We have had a number of co-op-focused shooters in recent months, so it would be easy to overlook Rainbow Six Extraction from Ubisoft. It would be a shame if you did since this is one of the best co-op shooters I’ve played in a long time. Recent games in the genre seem to rely largely on their IP or nostalgia without bringing much new to the table, but Rainbow Six Extraction brings refined gameplay and improvements that I hope future games will adopt.
Rainbow Six Extraction takes the foundation laid by six years of continual updates to Rainbow Six Siege, and then migrates things in its own direction. Instead of a tense game of operators fighting each other, R6 Extraction teams them up to take on an alien threat slowly infecting the world. The aliens are seemingly designed to be generic and without many distinguishing features, but that’s not necessarily a disadvantage. You have your standard melee fighters, annoying shooters, ones that explode, one who explode and leave poison, and then some slightly stronger variations and some unique enemies I won’t spoil. There are enough types that you’re never sure what you will face, while not so many that it becomes overly difficult to plan around. And that is what this game is ultimately about: using your knowledge of the levels, enemies you’ll face, and objective requirements to make plans, execute them, and then go running for the escape when it inevitably goes terribly wrong.
What makes this all work so well is the combination of multiple progression systems working in parallel and a satisfying emphasis on risk-vs-rewards gameplay choices. In the game itself, you have individual operators to level up, your command rank, and objectives to complete in each of the locations you will unlock. Your command rank is your usual overall progression which unlocks new operators and new levels, as well as eventually the end-game mode. It also is where the story, such as it is, unfolds. Each operator can be raised to level 10 which will unlock new weapons and cosmetics, and upgrade their special abilities and stats. The locations you go to offer a series of optional objectives like “kill X of this creature” or “use a particular weapon type”, and these grant experience points, snippets of lore, and the occasional cosmetic. The last of these are entirely optional, but they also are where the bulk of the world-building occurs.
Every single one of the systems in this game is structured around risk-vs-reward, and as you progress you will routinely be making difficult decisions. Each of the game’s areas are further broken down into three sub-zones where you will do all your work. For instance, the starting area is New York City, a Police Station, or the Monolith Gardens Hotel. What you don’t get to pick is what objectives you will face when you get there. Instead, the game will pick 3 types at random and tell you what order you will do them in. Knowing what the missions are you can then decide what operator to use, and with what loadout, both of which are important since each mission type suits a particular playstyle. This is not to say you can’t approach every mission the exact same way if you want, but you had better be prepared to fail frequently. Fortunately, there is never just one solution to a given problem, so you have still have flexibility in how you choose to run a mission. On top of that, you have four difficulty levels, and you select which one you want on each deployment. There’s more risk/reward here since higher difficulty levels include higher rewards, but also the chance of mutations that will change the world in dangerous ways. It does help that each mission is relatively short, with most objectives normally taking less than ten minutes, and a full three-area run going for less than half an hour. There is the occasional longer game, but this is balanced by also sometimes getting objectives that take less than a minute to complete. Both of these situations are rare, though.
Once you are in the missions themselves more choices are presented to you. The first area is normally pretty straightforward — just achieve the objective as best you can — but then you have a choice: do you continue to the next area, or do you evacuate with the experience points you have already earned? This may seem like an easy choice at first, but there are a lot of factors. If you have been injured you may want to leave because hit points don’t regenerate, you can only put temporary armor on to boost yourself up, and you don’t get your hit points back at the end of the mission either — your operator has to rest for a few missions to recover back to max health. Also, keep in mind if you are knocked out in a mission you will lose all access to that particular operator until you mount a rescue mission for them. So even if you didn’t take any damage in the first area, you may still want to evacuate because area two might be a mission type you’re bad at or improperly equipped for since you decided to focus on the first area’s objectives. And, if you’re playing with random gamers from matchmaking, you may just not gel with them and decide to get new partners. The pressure gets even heavier once it’s time to get to mission area three and decide if you want to try to finish off the objectives, or cut and run. The longer you play the game the better you’ll be able to decide.
