Eastern European developers seem to have a knack for hardcore military shooters. The trend emerged with the release of cult classic S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and continued even when the original developers disbanded to form other studios. The acclaimed Metro series is one of the outcomes of this dispersion, with the online multiplayer shooter Survarium being another decent example. Battlestate Games is a Russian studio that isn’t a stranger when it comes to first-person shooters. After its work on Contract Wars and further expanding that game with Hired Ops, the plan is to release Escape from Tarkov as the next part of the team’s universe, which is called Russia2028.
Much like the Marvel Universe, or what KOG seems to be doing with KurtzPel (by adding characters from Grand Chase and possibly connecting both games in other aspects), Russia2028 has a specific timeline, characters, events and so on. The next game of the series is already planned and is called… Russia2028, taking place precisely in 2028.
This sounds like an ambitious plan, with Escape from Tarkov seemingly being the ‘make it or break it’ game. From what we have seen and played during the beta, this is a universe with a promising future, but we may indeed have to wait until 2028 to play Russia2028.
1000 Ways to Die
Escape from Tarkov is the kind of hardcore shooter that isn’t suited for cowards or players with a short attention span. It is ruthless, asks for your entire and uncompromising dedication during matches that may last for about one hour, and currently is somewhat rudimentary with difficult accessibility. Make no mistake, this is a deep, complex and exciting game, more ARMA than S.T.A.L.K.E.R., but the lack of a tutorial or some way of easing players in won’t do it any favors with the trigger-happy crowd.
As it stands, Escape from Tarkov is mere features away from a survival simulator. Luckily, this isn’t a game where you must collect rocks and herbs to survive; instead, it’s all about scavenging gear and safely extracting from the location when the time comes. Don’t celebrate too soon when you discover an amazing weapon – die and you will lose it, along with the rest of your gear. This is Escape from Tarkov: a pitiless, no-holds-barred shooter where you’ll spend most of the time silently exploring the locations for useful items and watching over your back instead of entering in furious shootouts. These do exist and are incredibly exciting, even more so due to the severe penalty that comes with death.
Most of my time during the beta was spent behind bushes, walking slowly over broken glass as to not trigger any loud noises, nervously squinting as I tried to make sense of that figure in the distance – is it a Scav or a tree? Escape from Tarkov is a tactical shooter where you will die repeatedly until you have a decent grasp of the locations, extraction points and weapon specifics.
Escape from Tarkov is also a story-driven game, although not in the familiar sense. You have plenty of lore to read and discover through quests. For now there doesn’t seem to be any cinematics but these are planned for key events in the future. First and foremost, you must choose between the two PMCs (Private Military Company) available: BEAR or USEC. There doesn’t seem to be any major differences between them apart from a few special skills, lore and very slight visual variations, but this may change in future builds. Your main character is the one that you will level up as you play, improving his skills and acquiring all the gear that you can fit into your stash.
Before you dive in and lose most of your stuff during the first matches, you can – and should – learn the ropes by choosing the Scav character. This choice brings an essential shift to the way that things unfold – you go in with a random set of gear as opposed to choosing it yourself and playing as a Scav won’t add any XP to your main PMC character. However, dying as a Scav doesn’t bring any penalty, and the best thing is that whatever gear that you get to extract with can be transferred to your main character. Can you already see the advantages in playing as a Scav?
Hunter Becomes the Hunted
You can choose one of the available locations to explore and loot: Customs, Factory, Woods, Interchange and Shoreline. Many more are planned to be released including Town, Streets of Tarkov, Suburbs, Lighthouse and Terminal. Each map is truly vast, and the design is extremely varied and creative – the Factory and Interchange offer plenty of confined spaces to play hide and seek while not coming short on open areas for exciting shootouts, while Customs, Woods and Shoreline focus on wide outside areas intertwined with buildings, warehouses or even Spa Resorts. All of them suitably decayed, of course.
One thing that I can say for sure is that every map is carefully designed from the ground up to look both realistic and perfect for the game’s deep mechanics. You won’t just be on the lookout for enemies and looting things either; there are keys to collect and locked places to open or breach, as well as a host of missions that you can partake in for the Traders, but more on that later.
Escape from Tarkov’s hardcore roots are easily spotted in elements such as a lack of standard video game HUD indicators, with few exceptions such as a stamina bar that pops up when you sprint or an indicator for injured limbs. There is no ammo counter, with the only way to check the remaining bullets being to take the magazine clip off and looking into it – there’s even a command to look inside the weapon chamber and see if it has a bullet. The focus on realism continues with the reload options, of which there are three: normal reload, quick reload (tossing the mag to the ground) and selective reload (choosing the mag that you want to use). You can also inspect your weapon to see if it is in single fire or burst mode.
