Escape from Tarkov is a highly realistic FPS with RPG elements set in the fictional city of Tarkov. The game is currently in closed beta, with guaranteed beta invitations going out to those who have pre-ordered the game. I had a chance to check out the latest closed beta build that introduced a swath of balancing changes, the new Shoreline map, and a new economic system.
Set in an alternate version of Russia, the fictional city of Tarkov has been shut down and sealed after a massive conflict breaks out between UN peacekeepers, Russian troops, and two private military companies. In Escape from Tarkov, players take on the role of mercenaries employed by USEC, the private military company hired by the shadowy multinational corporation Terra Group, or BEAR, a private military company started by the Russian government to investigate the dealings of Terra Group. To survive, players will need to scavenge enough equipment and weapons to escape the city of Tarkov while the streets are filled with bloodthirsty scavengers and desperate mercenaries. While the full launch will include a full story mode, the story elements in the closed beta is limited to the text messages players will receive from the variety of fences and merchants in Tarkov.
Escape from Tarkov’s closed beta is a little different from the run of the mill survival game. Instead of permanently sitting in one giant map, players participate in individual raids set in different areas of Tarkov. Players first need to choose the equipment they will take into the zone with them. New to the closed beta is the ability to insure their items for a small fee. If the player happens to die in the area, any item that is not looted by another player will be returned to them after a set amount of time. Players will then be spawned near a set spawn area and must make their way to one of the designated escape zones. If the player can escape the zone successfully, they will be able to keep all the items they bring out with them in their inventory. In the final game, players will raid each area in the city in a set order so they can unlock a free roam mode.
Each zone is rated by difficulty and the ideal party size for the zone. Escape from Tarkov is designed for teams of three to eight players, which makes solo play quite challenging. Currently, Customs is the only zone that is designed for single players. During the testing period, an offline mode is available that lowers the difficulty level for single players, but no progression is saved. It is a good place for new players to experiment and learn the ropes of the game, but it is clearly not the long-term solution Battlestate Games has in mind.
Escape from Tarkov is a highly realistic shooter in the same vein as the ArmA series. Damage is ruthlessly high and is affected by both the type of ammunition fired and any armour worn in the area. For example, shooting an enemy in an armoured area with an AP round will grant damage bonuses, while hitting an unarmoured bonus will be less effective than a normal bullet. The weapon mod system offers endless options for weapons, rivaling Tom Clancy games for the sheer number of scopes, suppressors, and muzzle brakes available for bolting onto weapons. It is as if the only weapon mod missing in Escape from Tarkov is the coffee machine.
The game’s control scheme is nearly as complex as ArmA titles, too. While most players will be able to do quite a bit with the standard FPS control scheme, players will need to learn how to use some of the more advanced keys to get the most out of the game. Escape from Tarkov offers an incredibly fine level of control when it comes to movement. Players can dial in the exact movement speed to stay as quiet as possible, then break out into a dead sprint for cover when ambushed. Since cover is literally the difference between life and death, the game even offers the same level of control over how far to peek out behind cover, exposing the player as little as possible in a gun fight.
Escape from Tarkov uses an RPG style inventory and skill system. The inventory uses a series of bag slots and menus for navigation. It is easy to get a hang of, but desperately needs some inventory management functions like auto-sorting. The skill system will be familiar to anyone who has played The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, as players earn skills by practicing them in the field. Battlestate Games is throwing in a twist by having skills slowly degrade over time if the skill is not practiced.
The game is a niche title, especially in its current state. Navigating through the city of Tarkov is quite challenging at the moment as the map is barebones and the compass is still on the developers to do list. Since the karma system has yet to be implemented, the game is pretty much running on a kill on sight policy. Escape from Tarkov’s learning curve is extremely high. New players will have to spend time playing the game in offline mode and possibly relying on guides online to memorize important landmarks, raid exits, and spawn points before they can make some serious progress. The Scav mode gives players a little breathing room to explore the city while online. Players spawn in as a randomly geared scavenger in game and can keep anything they can grab if they escape successfully from the area. The only problem is players must wait an hour between Scav runs. The AI are ruthless right now, with sharp vision and some impressive aim. Making stupid mistakes like running out of cover or staying too long in one spot is punished without mercy.
The audio/visual presentation is very good right now. The gunfire sounds incredible. I can’t count how many times I nearly leapt out of my seat with shock and fear when the quiet peace of the Russian country side was suddenly interrupted with gunfire. The graphics are solid, with excellent textures and models. Most of the animations are good, though some of the hand animations look very unnatural. Probably the worst offender is the odd angle the wrist contorts in when trying to open drawers.
Currently, Escape from Tarkov is a niche FPS that will really cater to the hardcore shooter sim fan. The game is unforgiving to new players, and the need to memorize maps only makes it all the more challenging. Gun nuts will be enamoured with Escape from Tarkov’s weapon mechanics. The game is still early in development, so it will be interesting to see how Battlestate Games will adjust the game’s balance and learning curve over the next several major updates.