SSometimes a video game can be very entertaining, not for the new ideas it brings to the table, but for the way it combines many old ideas into one exciting new experience. The latest shooter from Ubisoft’s interactive Tom Clancy universe is a good example of this.
Set in an alternate Rainbow Six timeline where Earth has been invaded by a race of swamp, Lovecraftian aliens known as the Archaeans, it features the spec-ops warriors of the hit multiplayer shooter Siege as they set out to kick ET’s ass. Players form teams of three agents, each with their own special skills and weapons, then travel to alien invasion sites to slay monsters and get things done. Each site is divided into three increasingly difficult areas, with different objectives, and players can choose to exfiltrate after each section or bet on not getting killed and continuing until the end , for greater rewards.
The key is to take things slowly and carefully. Believe me, the run-and-gun approach is not an option here. Like in Siege, you can send out a remote-controlled buggy to check out uncharted areas and mark enemies and mission objectives before risking your own body, which is good because aliens mean business: some rip you apart with limbs. blade-like, some fire blue spikes, some scamper up to you on all fours and then explode like some kind of cocked labrador. Additionally, if you engage in a loud firefight, each environment is littered with boiling seed pods that spawn new enemies until you destroy them. Stealth, careful team management, and inventive use of gadgets like motion trackers and machine guns are key, especially in the early stages when your health meter is puny and your body armor is seemingly down. made of balsa wood and hope.
The areas themselves encompass everything from hotels in New York to punk clubs in San Francisco and refineries in Alaska. Locations are dark and twisty and multi-tiered and, like in Siege, there are walls you can break down and doors you can barricade in order to control how the action unfolds. When you complete a sub-area, you get a bunch of points for completing tasks and completing additional challenges, and it all goes towards upgrading your gear and researching new handy gadgets like claymores and swipe grenades, which highlight all enemies in an area.
What it looks like then is a tactical cooperative shooter crossed with Call of Duty’s zombie mode crossed with XCOM’s turn-based strategy games. You’re not just hunting and shooting aliens, you’re studying their biology and using it to create new defenses (which is very XCOM), but sometimes a mission will ask you to defend a key section for several seconds as a team of monsters towards you, much like zombies, or any frenetic horde mode shooter. The interplay between tense exploration and those moments of loud, deadly action is handled extremely well, and trying to complete an objective while you’re all at 1% health and can hear aliens breathing nearby is really heartbreaking.
As if that wasn’t enough pressure, there’s an additional resurrection mechanic pulled from the roguelite genre. When agents are incapacitated during a mission, they are left behind and you must go back and rescue them in a later incursion. The rescue sequence involves ripping the character out of a gruesome slimy tree-monster before it consumes it – an idea surely inspired by co-op horror title Dead By Daylight. Obviously, the Extraction developers saw the old Oscar Wilde quote – “talent borrows, genius steals” – and stole it for their design document.
But honestly, it doesn’t matter. It’s an exciting strategic shooter with deep world-building, a well-balanced progression system, and atmospheric locations. The soundtrack is also excellent, a mix of John Carpenter-esque synth tracks and chilling cello sonatas that really immerse you in the fiction. Playing with two buddies is the optimal experience, but you can choose to be placed with strangers or go it alone – in which case it becomes a survival horror experience akin to more shooter Resident Evil titles.
There are plenty of co-op shooters on the market, and a few intriguing titles on the way (Sons of the Forest, Gotham Knights, Redfall), but Extraction has military gimmicks, excellent horror, and jaw-dropping stealth, and those are qualities that, while not original, it’s one hell of a game.