When I first logged on to Escape from Tarkov, I was confused. While that confusion is equal parts Early Access and the lack of a tutorial or guide, there was one thing that struck me from the beginning: this is a game that capitalizes on adrenaline, and rewards players who can think critically and aim true.
The game has a unique mix of mechanics, similar to games like ARMA II: DayZ Mod, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, but does a lot of things differently. I think it’s best to begin at the composition of a raid, the game’s main game mode. A raid is a 60-90 minute match that takes place in a part of the city of Tarkov and includes roughly 12-16 player controlled characters. Bear with me.
Players have the choice to play as either USEC (the American mercenary forces), BEAR (the Russian mercenary forces), or as a “Scav” (short for scavenger). The first two are a player’s main characters, which they can build up and equip with gear from their stash. The second is a bare-bones, randomly built (often slipshod) fighter who takes the form of the game’s AI and is looking to make a quick buck. The ultimate goal, no matter the faction, is to move through the raid, loot, shoot, and survive until you can make it to one of the map’s exits. These exits are different depending on the map, but are often doors at the end of underground hallways which can be camped, but — if moved through successfully — grant the player everything they had in their inventory.
While I had the luxury of playing on a Press Kit Account (meaning they decked me out in the best weapons and armor available), I still felt attached to my gear and was scared to lose it every time I entered a raid: the game is high-risk/high-reward however. If you bring but a pistol, you could sneak up on a fully-geared player (which I have) and execute them and make off with all of their gear. Or, you could enter a match with a sniper, a fully-loaded M4, and armor and look to fight other equally-geared players. This is something that comes from the DayZ Mod I was talking about: there is always a fear of losing what you have accrued.
The difference in Escape from Tarkov is that you can’t simply close out the game, or log off of the server, to ensure your safety. You must make it to one of the designated exits, or risk death and, consequently, the loss of all of your hard-earned loot. There were times when I would be mentally-fatigued, or my player would have a broken leg, and I would have to hump my way across the map and pray I wasn’t found. The emotional response that this game draws out of its players is insane, and is worth the frustration of the menus and the learning curve.
Speaking of menus, there is a lot of trading, loot management, and bartering going on in Escape from Tarkov. You can trade two cans of condensed milk for a great sniper scope, or you can save up your cash and purchase impregnable Juggernaut armor (just aim for the legs). There are several vendors who you can trade with and level up, with each rank unlocking new weapons, armor, and supplies for you to purchase. Learning to do business with them is as much a part of the game as shooting your opponents. But here’s where the game gets tricky.
There is very little in the game that explains what your goal is: well, literally it is the title of the game. The progression system is complex and does not lend itself well to new players. Hardcore fans of the game will go searching for video guides and forums to help answer their questions, but the majority of the player base will be left in the dark. There needs to be an introduction to the game’s core mechanics that is located within the game, and not in a text guide link or a wiki. Similarly, the health and healing mechanics are well fleshed out in terms of realism, but confusing unless you’ve done your research.
One of the greatest draws the game has, however, are the high fidelity graphics and sound design. While there are currently a few audio glitches which led players like me to have heart attacks because bullet impact noises will be heard much closer than intended, the game looks and feels like even more of a military simulator than ARMA III, and that’s saying something. Everything from the recoil to the scope glare feels real and has a purpose. There are three ways to reload your gun for god’s sake: it’s a beautiful thing.
Escape from Tarkov has a ton of potential. While games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds have adopted a large map and large player count, they have done away with the fear and emotion that players feel when risking their life and their equipment. If you die in those games, you just leave the match and start again. If dinner is ready early, you can just quit out of the game. Escape from Tarkov understands its audience and has crafted a game specifically for them.
While Battlestate Games have done a beautiful job so far, the introduction of a clear tutorial that explains all of the game’s mechanics would lead to a larger playerbase and, therefore, greater longevity for the game. I hope to continue to watch the map size and player count grow, but even as it is now, Escape from Tarkov is a game that wrenches your heart out of your chest in the best way possible.
Escape from Tarkov is currently in closed beta on PC — no firm release date has been announced by the studio at this time.