A bug-ridden, messy survival shooter that we can’t stop playing.
Often touted as the spiritual successor to the cult hit STALKER series, Escape From Tarkov is a post-apocalyptic survival horror title that blends hardcore tactical shooting with the foraging and crafting of a title like DayZ or Rust.
It’s certainly not a title for everyone; the deliberate, plodding gameplay and extremely punishing mechanics make “casual Tarkov” an impossible concept and ensure its fanbase is solely comprised of the ultra-dedicated. And it doesn’t help that the developers seem intent on sabotaging the game at every turn.
Over the years, Battlestate Games, the dev team behind Escape From Tarkov, has been a magnet for negative press, making headlines for everything from abuse of copyright law to sexism. That’s not even getting into the shoddy netcode and countless bugs that have plagued the game since it first released more than three years ago. The game is available is on Steam which requires you to have credits in your Steam wallet if you would like to purchase it and check it out yourself.
Yet, somehow and against all odds, Escape From Tarkov is a genuinely excellent game, with personality and polish where it matters most — the shooting. Depending on the situation, firefights can be short-lived duels that end in moments or extended bouts of weaving and dodging through and around ruined constructs. The weapons are wonderfully designed, their animations convey power and weight but it’s the sound design that really sells them. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill sound design; the gunfire in Escape From Tarkov feels deadly, whether you’re the one blasting lead or the poor sucker on the receiving end.
The atmospheric lighting and excellent sound design make every slight shuffle and moving shadow a hair-raising experience.
It takes some investment to get to the point where you can call it “fun”’ The game is rife with interesting gameplay elements that, unfortunately, aren’t properly explained. An example: like many new players, I found myself emptying entire magazines into online opponents to minimal effect. After some frustrating querying on Google, it turns out armored opponents are virtually invincible to regular bullets, and I had to buy special ones of the armor-piercing variety.
Strangely enough, the game’s insistence on forcing the player to learn on their own only adds to the game’s charm. Escape From Tarkov is full of interesting mechanics that aren’t immediately intuitive, and looking up what they are and how they work is part of the gameplay loop. There is no compass, no in-game map. Newbies will find the first several hours of Escape From Tarkov a painful exercise in patience. Even the numerous high-quality community-made maps you’ll find on the internet are of little use when you don’t understand the local geography enough to pinpoint your location. A capable player in Escape From Tarkov isn’t necessarily the best shot; it’s the player with the most learned knowledge of the quirks and specificities of this odd universe, the one with a native understanding of the map and all its twists and turns. Of course, being a deadeye shooter can only help.
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if your shots didn’t register due to a bug or because of some unexplained game feature that you have to delve into community forums to learn about.
I heard the gunshots from the second floor. I had been nervously scanning the area for the last time hoping to find something good before extracting home. A run-in with a SCAV (what the game calls its NPC scavengers) had left me bloodied and low on ammunition, and so I found myself hobbling back to the extraction point when I came across this structure. It was only supposed to be a quick detour.
It was quiet when I entered through the front door and it remained quiet the whole while I scavenged the ground floor. I took to the stairs to see what little I could find there when loud bangs of gunfire broke out followed shortly by the deep thumping of bullets hitting bodies. It was over in an instant but I stood frozen at the top of the stairs, unsure of my next move. I could hear footsteps and quick shuffling below me, then the unmistakable sound of looting. Without a second thought, I worked my way down the steps and quietly peered across a corner to find another player busily sifting through the spoils of his victory. Blinded by his reward, he had abandoned caution entirely. I readied my gun, prepared to put a couple of rounds in his back when a bullet entered my brain and I was on the floor. My target didn’t even have time to react before a duo of killers entered the room and riddle him with bullets.
Fans of survival shooters will find this inventory screen both familiar and shockingly complex.
Escape From Tarkov stands out from other survival shooters because its experience is carried by a profound emotional investment from the player. Unlike PUBG or DayZ where the progress you make is isolated to a match or a server, Escape From Tarkov’s progress is persistent thanks to its Extraction system. The loot you obtain during a game is yours forever if you can manage to bring it back to the extraction point. Carrying around high-quality loot doesn’t just mean you’re lucky enough to have stumbled upon it during play, it’s a trophy of your survival skills; you have carried that equipment through numerous raids and come back alive. Or you can also sell your loot for coin that you can spend to prepare yourself for the next raid.
Yes, Escape From Tarkov is rife with bugs and is in dire need of a real update to its netcode. It’s also an intense and addictive survival shooter with a knack for building an atmosphere where it feels like danger lies around every corner. Once you’ve played it, other games in the genre don’t have the same impact, and it’s hard to go back to the run-and-spray gaming of other shooters after immersing yourself in Tarkov. The game is in beta (and has been for years) so eventually, the developers will take a break from sparking controversy and start fixing what the community’s been complaining about for months now. But even with all the drawbacks and negatives, Escape From Tarkov is a one-of-a-kind experience that somehow manages to innovate in a decades-old genre steeped in tradition. If you have patience and a willingness to feel very, very stupid for the first dozen or so hours of the game, you’ll find Escape From Tarkov is a game that’s very much worth getting lost in. So, if you’re feeling that other FPS games out there are too easy, get your Steam Wallet codes today to purchase the game on Steam and challenge yourself to the true trials of an FPS game.