The Outbreak event in Rainbow Six: Siege all the way back in 2018 was a ton of fun. It presented the tactical shooter in a new light, offering something different to players that might have wanted a more fulfilling PvE experience than the tepid “terrorist hunt” offering in the base game. Ubisoft clearly felt there was enough promise in the idea to not only bring it back but spin it off into a standalone experience, but does it hold up?
Rainbow Six: Extraction is a three-player zombie-type survival game where you join REACT to help curb an alien parasite that’s spreading across the United States. In fact, Extraction is a direct continuation of the Siege event, using that original setting – Truth or Consequences, New Mexico – as ground zero. Actually, there’s a lot to this game that will be familiar if you’ve spent any time with Siege. It allows you to take the mantle of 18 operators, all brought over from Siege, and all retaining their guns and gadgets from the tactical shooter. Curiously, this includes Tachanka with his turret, rather than his current grenade launcher gadget. Some are tweaked to better function in a PvE environment, but enough will be familiar to veteran players that things will feel comfortable. This is good because the game throws a lot at you all at once.
The tutorial hurriedly tries to introduce you to practically every facet of the game all at once, mostly with text blocks. Frankly, it’s overwhelming. It’ll be several more hours before you really get comfortable with the ebb and flow of the title. Much like Siege itself, Extraction doesn’t show the best side of itself until you put a little time into it.
Mechanically, there’s a lot to like. You visit four main settings, each of them offering three distinct levels to play through. The environments are all unique, with a focused, brilliant art direction that makes wandering through these places one of the real highlights. A brutalist penthouse suite is a real standout, but all the levels do a great job of having their own identities. The final location is even Truth or Consequences itself, and returning to the original location from the event is especially cool to see. The three levels in each location are then split up into three smaller maps that you play through in one run, using airlocks as transition phases. Each of the small sections has an objective for you to complete, like killing an elite enemy or placing trackers on spawn points. While there aren’t too many of them, there are enough that you won’t get too sick of any one objective.
Failing an objective doesn’t immediately end a run either, so you can keep going and just move on to the next area in those instances. Fail states in general with the title are quite interesting. If you die, you can still be saved by your squad-mates. They can carry your body to an extraction point, thereby ensuring you get all your XP. Should they fail to reach you, or if you all wipe, then you need to pick a new operator, return to the same map, and retrieve your MIA characters. Rescuing them isn’t a complicated process, but it’s an interesting curveball to work into the experience, especially because if you fail at the rescue, you receive less experience than you otherwise would, and in some cases can even de-rank.
Operator health runs on an interesting system, too. You have a baseline health level for all missions, and any health packs you find along the way serve as temporary boosts. But should your base health take any damage, your operator will need to sit out a few missions after you return to base to recuperate. Not only does it ensure that you use a well-rounded roster – having one powerful character that has to sit out would be a serious handicap – it serves as a nice call-back to the original Rainbow Six games. And this juggling act is going to happen a lot. The game does not leave much room for mistakes. Even one regular enemy can take you out if it catches you unaware.
The enemies themselves are something of a let-down though. You get most of the standard archetypes, but the designs are bland. Most enemies amount to being vaguely grey shapes. On the other hand, the infection they spread – the sprawl – looks excellent. You can actively watch it move through and envelop the map, and it makes for some really chilling visuals. It’s more than a visual flourish, too, as trying to run through it slows you down considerably. If you don’t watch yourself, this can cause some major problems, especially when you stray from stealth.
While you can play however you’d like on the lowest difficulty setting – it’s even easy to do solo runs – once you start raising the difficulty, stealth becomes almost mandatory. Slowly crouching your way through the map taking out all the nests that spawn enemies can be immensely satisfying, and planning out how you want to tackle these areas really helps evoke the tactics you’d expect of a Rainbow Six game. The enemy AI isn’t terribly impressive, so it can be easy to stay hidden, so long as you bring a silenced weapon with you. Melee takedowns can be finicky, sometimes not triggering at all, so be careful with those, because once the enemy is alerted to your presence, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed.
One system that is not fun to deal with is the experience system, and more specifically, how you earn it. You get a block of three challenges to complete per location, but you can’t undertake any others until you finish your current set. And a lot of the challenges are down to RNG nonsense. When you’re trying to match up against higher-level enemies, it’s just luck of the draw. We wound up stuck on some challenges for over a dozen runs because we simply didn’t get paired against the correct enemies to advance, making for a massive stall in level progression.
This is remedied somewhat by the late-game modes. Assignments and the Maelstrom Protocol – a long-form run with nine mini-levels rather than three – offer XP at a higher rate, but they bring with them much greater danger, and they can get downright frantic. While this is fun in its own right, it doesn’t play to the stealthy strengths of the game. When held up against more arcadey wave shooters, it just shines a spotlight on the weaker aspects of the title.
Rainbow Six: Extraction's core gameplay is decent, and its level variety is great, but the game definitely has some blind spots. While a zombie title focused on stealth and tactics makes for an interesting experience, anytime the game strays from that, it’s less successful. It draws extra attention to weak spots, like unimpressive AI and an obnoxious RNG progression system. Go in with a couple of friends, though, and you will get some fun out of this. All the levels are visually distinct and interesting to look at, and three squad members stealthing their way through a field of enemies can be immensely rewarding. It’s just unlikely to hold your attention in the long term.