rainbow Six Extraction is certainly a fairly well designed and polished game, but its target audience is unclear, with a strange mix of stealth and action at a constant tug of war with each other. If you want something new and cooperative to play with friends, it's a decent choice with a lower price point and certainly better than recent offerings such as Aliens: Fireteam Elite, but there's a feeling of unfulfilled potential.