I couldn't help but pump my arm and mutter a "hell yes" as my squad finished up our first successful incursion in Rainbow Six Extraction. Even on the easier difficulties, missions had proven to be brutal. And yet, we'd cleared an incursion without a single operator going down, playing a mission that just an hour before had been too challenging for us to even get a third of the way through. But we persevered after our initial failure. We discussed the pros and cons of our operators' unique gadgets, made plans to take subsequent incursions at a more careful pace, and promised to stick together until the mission was finished. Teamwork won the day for us--and that satisfying sense of camaraderie is Extraction's greatest hook.
A spin-off of Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft Montreal's team-based first-person shooter Extraction doesn't initially present as your typical Rainbow Six game. In Extraction, select members of international counter-terrorism unit Rainbow are called in to form REACT, a team tasked with studying and fighting against parasitic aliens called Archaeans. This is a bit more otherworldly in comparison to the more earthly concerns that Rainbow usually fights against, but the core gameplay tenets that define the Rainbow Six games are present in Extraction. Yeah, you're fighting aliens, but a successful mission is still entirely dependent on teamwork, communication, and your ability to adapt to difficult situations. It's a compelling gameplay loop, one made far more fun if you have two friends to jump into the fray with you.
As opposed to the player-vs.-player engagements of Siege, Extraction is entirely player-vs.-environment. In Extraction, squads of three are sent into "incursions." Each incursion, a mission into an area infested by the Archaeans, is divided into three sub-zones, with your objective changing zone to zone. As you progress, the difficulty of each zone increases, adding more enemy Archaeans and better rewards for completing objectives. It's up to you and your team to decide whether you go for broke and complete all three zones in a single incursion, or choose to extract from the mission early.
If you complete an incursion, you'll earn huge amounts of experience, potentially increasing the strength of your operators and unlocking new tech that you can bring into follow-up incursions. But if your operator falls in battle, you'll not only lose experience, but the operator you were playing as will become captured by the Archaeans--removing the option to use that character. To regain the experience and operator you lost, you'll need to replay the exact incursion where you went missing-in-action using a different operator and successfully save your first character from the Archaeans. It means that, instead of clearing all three zones, extracting early and keeping all the experience you've currently accumulated, even if it's a smaller pot, can be a smart option if the mission seems to be going south.
Compounding this choice is the fact that operators retain health and tech zone to zone. If your teammate isn't watching your back in the very first zone of an incursion and you're suddenly ambushed and take a beating, you may be walking into the next zone with only a small amount of health instead of all of it, with all your gadgets used up.
It's here that Extraction presents its most compelling hook, while also highlighting what is potentially its greatest weakness: Your squad's success is entirely dependent on good communication and a fair bit of democratic discussions around whether the squad should push on or extract early, and this debate evolves over the course of the mission. Many times, I'd go into an incursion filled with confidence, only for one mistake to convince me I'd be better off trying to talk my allies into bailing early. A few minutes later, a chance discovery of a medical kit would then give me enough hope that I'd be able to last for at least one more zone.
Over mics, these conversations are an intriguing wrinkle, encouraging you to admit when you've possibly become a liability to your squad or trust in your allies when they believe that one more zone completion is possible. It's a wonderful sensation when your squad is composed of folks willing to give positive reinforcement, relay information to each other to reassure doubts, and collectively try to account for potential weaknesses in the group. It's also a system that quickly falls apart if you're not using mics and are instead relying on the in-game ping system. Extraction has a pretty good system that can help with pointing out ammo crates and coordinating attacks, but it's a poor substitute for the necessary nuance that players need for deciding whether to go forward or extract early. If you're not planning to jump on comms when you pick up Extraction, you may find your fun dulling a bit.
Admittedly, in many ways this is similar to Siege (as well as plenty of other team-based games), but the fall-off in a team's performance when players aren't speaking to one another feels especially noticeable in Extraction given the random element of what your squad is tasked with accomplishing with each incursion. Adaptation is such a core part of Extraction, which is just easier to pull off if you and your allies share information.
At the very least, Extraction incentivizes teamwork via its challenge and reward system. You certainly can go it alone, but fighting without a full squad is tough. Even my squad's most carefully laid plans quickly unraveled the second any one of us was laid out by attacking enemies and our numbers were reduced to two, so whenever one of us was close to running out of health and going MIA, the general consensus was typically, "Let's get out of here." Plus, there's additional experience rewarded for every operator successfully extracted, meaning you get more points for bringing the team home than finishing things solo.
When you're not hashing things out with your teammates, you'll be shooting it out with the Archaeans. The operators and their hardware behave pretty much exactly as they do in Siege, with a few alterations to certain characters' unique gadgets (like IQ and Jäger) to make them more useful in PvE situations. And, honestly, why mess with a good thing? Siege features tight gunplay that rewards a player patient enough to take the right shot at the right moment. Assault rifles feel a bit better than other firearms in Extraction, given that their longer range is ideal for stealthily taking out Archaeans and their nests from a distance, and their high fire rate is well-suited to taking on multiple enemies at once at close range, but the overall pool of weapons is fairly balanced. Even shotguns, which are limited to Archaeans-in-your-face range, comfortably fit into the meta, while also providing a means of breaching through certain walls.
