Battlestate Games have taken on the burden of providing us with a hardcore, mostly full-loot, FPS and mixed in some RPG and Survival elements. Many have attempted the hardcore FPS before, some have tried the hardcore RPG/Survival. None have been able to find a balance between the different genres, but I think Escape From Tarkov just might be the game to show us how it can be done.
Escape From Tarkov can be pre-ordered here with Closed Beta packages starting at $44.99.
P.S. Apologies if this is a long read, but there is so much to talk about and there are so many nuances I just couldn't cover here.
You are a soldier in the near future for either the USEC (English) or BEAR (Russian) faction, vying for control of the Northwest Russian city, Tarkov. As of now, the only difference in which faction you choose is the language your character will speak and your starting equipment. What the devs have planned ahead for this, I haven't been able to find anything story related. There is a third faction, Scavs, that include the AI as well as a random character you can use on raids, but has a cooldown with it. What the Scavs add to the game other than an explanation for the AI is still unknown at this time.
Launching the game brings you to the main menu where you have a few options of what you would like to do (after selecting Faction). You can look at your inventory and customize your loadout, including fully modding any weapon that you have parts for. Traders are available to buy and sell items with the different currencies (Euros, Rubles, and Dollars). Some items require you to trade "minor" loot for an important upgrade (i.e. four candy bars for a small med kit). Lastly, you can click the giant "Escape from Tarkov" button and get on with the game.
Next, you will choose between your normal character that you just chose the loadout for or you can be a Scav. As mentioned previously, the Scav will give you a random loadout and spawn location, but you can still loot and extract whatever you can find. After that, you will choose which Raid you want to perform, but only four are available right now; Customs, Woods, Shoreline and Factory. The first three are bigger, open locations with some areas focused on CQC (Close Quarter Combat), while Factory is a small compact map with many different levels and tunnels throughout.
Once you select your Raid, you are then asked if you want to insure any of your equipment. This is a double edged sword, as it costs money and you are not guaranteed to get everything you insured back. If you die before extracting, anyone is free to loot your body. If they take your insured items, that's it, they are gone for good. If by some sheer luck your body/loot remains undisturbed, the insurance agent will send people out to retrieve your items. This can take between 24 and 48 hours according to the in-game info, but I received my items back in roughly 12 hours.
Next, you are presented with a list of people currently in queue for the Raid you selected and this is where you can make a squad of up to five others, friends or randoms. Some people will have a "Looking for Group" text in blue next to their name. While squad play is highly encouraged, providing the best possibility of extraction. However, be warned that friendly fire is turned on and since I am not a team killer, I do not know if there are any negative effects from doing so, so just be careful teaming up with randoms. Once you are good to go, squad or not, just hit the "Ready" button and you will go through a few loading bars and hopefully, be able to join a server. Also here, you can see your character in all their rendered glory, with every item you have included with their loadout fully realized. This is a very nice touch, as most games just show a generic player model regardless of what you're wearing.
If you are lucky enough to get through the server issues plaguing the game during the inclusion of so many more players, you will be greeted with the spawn point of the Raid of your choice. While players will never spawn on top of each other, there are spawn areas that you have a chance to be dropped off in. Sometimes you will find another player around the corner, while other times distant gunshots will be the only indication others are around. There is more than one extraction point and some of them need special keys to unlock, which you can find in various boxes, coats, safes, coats, or duffle bags scattered throughout a map.
The gunplay is very realistic feeling and the only game that might be better is ARMA III. Standing, crouching and prone are all there like you would expect, but you can also choose five different positions between full stand and crouch. This gives you so many more options for peeking over or around objects of varying height without exposing yourself to unnecessary danger. Along with peeking, holding ALT + A/D will do a gradual lean as you hold longer. Personally, I haven't used this very much because its extra keys I have a hard time pressing in the heat of the moment, but the ability to do it is very welcome.
Using different combinations of CTRL and ALT with your normal controls result in the ability to check your chamber to see if it's loaded, check your magazine for number or rounds, or just admire your gun from different angles. Since there is no HUD to tell you this information like most games out there, it is extremely important to always check your mags. Along with this, if your extra mags are not in the correct storage location, you will be unable to reload unless you go into your inventory and manually do it. Be careful not to hit the reload button in quick succession though, as you will drop the mag you want to replace on the ground, possibly losing it forever.
Guns handle very differently from each other, even the same types if they have different attachments. Recoil, bullet spread, and how fast you are able to aim down the sights will need to be taken into account if you want to live. Scopes work like they should in shooters. Your peripheral vision is not zoomed in, giving you eagle eyes. Instead, only the actual lens part will show a zoomed view, with movement reducing what you can see since your eyes are not aligned correctly. Having shot many guns in real life and messed with a few scopes in my day, it feels as realistic as I think you can get in a game without super accurate eye tracking software.
The maps that are finished are well done and fleshed out. They are hand crafted and everything feels organic and well planned. My favorite one so far is Customs, which is located at a port around and in a train yard and its accompanying warehouses. I finally finished a raid where I went into it with only a pistol and AK-74, extracting with fully geared tactical vest, duffel bag, and newly acquired shotgun, pulled from the dead hands of the Scav scum. It took me 55 minutes to complete, out of the 90 minutes allotted to the Raid, killing one other player but hearing many more. Learning the levels is essential to extracting as quickly and efficiently as possible. While there is some randomness to the A.I. spawns, they are generally in the same spots every playthrough. Knowing where the good loot tends to be will allow you to avoid any fights while still getting that juicy military box full of premium goods. Just be mindful that other players that know the map just as good as you do might be laying traps, so noticing what has been already looted or killed can't be understated.
