I was a little worried about Left 4 Dead-alike Rainbow Six: Extraction. You know, after it was announced as Rainbow Six: Quarantine, changed its name, dipped under the radar for ages, then re-emerged with news it was being delayed. Signs pointed to a shaky spin-off from Rainbow Six: Siege's popular Outbreak mode. But no, I was totally wrong! After an early hands on with the game, I’m now at ease, at least when I’m at a safe distance. You see, the zombies here may be fewer in number, but they don’t mess about. This makes for a tactical spin on zombie-slaying that truly rewards teamwork, and it’s wonderful as a result.
In my hands-on with Rainbow: Six Extraction, I got to sample several of the game’s early missions with two other journos. No single-player allowed, but for the most part, Ubisoft let us run amok in this zombie-riddled land. A total of 12 Operators were ours to test out and we’d earn EXP to see how progression worked. That’s of course when we actually earned EXP. Our ragtag crew wasn’t quite prepared for how challenging this game could be.
It’s easy to get lost in buzzwords like Containment Zones and Incursions and Milestones when talking Rainbow Six: Extraction because it’s structured in a very particular way, but I'm going to sum it up for you in plain English. In this game, you and two other pals team up. You choose a mission, select your Operators, and drop into plague-ville. This is where it gets interesting. Each mission is split into three parts, all of which set you a task randomly plucked from a batch of other tasks. It’s up to you whether you attempt to clear all three and risk death, or tackle just a couple and get the heck outta there.
What’s cool is that these tasks split each map into three segments. Much like Left 4 Dead’s safe rooms, you pop into safe chambers and each player can then vote to move onto the next task. After a quick spray of decontaminant and a large clunk, the vault opens and you await your next orders. In many ways, it really does feel like you’re creeping further and further into a nightmare - albeit one that's tightly designed, varied and has loads of opportunities to flex our Operator’s abilities in order to survive. More importantly, no matter how many times we used these abilities (a lot), they never seemed to get old. If you somehow manage to tick off all three tasks, you won't believe it’s happened - trust me.
On our first mission, it took us approximately two minutes to absolutely bottle it. I’d chosen Finka as my Operator, whose ability let me temporarily boost up my teammates with a touch of health or revive them immediately if they were downed. I figured that we needed it, you know? The game doesn’t have healing in the traditional sense. Any damage you take is permanent, and any actual healing is merely a temporary boost that gradually wears off. Naturally, I never got the chance to use it.
Clear the Aberrant Nests. Got it. Pop these green cysts and we’d walk away heroes, so we shot one and it exploded and alerted EVERYTHING around it, causing this chain reaction of explosions and enemies hurtling towards us and a very swift death. That’s one thing about this game. The zombies are like one inter-connected unit, moreso than any other zombie game I’ve ever played before.
Typically in something like Left 4 Dead or Back 4 Blood, you’ve got a big zombie horde and lots of special ones: the bloated one that explodes, the lanky one that climbs walls, the quiet one that shrieks, you know the drill. They feel loosely connected, and at times, entirely separate from one another.
To call them zombies in Extraction is a bit disrespectful, sorry. This game is home to more than some undead chumps. The Archaens are an intelligent alien species formed from extraterrestrial gunk that covers maps like an oil spill. It’s sticky, icky, and can be cleared by destroying Nests, which are these glowing pustules that spit out aliens if alerted. That means you’ve got to pop them stealthily or avoid angering any nearby nasties.
Of which there are many. Little Bloaters patrol maps like hounds. Shoot their glowing backs and they’ll explode, creating a loud bang. Best to aim for the head, then. Grunts often stand guarding chokepoints and if they detect you, they’ll crouch down on their haunches and scream. One Archaen can make its friends invisible if left to its own devices.
Notice a pattern? If you don’t take things slowly and work together, they’ll make a tonne of noise and get each other's attention. Each Archaen, no matter how big or small, is the equivalent of a tripwire. Alert one and you may as well lay down and succumb to the horde. At times it can be a bit frustrating, as one innocent slip-up can lead to total catastrophe. But it also adds tremendous tension to each mission as a result.
Once you learn how to work together and treat the Archaens with respect, Extraction really shines as a co-op experience. At first we were a bumbling squad tasked with luring elites to capture points, or tagging unalerted Nests, or delivering cylinders to certain spots on the map. Adrenaline kicked in and we barely used our Operator abilities at all, largely relying on our guns to drag us through.
This is by no means a shallow spin-off of Siege's Outbreak mode, but more of a companion piece of equal depth.
Needless to say, we weren't overly successful. Eventually, we scraped the manual off the floor like some exhausted DIY-ers and settled on some Operator faves. In this run, mine was a fella who could temporarily blind Archaens, letting me get the backstab off safely. Hibana was also cool to play, as she had the same gun she’s equipped with in Siege: one that fires off a block of mines that silently attach to a surface and can create handy openings that'll let you open fire on Archaens, or create alternative pathways. In fact, barely any of the Operators had abilities that did damage. Instead, they were mainly info-gathering tools to help us plan our attack or defence. The game trusts you to construct a plan over blasting everything to smithereens, and I like that.
Having finally read the manual, we crouched everywhere, making sure to produce as little noise as possible. Wordlessly, we’d scout ahead and ping points of interest at the start of each mission. We’d chuck smoke grenades at multiple enemies and pounce on them in a co-ordinated “You take the right, I’ll take the left” manoeuvres. We’d learned to find alternative routes by drilling holes in breakable walls, or by simply taking stock for an extra second or two. By the end of the session, we'd managed to complete a mission in its entirety and I don't think we registered it for a while.
Sure, this was at the lowest difficulty (!), but we were rewarded handsomely for our efforts with lots of EXP. It was plugged straight into a progression track that unlocked cosmetics and things, but most notably, new maps and upgrades to Operator abilities. Like Rook's below, which transformed his cumbersome armour pack satchels into something that was just equipped for everyone at the start of a mission.
Ironically, I didn't want to extract myself from the preview at all. We'd found our momentum, and we'd formed a cohesive unit. Alas, Ubisoft eventually had to pull the plug. Still, my time with Rainbow Six: Extraction was heaps of fun, even if it's difficult, nerve-wracking, and at times, agonising fun. Intelligence and teamwork is rewarded here, which makes a welcome change from the gung-ho attitude of its Rainbow Six counterparts. This is by no means a shallow spin-off of Siege's Outbreak mode, but more of a companion piece of equal depth. A Siege for those who want to swap the stresses of PvP for the challenges of PvE. I'm very much looking forward to its release on January 20th in just a couple of weeks time.