Rainbow Six Extraction suffers from a deep case of little brother syndrome. As an addition to the classic franchise, it stands as a lower-priced, glorified expansion pack to the uber-popular and widely admired Rainbow Six Siege, with a selection of Siege’s operators and a hefty chunk of its mechanics. As a shooter, it’s a mixed bag of repetitive missions and flawed progression whose best features are frequently the ones adopted directly from its predecessor. As an independent project, what new ideas it has, namely its tactical PvE missions and MIA operator status, feel destined to get buried underneath the weight of larger, more ambitious projects. It’s not a bad game. In fact, it puts together a solid foundation for the stars to align on a perfectly satisfying, even highly enjoyable run. But with every passing level and each new turn at an old mission, I couldn’t escape the thought that its best concepts would be better served in a game that pushed itself a little bit more.
Rainbow Six Siege has held up longer than most competitive shooters for a handful of reasons. Of course, its mechanics and finely tuned strategies, which benefit from highly destructible and intricately designed environments, offer something of a chess match in PvP that can never be perfected. It’s also been putting out consistent content updates over the course of over six years on the market. One of those content events came in the form of Outbreak, a limited time event that saw the discovery and subsequent outbreak of an unknown parasite and serves as the basis for Rainbow Six Extraction.
"Make no mistake: Extraction at its core is a build on Rainbow Six Siege."
The parasite present in Outbreak has been identified across the United States to areas from New York to San Francisco and Alaska, and the Rainbow Exogenous Analysis and Containment Team, or REACT, is put to the task of analyzing it and taking out the so-called Archaeans infected with the parasite. Make no mistake: Extraction at its core is a build on Rainbow Six Siege. Gunplay feels almost identical, and the roster of 18 Rainbow operators take many of the same traits that they have in Siege. It’s inevitable that people familiar with Siege are going to have a slight leg up in understanding each operator’s abilities and strengths. It takes much of the technology, too, including Siege’s gorgeous visuals and astonishing destructible environments. Extraction makes the most with its beautiful environments and cutscenes, and while the destructible environments are much less useful here than in Siege, they’re still wildly impressive and can come in handy at a moment’s notice.
What differentiates Extraction is its structure, taking the PvE of Outbreak and expanding it to a more fully-fledged experience. There isn’t much of a campaign to speak of, nor is there a really cohesive story aside from a few cutscenes introducing the parasite and transitioning into new locations. Instead, Extraction’s gameplay takes the form of incursions, three-stage missions in which teams of up to three drop into Archaean-infested containment zones with three unique and randomly assigned objectives, one per sub-zone. These missions allow an appreciated amount of flexibility for you and your squad. Incursions are set up linearly, so you complete the first objective, move through an airlock to a second zone with a different objective, and do the same for the third and final zone.
There are 13 total objectives that you can be assigned, which range from killing an elite target to planting scanners in Archaean nests. Some objectives are more difficult than others, including a special mission where you enter a gateway and fight an Archaean-infested version of a Rainbow operator, called a Protean. These missions are highlights, as they offer the closest things to boss fights, though they can be brutally difficult, especially on the highest difficulty. The endgame content, called Maelstrom Protocol, which is instead a defined set of objectives that will change weekly, is of the same type of high difficulty and high reward, but while it’s an interesting setup as of launch, it remains to be seen how much staying power it will have moving forward.
"Some objectives are more difficult than others, including a special mission where you enter a gateway and fight an Archaean-infested version of a Rainbow operator, called a Protean. These missions are highlights, as they offer the closest things to boss fights, though they can be brutally difficult, especially on the highest difficulty."
The catch in the main game is that your ultimate success isn’t directly tied to these objectives. You can advance from one sub-zone to the next without having completed an area’s objective, and at any point you and your squad can extract to safety and end the incursion. What this means is that your bearing of success isn’t how many objectives you necessarily complete, so Extraction takes a somewhat different approach to its progression system. Each operator has their own individual level that improves the longer you play with that operator, and as is to be expected, higher levels mean a better selection of guns, stronger skills, and more cosmetics for that specific character.
As the REACT Team, though, your progression is combined to gain levels, called milestones. All XP you collect counts toward milestones, but what gets you by far the most XP are Studies, location-specific objectives that are assigned in groups of three and are the only contributors to the percent completion you have for each location. These can be as simple as building barricades or getting kills with a certain attachment to as complicated as killing a specific enemy a certain way. These are easy enough at first that you can almost unintentionally achieve them. It hits a point, though, where the objectives for your Studies are no longer natural moments of progression, causing a divergence between what makes you progress in the game and its core gameplay.
