In my second full Rainbow Six Extraction mission, I lost my operator, Rook, to a tough, fat alien. Another teammate soon followed, and we had to watch our last teammate play an excruciating cat-and-mouse game with the rude guy before we finally succumbed. Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to carry out successful rescue operations for our captured heroes.
I had the opportunity to take part in a four-hour demo of Ubisoft’s upcoming Rainbow Six Siege co-op spin-off before it releases later this month. I came in surprised and impressed with my playing time, but I’m not sure how big the buzz will be in a genre that’s already experiencing a renaissance.
Extraction is set in an alternate timeline in the Rainbow Six Siege verse, in which the world is haunted by alien monsters called the Aracheans. Call these sticky tar beasts what you will, I keep calling them “Goop Guys” in my head, but this is your classic melee-focused zombie cannon fodder with elite variations that you get from games like Left 4 Dead, Back 4 expect blood or vermintide. In contrast to these four-player affairs, Extraction Squads are trios made up of existing Siege operators.
The experience started with a tutorial level on an infested Liberty Island. I entered as a Doc whose constantly in-demand healing skills make him a solid learner. Similar to Siege, each operator has a customizable loadout with a curated selection of weapons. I went for Doc’s standard shotgun and went for a silenced pistol over the classically cool revolver. It’s a good thing I reserved this quiet option for myself, because extraction requires a surprising level of stealth. With a slow standard movement speed and enemies that could overwhelm our squad in small numbers, Extraction has more in common with the co-op survival horror shooter GTFO as the running survivors of Left 4 Dead.
Enemies aren’t instantly alerted to your location, and many of the game’s objectives even require you to go undetected in order to continue. Instead of sprinting around with shotguns and assault rifles, I found myself methodically cleaning rooms and shooting Aracheans in the heads with suppressed pistols. If you get loud you run the risk of overwhelming your squad or spending valuable resources too early on a mission.
Extraction’s operators start every mission with limited health pools, and even the sloppiest, Goomba-esque Aracheans hit hard. I was assured by Ubisoft representatives that I was pretty good at the game and got it quickly, but my dying halfway through the tutorial suggests otherwise. This game-over, as well as most of the wipes and near-wipes of my squad on later missions, all came about because we alerted our enemies and started an open battle if we weren’t prepared. The basic rhythm of Extraction is like expanding Left 4 Dead’s witch encounters into a full game – whole arenas of careful exploration punctuated by explosions of sheer violence. I wasn’t expecting this, but I found this loop of gameplay to be quite refreshing.
The missions are divided into three sub-areas with their own objectives, interrupted by safe L4D-style rooms called airlocks. Typical goals include eliminating enemies or enemy spawn points from camouflage, rescuing hostages, defeating elite enemies, or defending a position for a period of time. In addition to the airlocks leading to the next part of the mission, each area has an extraction point where you can place downed squadmates for rescue or even leave the mission early to reduce your losses and access the potential rewards of the rest of the next one Aim to forego. My squad chose this option when we felt we had taken too much damage or were knocked out too early in a mission.
You should be of value with your Operators as the damage is extremely persistent both inside and outside of missions. Health restoring items and abilities only add temporary hit points that slowly pass over time. Once you’ve taken damage to your main health bar, it won’t go away until the surgery is complete.
Even then, your operator will have to abandon missions to fully recover, with the number of operations increasing depending on the damage taken. I liked both of these limitations. I was reminded of tactical games like XCOM or Darkest Dungeon, where you manage a pool of heroes who are faced with ongoing consequences for any threat to their fragile condition. I also think that it helps balance out Extraction’s wide range of operators, forcing you not to play on favorites for too long. No matter how good an individual character is, you cannot rely on them for every mission.
If an Operator is completely knocked down during a mission and is not placed in an extraction zone, he must be “rescued” before he can be made available again. The next time you start an operation in the same city, you will automatically receive an MIA rescue target in one of the mission areas. In the MIA rescue, you have to pull your operator out of an archaic cocoon and take him to a removal point. I like the added consistency of getting knocked out on a mission, but I could do without the little quick-time event you go through when pulling one of your guys out of the goop – think of the arm wrestling mini-game from The Witcher 2 with a less friendly user interface and you are basically there.
The characteristic environmental degradation of Rainbow Six Siege is somehow present in Extraction, but is not emphasized as much here. Aside from one of my squadmates getting creative with the Sledge’s title hammer, blasting through walls to get through bottlenecks and large groups of enemies with a bit of stress, I didn’t see many opportunities to use Siege’s crumbly wall technology to our advantage. However, I could see that virtuosity with environmental degradation is something that comes with experience, a dividing line between good and great players.
My best surprise from the demo was the only boss fight my team encountered, a zombified version of Sledge with the video game boss’ classic “Big Buy” move set: slow, wired attacks and punishing gap closers. After we cleared two-thirds of his health bar, Evil Sledge messed things up by putting up an impenetrable shield that negated all damage from the front. We then had to coordinate, with one team member distracting while the other two causing damage from behind. The Protean was definitely the highlight of the demo and featured a challenging, mechanically complex boss fight. The developers I spoke to stated that at launch there would be 3-4 potential Proteans based on different operators and that they intend to release more over time.
The last mode we tackled was “Maelstrom Protocol” – what the developers called “endgame activity” for Rainbow Six Extraction. Maelstrom is a bit like a roguelite mode: a weekly gauntlet of nine ongoing objectives with increasingly difficult modifiers. My squad barely made it out of our third zone, which had a faintly visible haze that we hadn’t encountered on our normal missions. We immediately reinforced it against some elite opponents in the next area and unceremoniously extracted it to fight on another day.
Rainbow Six Extraction has a lot going for it, and its gameplay loop certainly manages to set it apart from the most popular co-op shooters, but there are so many quality co-op zombie (and zombie-adjoining) shooters to choose from like Back 4 Blood, GTFO or the upcoming Warhammer 40k: Darktide. With the release on January 20th, we’ll find out if Rainbow Six Extraction can carve out a niche in this increasingly vibrant sub-genre.