Sound cues are of vital importance in Escape from Tarkov. The aforementioned broken glass makes a distinct noise capable of alerting enemies in the vicinity, as does walking through bushes or stepping on other debris. A flashlight can be helpful but also dangerous as it casts moving shadows that immediately catch your attention. Enemy NPCs talking are one of the other telling details, but obviously human players are less chatty and less prone to giving their presence away.
This doesn’t sound too hardcore for you? Well, let me add that in Escape from Tarkov you must purchase empty ammo magazines and then you buy the ammo proper. The weapon system includes countless parts and mods that allow you to fully customize your weapon to your liking. Obviously, this is a game that features an accurate ballistic model, with bullets easily trespassing wood and other materials. You’re advised to buy a flashlight for those missions during nighttime or you’ll have to wander through the darkness, looking for the few light sources and the starry sky to guide you. There is no map available as well unless you buy one from the Traders, something that initially left me somewhat befuddled, and I’m pretty sure that the same happened to other players.
Funnily enough – or not, depends on your perception of this feature –, there is no real way of telling your enemies from your friends. There’s no indicator over the characters or anywhere else and the best that you get is an armband that should be able to help you identify a combatant. Watch out for that friendly fire, soldier!
Dying comes with the penalty of losing the equipment that you have on you, but there is a way to save those precious weapons. You can spend some in-game Roubles to insure a piece of gear, meaning that even if you don’t make it to the extraction point, they will send a team to recover your equipment, or at least what is left of it. Oh, and don’t you even think about disconnecting from a game as there is a system in place to punish those who do it. However, random disconnections happen, as you surely know, and you have some time to return to the game and continue your session unpunished.
Bite the Bullet
Escape from Tarkov has more systems at work than you can shake a stick at. Your character is no superhuman… well, technically, he kind of is, but there are several things affecting him at any given time due to the in-depth health system. You can break a leg (literally) or other limb, bleed out, suffer from tremors and shaky vision, dehydrate (there are water bottles available), and several other traumas. You can use a splint to temporarily fix a broken bone in position, take some painkillers to deal with pain, or use bandages and medical kits to get more comfortable. However, having a damaged limb will somewhat affect your abilities, from slower reloading times to decreased running speed, among other things.
Playing will see you raise your character’s skills through your actions. Things like endurance, health, perception, night ops, weapon modding and specific weapon expertise will be directly affected by your behavior in the battlefield. You will gain XP for active use of a skill or weapon. Even a simple task such as examining items will lead to a small XP gain.
And now let’s get back to the Traders. These commendable and definitely not shady fellows are the go-to guys for any mercenary’s needs. Anything you want, they have, but make sure you have some roubles, dollars or euros on you and, in some cases, specific pieces of gear that they may demand for the trade. They sell weapons, ammo, meds and pretty much everything else, including the highly on demand flashlights and maps.
You can get on their good side by accepting and completing Trader’s tasks, thus getting some lower prices and better deals. These may range from killing a set number of enemies and bringing back their weapons or collecting a certain amount of a specific object, which is more difficult than it may sound. You can always take a detour to the Flea Market; the place where players set up their own deals.
There is a lot more to say about Escape from Tarkov, but this preview is already extremely technical as it is. Speaking from my experience only and leaving any technicalities behind, I can safely say that I had a blast in this Escape from Tarkov beta, but it did come with a fair share of frustration. Not that the game was broken or unfair in any way; it is just so demanding and realistic that it’s not for everyone. For every kill I had, I was killed three or four times; for every successful extraction there were five or more botched incursions. Escape from Tarkov is an extremely rewarding game when you successfully tackle a mission, but it can also get to your nerves as you constantly stumble across someone that is better than you – and you will often find someone better, you can be sure of that. Sudden death is looming around every corner.
And of course, it helps that Escape from Tarkov looks good. From the weapons models to the trees and bushes dancing to the wind in the Shoreline map, the graphical quality is deserving of applause. It only takes a quick look at the Factory locker rooms or the several shops from the huge shopping mall in the Interchange map to realize how great this game looks. The destroyed environment feels organic and handcrafted for the most part, a chilling portrait of nature catching up to man’s work, and men destroying and pillaging whatever else is left standing. Escape from Tarkov needs further optimization, but I was able to play in high settings with a relatively modest rig.
I can only make a wild guess where Escape from Tarkov is heading. Each zone is huge and exciting, but developer Battlestate Games has a story mode planned, along with an open world mode where all the game regions are interconnected. This prospect sounds as daunting as it is exhilarating, if they manage to pull it off.
Too much ambition can sometimes be a problem, and my greatest fear is that Escape from Tarkov’s development drags on for too long and many players will lose interest and move on to the next big thing. The next, more immediately accessible, enjoyable thing, but it may not be quite as rewarding as this callous, brutal game world.