ALIEN invasion stories are not new by any stretch of the imagination, but they are an excellent excuse to break out the futuristic armour and guns and shoot things – and the latest FPS from Ubisoft tackles the subject well.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Extraction – A Ubisoft Original (to give the game its full title, and add that I’m only using it in full this once in this entire write up) is a spin-off of Rainbow Six: Siege, and expands on some of the plot elements touched from the Operation: Chimera season of that game.
Available on PC (reviewed), PlayStation 5, and Xbox (including Game Pass), the idea – as I outlined in the preview story a few weeks ago – is that you’re part of a squad of Rainbow operatives tasked with dealing with an alien virus-creature which has invaded Earth (well, just parts of the US at this point, but I’m sure that’ll change).
The alien-virus manifests as a sort of slime on floors and ceilings as well as humanoid enemies, and it doesn’t seem friendly, given its predilection towards attacking people, spreading everywhere, and breaking stuff.
The actual gameplay experience is something like a cross between Left 4 Dead and X-Com featuring Aliens, with some real surprises in store. In particular, there are some destructible walls in the levels and I lost count of how often I thought I’d found a secure defensive spot to hold off an attack, when the wall next to me burst open and an alien horror burst through, much to my expletive-filled dismay.
There’s a few different types of enemy present – you’ve got your generic melee attacking aliens, you’ve got ones which shoot spikes out of their hands, you’ve got ones with a sort of biological acid-bomb on their backs, you’ve got armoured enemies and you’ve got a sort of imitation of an Operator enemies, plus nests where all these creatures spawn from. Fortunately, most of them are not bulletproof so I found the exact nature of the enemies was often secondary to how many rounds you needed to pump into them to take them out of commission.
As you successfully complete objectives your operators and roster will level up, gaining access to better equipment, more operators, and improved abilities. I found all this to be quite grindy, to be honest, and as I’ve said before, the only grind I’m really interested in is the type that involves coffee beans, so having to replay the same levels over and over again to get enough XP to move onto different locations was not a high point of the Extraction experience for me.
I liked the co-op nature of the game, however, and the different challenges you would be faced with in each area – as well as how they were randomly generated, so one incursion into the Apollo Casino in San Francisco might begin with rescuing a scientist while the next sub-level was planting trackers in nests; on another playthrough you might start with an Elite Enemy hunt and progress to setting explosive charges at key points, rounding out with a sample recovery mission if you’re still upright by that point. You have the option to bug out at any point during an operation by heading to the extraction point and calling for a helicopter, and realising that discretion is the better part of valour is an important lesson to learn early during Extraction.
The missions are often surprisingly difficult, even on the “easiest” level. The people I was playing with definitely weren’t newcomers to FPS games, but we almost never made past about the halfway point of the third section of most levels, and on the occasions when we did we were generally evacing in a panic partway through the operation while mag-dumping automatic weapons into anything that looked like it was moving as we ran for the extraction point. If you really want to be masochistic about it, you can up the difficulty and start experiencing “mutations”, which are changes to the game enemy’s abilities and threats.
The idea that injured operators have to sit a couple of missions out sounds good on paper, and might even work well for pro-level players, but for an average (or new) player you’re basically going to find you can only use a given operator about once every three missions or so, because they will get injured and have to recover.
This means you’ll be playing a few matches with operators you simply aren’t good with, often causing them to get injured or go MIA, snowballing the effect – at least until they return to active duty and you can get back on track.
MIA operators either need to be rescued – itself quite risky – or left to return on their own, with reduced health and an experience point hit. The game doesn’t elaborate as to whether the parasite got bored of them and the operator escaped on their own, or if another team rescued them “off-camera”.
You can play single player, which makes stealth an important factor, but it’s just not as exciting as getting together with other people, which is where the Extraction experience really shines.
What surprised me was how unpolished some of the game’s narrative aspects were. For example, the parasite virus thing is called “Archaean”, but you don’t actually get told that directly in the cutscenes – the characters just start talking about “Archaeans” and you’re like “Oh, OK, so that’s what they decided to call them, is it?”
There’s some cutscenes between location unlocks but there just didn’t seem to be a well-articulated story here, which is pretty disappointing from a single-player perspective because there is a solid opportunity here for a decent narrative.
I’m also not sure what the endgame is here once the initial interest wears off. Rainbow Six: Siege is a top-level international e-sport played competitively and recreationally by huge numbers of people around the world; it has a prestigious world championship (the Six Invitational, held in Montreal each year) along with a thriving meta.
With Extraction, you’re competing against the AI, and since there’s only a finite number of upgrades available to your gear, there’s likely to be a point where you just… run out of stuff to keep you engaged. Ubisoft’s developers are experienced and have almost certainly anticipated this, but I don’t know what their future content plans are so can only go by what I’ve played so far.
It’s also very clear that the game will be almost impossible without voice chat, due to the amount of co-ordination required. When playing with a squad of friends and working together, there’s a real sense of achievement in completing objectives and watching each other’s backs – I just don’t know how that’s going to go playing with randoms.
With friends, this is a great, casual-but-challenging FPS co-op shooter experience that offers a familiar experience with a new twist and manages to establish its own space in the genre, too.
It’s not going to be for everyone, but I like what the developers have done here and I hope they continue to grow and support Rainbow Six: Extraction for some time to come yet, so the game can reach its full potential.