Escape From Tarkov has been in a alpha/beta stage for well over 3 years. As of writing (January 2020), the current version is 0.12.2.5485. Some aspects of this Escape From Tarkov preview may be outdated when you are reading it.
What’s Escape From Tarkov about, you ask? Here’s a little taste of a recent raid of mine: My fully modded AK-47M had run dry a while ago. After fighting my way through the train yard at Customs with a mere Makarov, I looted a dead scavenger. It was starting to get dark. On my way to the extraction, a Scav pops out from behind a stack of concrete slabs and blasts my left leg off. I’m now not only dehydrating, but also limping, and without bandages to stop the bleeding. As I am finally opening the heavy iron gate separating me from the extraction, another Scav starts shooting at me and all the juicy loot in my overly filled backpack flashes before my eyes.
Escape From Tarkov (EFT) is a super realistic military shooter made by Russian developer BattleState Games. The goal of EFT is – as the name suggests – escaping from the fictional Eastern European region. Everything you manage to escape with is yours to keep, but if you die, you lose everything on you. The passage above describes your average raid; you go in with whatever you see fit, fight and loot your way through hordes of Scavs (A.I. Scavengers), player-controlled Scavs and of course other players. All that is left for you to do, is make it out alive and fill your finite stash with all the goodies you managed to escape with.
That unique gameplay loop is one of the most hardcore, satisfying but also frustrating loops we’ve ever seen in a game. EFT is both the most rewarding and most infuriating shooter experience you’ll find out there. And once you go Tarkov, you never go back. Even if sometimes you want noting more than to leave it for good. Seriously, we can’t stop playing it.
What keys do I press?!
Loading into your first raid will be an insanely overwhelming experience, as the game features some of the most in-depth mechanics when it comes to weapon modding, gear selecting, healing, looting, moving, and fighting we’ve seen so far. In Tarkov, everything has a value, which means that engaging in a firefight is never just about your k/d, but about making money or risk losing it. Ironic, given the fact that this Russian-made game is as materialistic as the most capitalist American.
But knowing you’re carrying a fifth of the value of your entire offline stash into a raid and are constantly at risk of losing it, can be a pain in the blyat. Especially given all the overly complicated controls (like pressing Alt+T to check if there’s a bullet in the chamber or CTRL+RMB to adjust the zoom-level of a magnifying scope). What doesn’t help is the fact that the U.I. can be a hot mess. Checking to see which of the 7 specific body parts is bleeding, broken or blown off requires you to go through multiple menus. Second nature to a seasoned veteran, but needlessly frustrating for a beginner.
Embracing the Adidas tracksuit-wearing Gopnik in you
After defying the huge learning curve though, you’ll start to see what all the fuss is about. You’ll learn the value of items, get familiar with what types of healing to prioritize, what type of ammo (there’s well over a hundred) is the most effective against specific types of body armor, and you’ll even get a heightened sense of hearing.
Yes, playing shooters is usually mostly a visual endeavor, but in Tarkov, sound is even more important. When you know the maps, you will be able to pinpoint the location of an enemy by hearing what type of material they tred upon, while simultaneously distinguishing silly Russian taunts by A.I. Scavs from hardened battle cries of an enemy BEAR operator.
And that will make you embrace the Gopnik lifestyle; of drinking vodka, collecting packs of cigarettes, appreciating the Russian craftsmanship of the Mosin Nagant, SKS, and the Автома́т Кала́шникова (a.k.a. Automatic Kalashnikov), and fighting for what’s yours. If you level high enough, you can even do so while wearing a rip-off Adidas tracksuit called Adik in the game, just like many obviously real brands (like IDEA or a Slickers candy bar), dodging copyright claims.
No Neo here
What you won’t be dodging in EFT, is bullets. Getting shot at is nothing new for a shooter, but in EFT it really matters where you got shot and what you got shot with. A head shot is almost always lethal from any weapon. One or two shots to the unarmored chest is equally deadly. And while getting a can off Russian whoop-ass every once in a while isn’t that big of a deal, it may feel somewhat unfair at times.
That is partly due to the nature of the game. A raid has so many different factors in play, that you don’t always have a fair chance of winning. What weapons and armor you bring in can determine whether or not you win a firefight. Stacked players could be melting poor ‘pistolings’, but then there’s also the A.I that balances the whole game out. While not particularly deadly in a one-on-one, a wave of Scavs can really cause some problems for a player while they’re fighting another player. The AI Scavs add another factor into every battle. They can also give away your position or provide you with some easy gear when you inevitably run out of bullets.
But another reason for the apparent feeling of unfairness stems from the precarious net coding and server stability. I’ve had many instances over the years where a servers decided to take a cigarette break, disregarding all the fat loot I gathered in that raid. Also, sometimes you die behind corners or miss shots that – at least on your screen – we’re right on the money.
One of the biggest diamonds in decades, but boy can it be rough
That leads us to a newly invented preview-metric that sums up what this preview is all about: potential. The problem described above has been largely patched out of the game, but someone from Australia may still have way longer matching times and higher ping than someone from Europe. There’s a lot of ground to be covered by BSG before this game is stable enough to sustain a huge mainstream audience.
But all the ingredients are definitely there. EFT does something no other game has done before. It has some of that special mil-sim ARMA-sauce but it cut out the boring stuff. EFT has some of that sweaty PUBG-feeling without all the randomness of a battle royale. The game has some of the high-octane insanity from Call of Duty, but with the hardcore and potentially devastating repercussions of an actual firefight.
And we haven’t even talked about the player-driven economy, the Fleamarket. There’s a diverse set of traders that give you quests and discounts if you work for them. There’s an insane amount of weapons, ammo, modifications, rigs, helmets, and armor. You can build and upgrade an offline hideout, with systems that give you bonuses but take a lot of resources to build. Over two-dozen soft skills to level, hundreds of barter items to discover, highly detailed and atmospheric maps to explore and we’d still leave some stuff out.
So the verdict? It’s hard to recommend this game as it is; Escape From Tarkov is just as awesomely exciting as it is detrimental for your health, just like a full blown cocaine addiction. No, but seriously, it is far from perfect yet insanely addictive. When you get through the bad stuff and learn to play and enjoy the game, you’ll realize just how beautiful escaping from Tarkov really is. Or as Tarkov-fans would say, this game is blyatiful. That’s why the game scored the way it did.
We expect that as time goes on that BattleState works out the kinks and Escape From Tarkov becomes the game it definitely has the potential to become. Only time will tell.
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Image/screenshot credit: BattleState Games