Frequently, for example, your mission will be something like “Damage enemy X with an explosive.” That incentivizes you to go out of your way to use an explosive on an enemy, alarming enemies even when your objective can be completed in pure stealth. Another example is the objective to extract from the third sub-zone without being downed, which can certainly be completed in normal gameplay, but can much more easily be completed by sneaking around enemies and skipping objectives entirely. These objectives for Studies are so heavily-weighted in XP, especially in the first 10 or so milestones, that any incursion ended without a completed objective feels fruitless. It’s a bizarre dichotomy that pits the game against itself and ultimately took me out of the experience altogether.
"These objectives for Studies are so heavily-weighted in XP, especially in the first 10 or so milestones, that any incursion ended without a completed objective feels fruitless. It’s a bizarre dichotomy that pits the game against itself and ultimately took me out of the experience altogether."
With that said, the freedom to extract or skip objectives isn’t all bad. Sure, if you don’t successfully complete an objective, you’ll be missing out on the XP that comes from completing it, but this means the only real bearing on your so-called success is your safe return from the containment zone. Your safe return isn’t guaranteed, though, as an operator’s death results not in just a restart but an MIA. If your operator doesn’t extract, their gained XP is taken off the board and they are unplayable until you complete a rescue mission by going into the location in which they went missing and extracting them from an Archaean tree. These specific missions are intense, though not always entirely difficult, and Extraction really nails the feeling of relief in bringing an operator home safely.
I ended up encountering these MIA rescue missions a good number of times, as Extraction can frequently be very difficult, even outside of the special or endgame missions. Some enemy types like the Tormentor or Crusher are exceptionally difficult to bring down and can be incursion-killers when they show up in numbers. Thus, Extraction is at its most satisfying when you’re able to complete everything in stealth. It has a great middle ground in its intricate level design that forces you to do some recon and get your bearings but stops just short of becoming overwhelming, and getting in and out of a sub-zone with a mission completed and no alarm raised rivals the feelings from stealth PvE games across the board. It helps, too, that the environments are dark and eerie, if somewhat repetitive, so they get the blood pressure up quickly.
When things get hairy is when the game starts to lose itself, and things tend to get hairy more often than not. Enemy sight lines are unclear and inconsistent, so it’s never clear whether an enemy will notice you from across the room or ignore you right in front of it. When they do notice, it’s all hands on deck. An enemy sounding an alarm alerts virtually every enemy in a sub-zone, and they all tend to come at once. It’s not as though there are too many enemies to handle at any given time; it’s that there is effectively a never-ending lineup that brings the pace of gameplay to a grinding halt, and it takes just one slip-up or enemy taking a different path to ruin even a full squad’s game. I wouldn’t say these Archaeans have smart AI, especially in comparison to Rainbow Six Siege, but their instinct is very frequently killer. This is amplified when playing solo, because though the game does tone down the difficulty, it sends you in alone rather than with a team of bots, so it can be even easier to get overrun.
"When things get hairy is when the game starts to lose itself, and things tend to get hairy more often than not. Enemy sight lines are unclear and inconsistent, so it’s never clear whether an enemy will notice you from across the room or ignore you right in front of it. When they do notice, it’s all hands on deck."
Rainbow Six Extraction isn’t bad. In theory, it’s exactly what you would hope for. In a game billed as a spin-off of Rainbow Six Siege but which acts as more of an expanded version of what was already an expansion, it gives you a bit more of some proven mechanics and throws in a few new ideas while it’s at it. At a lower-than-normal price point, it’s a game that will be worth it to fans who purely want more Siege gameplay or are invested in the lore. But with new ideas comes a lot of risk, and Extraction fails to line up its good ideas with its actual gameplay. In a vacuum, it’s a solid experience with some true highlights, but in reality, it fails to allow any of its good ideas to carry the weight of an entire game, especially one in the shadow of a giant.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
Great in stealth; Gorgeous visuals; Destructible environments; Tough special enemies; Tense rescue missions and Protean boss fights; Intricate level design.
Misaligned progression system; Inconsistent enemies; Repetitive structure.