Inventory/health management is just as important as paying attention to your surroundings and any noises you might hear. Depending on your loadout, you have a small number of slots you can fit loot into. There is no way you will be able to take everything you find with you to extraction. Learning what you need for possible trades or for your other guns is vital, otherwise, you might be throwing valuable items away. Get shot and you will start to bleed out, assuming you survive the first couple rounds. Don't have any bandages or medkits, and you will slowly gain more negative effects. Pain causes your vision to be blurred. Fractures and wounds will affect your ability to walk or run properly. Lose all hit points in a certain limb, and it will become a hindrance, especially a leg, rendering you unable to move more than a hobble. Remember, this game is hardcore, so one or two shots could spell the end of you even if they aren't headshots.
RPG elements come into play under the Skills tab when looking at your inventory. During the Closed Beta, you only have access to six skills that will level up as you play. Run around more and your endurance will improve, helping with how quickly your Stamina drains. There will be fifty-six skills available over the coming phases of Beta and final release. Everything you do will grant XP and using a weapon gives you Mastery with it, but what this does I have no clue yet.
As with any game, especially one in Closed Beta, there are going to be issues and bugs. After putting twenty-plus hours into the game, I have only run into two things that are in need of fixing immediately. This might be the most polished Beta I have been a part of for a game that is not even close to feature complete. The first is the ability to crouch and move through doorways or on stairwells. Nothing is more frustrating and irritating than knowing where an enemy is but you can't peek into a hallway because you are stuck on the door. So much loot has been lost to this issue and believe me, the devs are well aware of it based on the forum responses.
The second issue is simply, the A.I., and it deserves its own paragraph or two. Now I never played the game beforehand, so I will just have to go off other people's comments. Filtering out the obvious overreactions and unneeded vitriol that can be found in online forums, I have come to believe that the computer controlled enemy was difficult to deal with but were not considered smart, so you could plan your way around them fairly easy. Enter in the latest patch for Closed Beta, and the A.I. has seemingly sprouted Skynet level abilities. Their pathing is top notch, I will give them that, and they will even act like their human counterparts to an extent (looting corpses, team up to look for the killer of their friends, use sounds to their advantage). Where the problem comes in is their aim-bot like reactions and accuracy. Sneaking up to a building so you get the drop on enemies is useless when you fire one shot and the three dudes you've been eyeing instantly snap and headshot you within half a second. I get making them accurate to provide a challenge, but they should have the same level of tradeoffs you have.
Pistols, shotguns, machine guns, makes no difference as they can hit you from one hundred yards plus between closely packed trees, behind bushes, and crouched with no problem. The patch notes even state that they should no longer be able to see through bushes/grass but I don't know how many times I got killed by that mystery A.I. behind twenty or thirty trees/bushes despite you moving at the slowest speed possible and sure you have not made a sound. Again, the devs are well aware of what the community thinks about this, with many commenters saying how they are no longer going to play the game. I get it, A.I. is incredibly hard to code, especially at the level they are going for. But this version never should have been released for Closed Beta, as it will, and has, given a lot of newcomers a negative experience. I had a friend purchase it and despite going into it knowing you were going to die a lot, he was extremely irritated after spending forty-five minutes filling up his inventory just to be one shot by a shotgun from a guy that shouldn't have seen him.
This game is gorgeous, simply put. The level of detail put into everything is jaw dropping. Grass blows in the wind, rain drops leave drop marks on puddles, the sun will blind you when looking at it, and everything together brings a very immersive world to life. Unoptimized is not a word I would even consider for this game, as I was able to have everything turned up to max settings, except shadows (curse you GTX 970), and streamed it from the same machine without any hiccups. Wooded areas look and sound life-like and sometimes I caught myself just staring at the sunsets. Guns smoke if you continually shoot them and will even have jams/degradation as you use them without upkeep. These will be reintroduced shortly after this wave of Beta invitations go out and I hear they have a graphical representation.
Games like PlayerUnknown's BattleGrounds say that sound matters while playing. which it does in that particular game, but even that is no comparison to the sheer amount of sounds you will have to pay attention to both hearing and preventing. See a pile of glass, water bottle, or pile of trash? Don't even get close to them or be greeted with appropriate sounds that will make you cringe and retreat to a corner to contemplate your life. Even the nature sounds are super on point. I could literally load up the Shoreline map and just camp by the ocean just to listen to the water. Positional tracking is very well done and is the number one thing you need to pay attention to, as it will allow you to get that extra split second jump on the dude running around the corner. Gun shots are loud and sometimes a little deafening in enclosed areas, causing me to jump numerous times. Not enough good things can be said about the sound design here. Just phenomenal.
Escape From Tarkov is incredibly close to being the best shooter on the market. With future plans including a home base you can build up while not doing Raids and the mysterious weaponsmithing, you will be hard pressed to find a game available or in development that hits all these points while keeping it addictive and fun. Despite the insane A.I. "hacks" at the moment, the future is bright for those looking for a shooter that is not just another copycat. The price tag is very high for a game in the Closed Beta period, but then again, $45 for the base package is still less than any AAA shooter out there. Looking at you Call of Duty and Battlefield 1. I am loving every minute of this game and cannot wait to see what the future holds.