The game’s biggest weakness is the same as most other games in this genre: finding other people to play with. For myself, I was able to get my friends that I’ve been playing Aliens Fireteam Elite with to test the game out with me, and that worked great. However, jumping into matchmaking was, at best, a mixed bag. The actual matchmaking process is easy and quick. Thankfully, the majority of my games were fine, if not particularly noteworthy. Skill levels ranged from absolute novice to top-tier, and for the most part, each group would get in, do the objectives and get out with minimal team-related issues. Out of my 20-ish matchmaking games I only ever had one team that truly clicked, and we ended up running through multiple missions together. The flipside of the coin is I encounter several toxic gamers who either seemed to only want to berate their teammates (even once while we were trying to extract their KO’d operator) or intentionally screw things up for us, such as triggering an evacuation while we had no way to get to the safe spot and thus causing our operators to go MIA. Even if players weren’t overtly toxic there were a few players who refused to accept this was a tactical game and not Call of Duty, which resulted in frustration for everyone. For myself, I will stick to playing strictly with people I know from here on.
Whether or not you play with randoms or people you know, Rainbow Six Extraction provides a lot of nice features to enhance the co-op experience. In addition to the usual quick-chat wheel, text chat box, in-game voice communicator, and location ping functions, the game also gives each operator some small shared benefits to make things easier to communicate. For instance, I particularly like playing as Fuse, an operator with a special ability that allows him to scan through walls for nests (a specific type of enemy unit) and any human targets we need to rescue. On my screen, I can see through the walls and these targets are outlined in red to further emphasize them. On my partners’ screens, they can see the red outlines of what I’m looking at without me needing to call them out. This is such a small thing, but it really makes a big difference. If you are in matchmaking and no one is using voice communications (which is pretty common) it means I still get the tactical benefits. There are many other small things like this that you will notice more as you play. It is clear that the designers of Rainbow Six Extraction built the multiplayer functions with an eye towards how games are actually played, rather than how they hope we’d play them.
If you do not want to play with random players and your friend group is otherwise interested in Rainbow Six Extraction it’s worth knowing that this game is entirely playable solo. Most co-op-focused games will give you the ability to play solo, but not make any accommodations to make it a viable option past the first few levels. Extraction actually properly scales the difficulty based on the number of players in the game. For example, if you play a rescue mission solo you will only need to eliminate three chain nodes keeping your objective in place while playing with a single friend will mean five of these nodes, and with a full party, it would be seven. The number of enemies within a level also scales to your party size, so going in solo doesn’t mean getting helplessly overwhelmed by a map tuned for a full team. Playing solo is still more difficult overall than playing in a squad since you lose complementary abilities like someone being able to rescue you if you get in trouble.
Aside from the aforementioned matchmaking issues, I do have one complaint, which is that the game really doesn’t explain itself very well. The tutorial covers only the basics, and instead learning core mechanics comes down to a combination of luck and doing the areas optional location-based objectives. The optional objectives are often built around things you may not have known you could do, and in many cases making you use abilities or gear you normally wouldn’t. You also get the bonus of learning more about the aliens through flavor text, if you’re into that. The game has a surprisingly deep well of lore if you want to dive into it, but presents very little of it upfront. The occasional cutscene you unlock while leveling up will provide only the most bare-bones context to what you’re doing, and I suspect that is all most people will see.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction Review Final Thoughts:
If you are a co-op gamer and you’ve already worked your way through recent releases like Back 4 Blood and Aliens Fireteam Elite, you should not hesitate to try out Rainbow Six Extraction. It is the best co-op shooter I have played in recent memory, and my Aliens Fireteam Elite squad has moved over to it completely since launch. There is more meat to this game than it first appears on the surface, and it seems I am still learning new things about it every time I jump into a mission. That said, this is a strictly PvE experience designed with cooperation in mind. If you want a PvP experience you’ll need to look elsewhere, and if you are not interested in playing an objective-focused game this is not for you. There is a competitive element available in the end-game activity Maelstrom Protocols, but it is still PvE and the competition comes down to efficiency. Incidentally, Maelstrom Protocols also rewards premium currency, which means the standard Ubisoft cosmetics store can be picked through without spending real money if you have the patience. Either way, I was originally going to pass on Rainbow Six Extraction since I had no experience with Rainbow Six Siege and I presumed that this would just be a dumbed-down version of that. I am glad that I got the opportunity to play this, and I think this will be something my friends and I will be playing for a long time to come.