Much to my surprise, Rainbow Six Extraction has been my most-played game this week. Given my woeful track record with games that require stealth, including Rainbow Six: Siege, I wasn’t expecting to play Extraction far beyond an initial curiosity-check. However, after a rough first few attempts, I learned more about how to approach Extraction and then began to really enjoy it.
Although Extraction was released in January 2022, it actually started life in 2018, as a limited-time event inside Rainbow Six: Siege. “Operation Chimera”, as the event was known, replaced Siege‘s usual realism with a mysterious alien invasion; this experiment recieved enough positive attention that Ubisoft developed it into a standalone game. As a full game, Extraction is a co-op PvE experience that applies the methodical and tactical nature of the Rainbow Six series to a horde mode similar to Back 4 Blood or the Zombies modes in Call Of Duty games.
Because Extraction is a spin-off from Siege, most of its components are familiar. Its graphical style and quality, its movement and feel, and its operators (characters) and weapons, are all from its parent game. Its missions are where its differences become clear.
One obvious change is that the contents of each mission (incursion, in Rainbow-Six-speak) are semi-randomised. While the map layout is constant, everything else is variable; from the type and location of objectives, to the squad’s starting point, to the mutations that add new risks or hazards. (I think its semi-randomised rather than fully procedurally-generated, because the enemy and objective placements have never felt illogical or broken.)
Each map is fenced into sub-zones that contain one objective, and the aim of each mission is to complete three increasingly-difficult objectives before escaping. In-story, Rainbow’s REACT team has already contained these specific areas, encasing them in millitary-IKEA-styled REACT buildings complete with airlocks and escape points, which explains why its comparatively safe to send squads to those areas to investigate the enemies within.
After completing each sub-zone, the squad collectively decides whether to move on to the next sub-zone or to exit the mission safely and keep the XP they’ve gained so far. Or, squads can leave without completing objectives at all by running to a designated extraction zone and activating it. At first I thought this “escape at any time” design was an odd choice that seemed overly forgiving by tactical-shooter standards. However, once I left the straightforward tutorial mission and tried to play real incursions, I quickly understood why there were so many escape points! During my first evening with Extraction, my squad barely survived any missions on the beginning Moderate difficulty – at one point, I had just one full-health operator available as the rest were either too injured to use or had been left behind in failed missions.
When an operator fails to extract – either by missing the extraction zone or by being killed and left behind – they are declared MIA. The only way to get them back is to start another incursion in the same map, which creates a new objective for rescuing the stranded operator. Succeeding brings the operator back into the roster in an injured state. Failing the rescue attempt still returns the injured operator, but at the cost of 30% of the XP they’ve ever earned. That loss can be enough to make that operator, or even your account, lose progression levels, so this design teaches you to be cautious and escape before your operators are killed, rather than charging in recklessly. It avoids being cruel, however, as you can never fully run out of operators. Also, once an operator hits the maxiumum level of 10, they never lose XP again. This cleverly incentivises players to only bring their maxed-out characters to these difficult missions, which gives the the squad the highest chance of success.
Beyond the standard Incursions, there are currently two extra modes – Assignment missions and the Maelstrom Protocol. Weekly Assignment missions are incursions with modified objectives and challenges. For example, the current Assignment forces highly-tactical play by enabling friendly-fire and removing HUD elements. Last week’s assignment, Kick the Anthill, instead focused on close-quarters combat against swarms of enemies in individual heavily-barricaded rooms. For each room, squads needed to fully scope out every possible entrance and exit while using their recon tech to find out what was behind the doors. But once the first shot was fired, no-one could retreat or be cautious until the room was clear. This binary approach of needing a short period of 100% stealth and strategy followed by an instant switch to 100% agression made Kick The Anthill extremely fun for me, and I hope that assignment returns.
Maelstrom Protocol is the endgame mode of Extraction, and it changes the established rules of incursions. These 9-zone marathon incursions can only be played on the highest difficulty setting, and only by 6 of the 18 operators. Ammunition and health refills decrease over time and eventually vanish entirely, while squads also have to deal different game modifiers for each sub-zone. Most importantly, these missions are not randomised: every squad will face the same challenge and have the same pool of available operators during any week. This is because Maelstrom Protocol is a ranked competitive mode, despite being PvE. Squads who score highly in missions recieve a ranking from Bronze to Diamond, and reaching higher tiers results in more premium currency rewards and unlockable armour. I went into my first Maelstrom Protocol mission while under-levelled, as I was with a squad who had spent more time with Extraction and wanted to try the mode out. After a few tries, we managed to complete the first 3 objectives and safely extract, which was enough to get us a Bronze ranking. (This means I now have a shiny Bronze helment for my operators despite not actually being able to launch the mode myself!).
This mode is designed to thoroughly test how well you’ve understood how the game works, and how well you can plan around situations that are much tougher than normal gameplay. I think that Maelstrom Protocol will become the focal point for hardcore Extraction fans, and also possibly the test-bed for new additions and objective types.
One aspect of Extraction that doesn’t feel as well-constructed is its story. To me it feels like the story has been mostly been developed to explain the map design: Ubisoft have provided the bare minimum worldbuilding and story needed to make the game playable. It works well enough that you don’t overthink it while playing, but it doesn’t go beyond serviceable.
Despite Ubisoft thinking highly enough of the story to release a lore trailer for Extraction, the way the story is revealed can make it come across as an afterthought sometimes. The entire explanation of how incursions work is explained in a single minute-long briefing that’s presented before the tutorial mission. After this, new story beats are mostly told by post-level-up cutscenes that are easy to miss or accidentally skip, especially when playing in a squad. The remaining information comes from short voice clips on the level progression screen, and a text codex that’s filled in by completing objectives in each of the cities. One upside here is that the voice clips can be retriggered just by scrolling through the level descriptions, so they are never permanently missable – at the same time, that means they can repeat just a bit too often!
While Extraction‘s story and world aren’t particularly strong, Extraction succeeds at the most important part; gameplay. Its enjoyable and replayable, and its slightly-randomised framework creates lots of chances for both coordinated and chaotic games without creating unwinnable matches. The new REACT tech options work together well with character gadgets and abilities to provide multiple options for healing, stealth, and reconnaissance, which lets squads kit themselves out in the ways that suit their combination of objectives and operators best.
The game has also perfomed well so far: I’ve not experienced any disconnections or other issues while playing. Finally, I’m glad that the microtransactions are not pushed excessively; there is a standard Shop page on the menu bar and nothing else. New weapons skins and uniforms are also unlocked by completing gameplay challenges, which seems surprisingly rare at the moment.
Like many PvE games, Extraction is at its best when you’re able to play with a squad that you can plan and communicate with, especially on harder difficulties and in Maelstrom Protocol. If you need to rely on quick-play matches instead, your results may vary. However, the Buddy Pass system – which lets players who buy the full game give access to two friends for two weeks – should hopefully help players convince their friends to form a squad.
Currently, news about Extraction suggests that Ubisoft will be supporting it and adding new operators and missions for at least a year. Due to its suprisingly polished and stable (by 2020s standards) release and its well-designed and fully-functional gameplay, Extraction is definitely going into my Cool tier.