Like Siege, Extraction features destructible environments where select walls, floors, and ceilings can be destroyed, allowing operators to navigate maps and surprise-attack enemies from multiple angles. Conversely, you can better defend your position from approaching enemies by reinforcing breakable walls or boarding up broken windows and doors. It's an interesting consideration but not one that plays a significant role in incursions. Reaching your objective never requires careful deconstruction of the environment, and all operators having access to silenced weapons means you don't have to consider alternative ways of circumnavigating an Archaean to avoid alerting a group. Though breaking through walls is fun, it's never pushed forward as an effective means of winning or more easily travelling through certain incursions.
That, in turn, lowers the usefulness of operators with a unique gadget aimed at breaching, seeing as opportunities to use their ability don't pop up all that often. In Extraction, every operator utilizes a unique gadget that allows them to aid the squad in a different way. Smoke, for example, can plant grenades that can be remotely activated to release poisonous gas, while Sledge can swing his sledgehammer to stun Archaeans or bust through walls. Though every operator is useful in a different way, a select few are just more useful--Pulse's ability to see enemies through walls feels limited in comparison to Lion, for instance, seeing as both operators can see enemies through walls, but Lion can still shoot while doing so right from the get-go (Pulse eventually can as well, but only after he levels up a bit). Lion's ability may be limited in that it needs to recharge between uses and he can only see enemies while they're moving, but seeing as your squad can just wait before pushing onwards to the next fight and most types of Archaeans actively move about the map, it's not much of a tradeoff.
The Archaeans and zone objectives play a hand in uplifting certain operators as well. There are 11 types of Archaeans, each possessing different traits. The annoying Rooter can lock you into place, for example, while the hissing Bloater can explode into a cloud of toxic gas. Knowing what you're going up against and then immobilizing them long enough to get to their weak spot and stealthily take them out is paramount to success, meaning operators geared towards recon, stealth, and stunning enemies excel.
Similarly, though objectives are varied in their design--whether you're defending locations in Serial Scan or sneakily planting devices on Archaean nests in Nest Tracker--they all boil down to "find a target and try to be quiet about it." As a result, operators geared towards recon and stealth stand out from the crowd. Which isn't to say that the operators that naturally lean towards loudly locking down an area (like Tachanka), distracting Archaeans (like Alibi), or breaching through walls (like Hibana) are bad, but Extraction's design encourages a playstyle that supports operators who tackle tasks via information-gathering (like IQ), going unseen and unheard (like Vigil), or stunning enemies (like Ela).
Having previously worked together as members of Rainbow, REACT's operators are a wonderful variety of ages, races, and nationalities. Many of them have preexisting relationships (Pulse and Hibana are married, for example) or a history with the Archaean parasite that dates back to Outbreak, a limited-time mode in Siege that has now become a canon prequel to Extraction. The game doesn't do anything interesting with all of that narrative though. Ash, Thermite, and Mira act as the voices in your ear while on missions, also detailing what's happening in the world during stunningly rendered cutscenes that unlock as you progress through the game. But it's all just beautiful noise--none of it is compelling enough to dig through Extraction's dozens of text files. The story is so immaterial, it might as well not even be there.
Thankfully, there's a lot to unlock beyond more story. As you level up, you'll earn additional operators to play, new maps with further incursions to tackle, more tech to bring into the field, and skins to dress up your favorite characters. Eventually, you'll unlock what constitutes Extraction's endgame content: Assignments and Maelstrom Protocol. Assignments are extremely difficult missions that change week-to-week, offering skilled players more content to play through in order to further level up their operators. Maelstrom Protocol is Extraction's ranked playlist, where you go through a nine-zone incursion instead of the typical three, earning points to rise in rank and unlock seasonal rewards.
It's a pretty healthy assortment of content to play through at launch, even if unlocking it can be a grind once you hit the latter half of the game's progression track. Though you do earn experience for completing incursions, you net yourself a lot more for completing in-game challenges called Studies. These Studies are tied to certain maps--so you can't, as an example, complete San Francisco Studies when playing incursions in Alaska. This system creates two problems.
First off, it can punish the player--if all your Studies for Alaska are to kill Tormentors, you're entirely dependent on an incursion randomly spawning Tormentors. So you could, like me, play through several incursions on Alaska and make it all the way through all three zones every time and just not level up that much because Tormentors never spawned. Studies don't expire until they're completed so I had to keep playing on Alaska over and over until Tormentors finally spawned, just so I could complete those challenges and unlock a new set to chase.
And second, Studies net you so much experience that it feels like the game is encouraging the player to be a bit selfish and forgo a zone's objective in order to do their own thing. While playing Extraction, I was constantly reminded of Halo Infinite's challenge system at that game's launch, and that's not a comparison you want your game to make.
Of course, those are both issues that are easily rectified by teammates willing to talk to one another and work together. I had a wonderful time with Extraction, working alongside my teammates so that we all could complete challenges at a steady pace without completely ignoring the objective. That communication served us well when it came time to decide whether to push onward or extract, reinforcing that compelling teamwork-based hook that made me want to drop into incursions again and again. Though the story is weak and the design of the game favors certain characters, Extraction is a good Rainbow Six game that rewards you and your team's ability to adapt to deliver a compelling gameplay loop.