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Rainbow Six Extraction forgets to have fun with its setting

Very serious business

Rainbow Six Extraction - a small team of highly trained special forces invade an alien base, seeking to pull a friend loose from a giant organic tree-like structure. Image: Ubisoft

Rainbow Six: Extraction is very, very serious. The world is at risk of being consumed by an alien parasite, and the Rainbow Six organization is there to fight back the invading Archaeans and save humanity. Ubisoft wants you to know that the stakes are very high, and the mission is incredibly important. There’s just one problem: It’s tough to have fun when Extraction itself refuses to have any.

I sat down to play a preview copy of Extraction with fellow Polygon gamer Austen Goslin, and the two of us queued up on PC with another early access player as our third teammate. We could each pick from a handful of agents. Some of the gang from Rainbow Six Siege is there, with characters like Mira and Ash serving as support NPCs back at base; many of Siege’s other agents are playable out in the field. A guy like Sledge is great for breaking down walls with his big ol’ sledgehammer, whereas Doc can heal his allies and serve as the team medic.

Once my teammates and I selected our agents and loadouts, Extraction dropped us into the field. We worked our way through hordes of Archaean to complete special objectives. It’s the kind of game that’s great for playing with pals — it’s meant to be endlessly replayable, offering tons of progression. When I play through an incursion, I can complete three random objectives from a pool of 12. On top of that, I have my own personal goals to track, like sniping a specific amount of Nests or killing particular enemies. The objectives and enemies are randomly spawned in. There’s enough challenge that you’re engaged while still enjoying adequate downtime to shoot the shit with your friends. The issue is that Extraction doesn’t do enough to sell itself over the dozens of other games in this niche.

There’s lots of room for fun little narrative hooks in this game, but Extraction has been stripped clean of pulp or silliness. It’s strange, because games about fighting aliens or monsters tend to be silly. Halo Infinite is funny and makes great use of enemy dialogue. Left 4 Dead has a grim setting, but the graffiti and banter keeps the mood light. Even X-Com, a franchise known for mercilessly mulching your best soldiers, turns and winks at the camera from time to time. The aliens preen and gloat about their superiority; there’s the occasional joke and I can give my army matching silly haircuts. There’s none of this in Extraction; everything’s very stoic and restrained. At one point, I finished a mission with fellow Polygon gamer Austen Goslin, and the support NPC Ash congratulated us. “We’ll be able to pull in more private funding now,” she said, and we burst into heckles. Private funding? It doesn’t exactly get the adrenaline flowing.

Extraction maintains this serious tone throughout. The agents don’t banter with each other, nor do they really have any meaningful differences outside of their skill sets. Siege is full of colorful, distinct characters like Warden, a US Secret Service Agent with smart glasses and a sick mustache, or Flores, a master jewel thief with a long string of successful capers. None of these inventive visual designs are on display in Extraction; everyone’s just decked out in heavy armor. They certainly don’t take the time to talk to each other and reveal personality quirks or backstories, even though each level is punctuated by airlocks that take a long time to open.

I spent my time with Extraction hoping for something substantial to chew on, and there was certainly lots of gunfire and quests to complete. But the game is also bone dry, because both sides are completely cardboard. The aliens are just kind of there, and the people aren’t much better.

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