‘Rainbow Six Extraction’ preview: a challenging co-op shooter that’s all about stealth

More 'Metal Gear' than 'Left 4 Dead'

As I started playing Rainbow Six Extraction, I thought I knew what I was getting in for. With my last months of 2021 spent sampling all the co-op goodness of Back 4 Blood and Aliens: Fireteam Elite, I was fairly comfortable that – for better or worse – I would be familiar with the formula that Extraction would follow.

So, I was pretty surprised when I found that Ubisoft was willing to take a gamble on its own (admittedly strange) approach, rather than stick to territory that’s been safely carved out and charted by others. This is hinted at within moments of opening the game, as Extraction files the usual four-player limit down to lobbies of three. It might not seem like a huge change, but it’s an early indicator of the cleaner, restrained angle that Ubisoft is aiming for.

Extraction takes place in three main locations –  New York, San Francisco, and Alaska. Within these locations you’re handed three levels and tasked with completing an objective on each one. It’s up in the air as to what you’ll be doing in each run of Extraction, as there’s a lengthy list of potential objectives – you might be capturing an Archaean alive, demolishing a nest’s nutrient node, hunting down high-value enemies or something completely different. The sequence of levels, and the objectives they entail, are random. Failing one level means the whole run is over, and even worse, failing to make it out alive leaves whichever operator you’ve chosen (all of them will be familiar to Siege fans) in need of rescue at a later date. This means all of your accumulated exp is in constant jeopardy, and there are tangible stakes that add gravity to each level – even when you’re tiptoeing through a UFO museum that is, ironically, infested head-to-toe with real aliens.

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Rainbow Six Extraction. Credit: Ubisoft.
Rainbow Six Extraction. Credit: Ubisoft.

For me, that tiptoeing is Extraction‘s most engaging hook. To make any progress, you’ll need to holster your guns and take each level at a far slower pace than your instincts will demand. Making too much noise will bring an avalanche of problems down on you and your friends, and multiple factors – which we’ll touch on later – make a guns-blazing approach completely unfeasible.

This means that surprisingly, Extraction‘s core gameplay is completely different to what has been done before. You won’t be cramping your trigger finger here – instead, each scenario is full of careful sneaking and coordinated melee takedowns. Treading past a roomful of unaware monsters to reach the next objective feels incredibly tense, and having to fire your gun is something of a last resort.

All of this builds up to the fact that when things go wrong, they do so explosively. If a stray Archaean spots you for long enough to make some noise, you’re all but guaranteed to spend the next few minutes – sometimes even the rest of the level – trying to desperately fend off all manner of alarmingly dangerous enemies just to get out alive.

Even worse, some of the special Archaeans are exceedingly savage. When these unique enemies appear, adrenaline spikes: I’ve had several missions go swimmingly, right up until a projectile-firing Spiker eviscerated the lot of us, or an explosive Bloater burst at an inopportune moment. Even the normal difficulty level is deceptively challenging, as a single special Archaean can bring your whole operation to a screeching halt.

Rainbow Six Extraction. Credit: Ubisoft.
Rainbow Six Extraction. Credit: Ubisoft.

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At the heart of all this – the stealth, the lethal special enemies, everything – is each operator’s fragility. Unfortunately, this is where I’m torn. With low health, little armour, and scarce healing, it only takes a mean look from an extra-terrestrial to knock you dead. On one hand, it really brings home the tenseness of those stealthy moments where you’re  praying to go unnoticed. On the other, all-out firefights can be difficult and even frustrating when they should feel frantic and electrifying. It’s a tough line to tread because Extraction‘s focus on stealth absolutely makes it a better game, but those loud fights could be a little easier – or even just a tad bit more survivable. This could come in the form of higher health for operators, some extra armour, or more healing spots lying about – nothing too dramatic or difficult to implement, but just enough to make indulging in shootouts a bit less painful.

After all, some of the most fun you can find in a co-op shooter is in scrambling to keep things together when everything goes horribly wrong. Unless you’re the type to seek out the toughest challenge in everything (and that’s fine), the fun in being slaughtered for the tenth time because you took one step into the wrong Archaean’s sightline offers diminishing returns. One of my favourite moments in Extraction involved haphazardly trying to capture an alien alive as part of the level’s objective. The last time my group and I tried this, we only realised the Archaean needed to be brought in alive after we’d triumphantly left a smoking bullet hole in its noggin. Our second attempt involved five minutes of being chased by through an underground military base by the furious target, becoming increasingly lost until we finally found the way out. It was hilarious, and one of my favourite moments of playing Extraction. Moments of cleanly synchronised kills and successful stealth operations are fulfilling, but co-op games thrive on those zany and chaotic stories – and there aren’t too many of those when most mistakes end in a quick death.

After spending some time with Extraction, I reached the conclusion that while it’s very fun to play, I wasn’t sure how much replay value it had, and it felt like a game that would sit nicely on the Xbox Game Pass. I don’t mean that in a wholly bad way because I really did enjoy playing Extraction, but I had some questions about its replay value. Would Extraction still have been as fun with a couple more hours? Luckily, Ubisoft recently announced that Rainbow Six Extraction will be appearing on the Xbox Game Pass at launch.

With Game Pass, Rainbow Six Extraction could be a very easy game to recommend. Despite concerns around its replay value and difficulty, if you like the sound of a stealthy Left 4 Dead, you’ll have a lot of fun with Extraction.

Rainbow Six Extraction launches on January 20 for PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S and PC. We played it on PC.

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