Escape From Tarkov is truly a game to behold. BattleState Games seem to have something special on their hands here, based on the ongoing beta. Escape From Tarkov manages to take the heart-pounding nature of games like DayZ, where death is always lying in wait to take your hard-earned loot, and wraps it in one of the most detail-oriented games ever created.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back it up to the beginning. Escape From Tarkov is… well, it’s a lot of things. The game is a tough-as-nails FPS bound by realism with several components pulled from MMOs, RPGs, and countless survival titles. I’m assuming that the marketing team didn’t quite like the sound of “Hardcore MMOFPSRPG Simulator”. As unruly as that title may be, that is what we have here.
The game kicks off with the decision to join the ranks of one of two rival factions: BEAR or USEC. BEAR (Battle Encounter Assault Regiment) are Russian soldiers falling in line under the government in the Norvinsk region, where Tarkov resides. USEC (United Security) are private military contractors that have been hired out by the global company, Terra Group, to cover up their illegal activities in the same area. Needless to say, the two groups go head to head in a vicious manner. The selection of one group over another dictates the starting gear and the spoken language (BEAR = Russian, USEC = English).
Once you have signed your allegiance to a side, it’s time to go to war. Players will kit out their soldier with weapons purchased from traders or with whatever was already dropped into their inventory, depending on the edition of the game purchased. The most striking part of this game that hits right away is the sheer level of customization on offer for each weapon. It makes Ghost Recon’s gunsmith look like childplay. Never before has there been such an in-depth system. At least, not to my knowledge. The almost limitless number of combinations means players will be able to spec out their gear to their desired playstyle with little issue other than actually securing the parts.
There’s a massive risk system at play. Anything that you bring into one of the large map raids is free game for anyone who manages to kill you, or simply stumbles upon your un-looted corpse. Many times I found myself debating on how little I could get away with bringing into battle. Could I manage with just a pistol for a while and take down a bigger fish for his shotgun or assault rifle? Or did I risk bringing in one of my decked out, fancier firearms into the fray to get the leg up on the competition with raw firepower? You, too, will have to figure out your own style and how much you are willing to put on the line before you crawl through the lush greenery and dim structures of Tarkov.
Fortunately, there are a couple systems embedded to help lessen the sting of loss. Gamma containers cannot be looted if you are killed. Anything that has been tucked away into that small box will remain with your character after death. Insurance is another system that can be used to return weapons to your character, but it only works if your body did not get looted by the end of the raid. So, there’s always a chance that it may not pay off as you had hoped.
Getting to the meat of the game, Escape From Tarkov houses wildly intense and nerve-racking gameplay. Given the hardcore simulation characteristics of the game, death could come from a couple well-placed bullets, an untreated wound, or any number of other in-game afflictions. Movement is precise and a little slow, but that’s exactly how you’ll want to proceed as you form Plans A-Z. The HUD is fairly barebones, as to not detract from the experience. The menus, on the other hand, are bustling with options. Inventory management is a must here, especially as you hunt for bigger packs to haul your findings. It’s the limited HUD that adds to the experience, though. Learning how to check your weapons by pulling back slides and checking chambers is as useful as it is aesthetically pleasing. Learning the different key shortcuts is imperative to minimizing time stuck sifting through menus, leaving your defenseless body exposed.
In fact, this is what happened to one pour soul during my time with the game. An enemy was spotted skirting along the side of a highway in Shoreline, one of four maps currently available. He approached another soldier from behind and killed him with several blows with a tomahawk. The flailing hands implied he didn’t have a firearm on him, or maybe he just wanted to keep the kill quiet. Regardless, two individuals moved up quickly on his crouched body, using the shrubbery and guard rail on the roadside for cover, as he collected his spoils from the chopped combatant. He must have heard the sounds of approaching footsteps because he slowly turned around, axe in hand, and was stuck facing down the barrel of a MP-443 Grach. Two shots rang out in quick succession, one hitting the looter in the chest and the second to the head. His body slumped to the ground following the thunderous cracks.
Surprise, I was the shooter. This tense moment of moving up on a seemingly under-powered opponent was tense all the way up to the conclusion. I had no idea who might be lying in wait in a nearby bush, using their friend to draw out bold enemies. I was lucky and I had quite a few items to collect for my rash actions. The reason I felt more comfortable gunning this man down in the middle of a street likely had to do with the fact that I was playing as a Scav, the third faction.
There is another faction I did not mention earlier, but it isn’t considered a primary option. Scavs (or scavengers) are what the AI plays as, but players can jump into their ranks, too. If Scav is selected at the menu before a match, the player is given a randomly generated gear and health condition. You might win the lottery with a fully loaded Scav or you might spawn with little to your name outside of a knife. It’s all luck of the draw. The reason this mode is so enticing is that any loss doesn’t negatively impact your main character. However, should you escape a raid as a Scav, any collected spoils can be transferred to your primary character. In a way, Scavs acted as the tutorial for my first moments in Escape From Tarkov. I was able to focus on learning the mechanics of the game instead of sitting quietly in a corner, too afraid to let my inexperience cost me a beloved assault rifle. These hunters do have a cooldown, though, after each use. So you can’t play it safe nonstop.
During my time as a Scav, I uncovered some of the game’s most harsh systems. Underneath all of the shooting lies an RPG network, teeming with skills and status effects. General survival levels skills, such as endurance, over time. Health, immunity, perception, and stress resistance are a few of the skills that can be improved. That last one, stress resistance, helps prevent the chance of tremors and shakes. My first Scav suddenly fell victim to head tremors and bleeding. I am not sure what triggered it to be honest, since we were casually clearing out empty home, but I plan on becoming more acquainted with these mechanics.
Escape From Tarkov is shaping up to take the FPS world by storm with its insane attention to detail in every sense. The beta is very promising and I am definitely looking forward to how much more the finished product improves.