Is it possible to make a horror game about heavily armed military super-soldiers? (One where they’re the victims, that is; the alternative is depressingly easy to imagine.) It should be paradoxical—a betrayal of the lack-of-power fantasy that underpins so much of digital horror. And yet, Ubisoft’s new cooperative shooter, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Extraction, gets surprisingly close. Your hand-picked trio of absurdly cool and competent Operators might be the best of the best, the game argues. But that doesn’t mean much when a gooey alien from the far reaches of space is trying to rip off their heads.
Extraction builds off of the base gameplay of 2015’s very slick Rainbow Six: Siege—and, specifically, a 2018 event, Outbreak, that served as a prologue and template for the Rainbow team’s transition from counter-terrorist experts to Aliens-esque bug hunters. The goal, clearly, was to take what was good about Siege’s approach to multiplayer shooting—the destructible environments, variety of gadgets, and high-tension thrill of always being a moment’s inattention away from death—and transition it into the kind of fight where you don’t have to worry about getting shot in the head from across the map by a 13-year-old with Mountain Dew-augmented reflexes and a kill-death ratio bordering on the irrational.
The end result is something of a success—even if Ubisoft Montreal couldn’t quite scrape off all of the competitive multiplayer grind still lingering from their new title’s parent game. With 12 total maps (each divided into three sub areas, and tackled in sets of three), you’re going to be seeing a lot of the same locales (ruined apartment building, ruined research facility, ruined Statue Of Liberty) in Extraction, even if the game goes out of its way to reconfigure these zones in different ways between each procedurally generated mission. It doesn’t help that the game’s progression structure encourages replaying, tasking you with an evolving series of objectives to unlock bits and pieces of its minimal story.
Luckily, the stuff you’re actually doing in these missions is pretty damn fun, a stealth-heavy take on shooting, stabbing, and sneaking. More Metal Gear Solid than Call Of Duty, Extraction is the kind of game where the difference between taking down an un-alerted enemy, and one who’s actively hunting you, is the difference between gently popping off headshots at 50 feet, and trying to do the same thing while a dozen screaming monsters are charging at you with claws that hit like trucks.
The fragility of your Operators (whose looks and abilities are pulled, like much of the game’s core, straight from the Siege roster) is one of the key elements of Extraction’s design. As in real life, you do not want to get hit by a super-powered alien with knives for hands, and the penalty for doing so is steep: Health in Extraction stubbornly refuses to go back up mid-mission, only ever trending downward. (You can augment your characters with temporary boosts, but you’ll have to give your fighters breaks between battles if you want to see them actually heal.) Worse, a low enough Health value can knock your Operators right out of your roster, forcing you to swap through other characters for the next several missions until your A-List space-zombie-blaster is healed up enough for another go-round.
Said consequences only intensify with the game’s lightly Rogue-like M.I.A. system: Go down in a mission, and you’d better hope one of your co-op buddies can get your body—now covered in a layer of unflattering protective foam—back to an extraction pod, or your precious character will be captured by the alien threat. You can launch a rescue mission to try to recover them, but beware: Failure will see them eventually returned to you minus a decent chunk of all-important experience points. (Which stings especially hard given how powerful high-level Operators can feel… if you can ever get them that far.)
That focus on tangible consequences for failure is Extraction’s most interesting trick; it makes the risk-reward decisions of whether to push further into a mission that’s probably beyond your capability feel fraught and real. It also amplifies the acute sense of being a burden to your team when you screw up, as they now literally have to haul your ass around the battlefield to keep you from losing progression—or the thrill when all three of you limp away from a close-fought victory.
Underpinning all of this is a pleasantly intense take on first-person stealth, one made endlessly more complicated by the focus on three-person squads. (Please insert your own personal caveats about a game that more-or-less assumes you’ll have two regular buddies to play through it with; at least the crossplay between the PlayStation, Xbox, and PC versions is happily seamless.) The fact that you can meaningfully contribute to a mission without ever loosing a shot—instead spending your time piloting a drone to scan and highlight targets, deploying smoke grenades, or just sneaking around getting things done—enhances the variety of play experiences immeasurably. The shooting itself is satisfying, too, with a strong emphasis on nailing weak points on the monsters, and maintaining enough situational awareness to ensure you’re not getting ambushed from behind.
The only real question, then—and it’s one that haunts so many games operating in the endlessly ascending “games as service” space these days—is whether Extraction has legs beyond the initial thrill of disintegrating a Parasite with a well-placed headshot. Said staying power, though, might end up coming from the aggressive nature of the game’s difficulty. It’s still early days, but that sense of running, desperate and hunted, for an exit in the face of an overwhelming force helps Extraction feel as much like survival horror as the polished military shooter it’s taking so many of its cues from. The end result is thrilling and engaging in a way that a simple power fantasy can’t really match.