Thursday, 30 August 2018 09:00

Escape from Tarkov: I Can't

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Battle royale games are the flavor of the month

— or the last eighteen months, if we’re being real. While some have slight twists to the formula, such as Fortnite having building mechanics, or Hunt: Showdown introducing PvE into the gameplay, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ambitious offshoots from the typical experience: You spawn in a large map, kill folks, and then review your placement on a scoreboard. In their development of Escape From Tarkov, Battlestate Games has without a doubt taken on a big, ambitious project.

Even from the broadest of perspectives, Escape From Tarkov aims to do more than its contemporaries by having a cohesive narrative concept.

Let me ask you a question. What is PUBG about? What is Fortnite about? Unless your answer was “winning,” you’re probably wrong. Those games have no real concepts outside of the gameplay itself unless you count whacky cosmetics. Which is not to say that this is a clear negative for those games. What point would there be to adding stronger storytelling to games that everyone has already accepted as conceptually shallow? The money is already rolling in for them, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a battle royale game with a little more to say.

Escape From Tarkov is set in a dystopian near-future where a massive corporate and political controversy has turned the fictional Russian city of Tarkov into a warzone. Players fight for one of two private military corporations with opposing agendas. The goal here for players isn’t just to kill everything and come in first place, it’s to gather whatever resources you can and get the hell out of Tarkov.

(Side note: what other battle royale even has a title that’s neither bland nor overly on-the-nose? I’m not saying Escape From Tarkov is a brilliant title; I’m just saying that Realm Royale is basic and PUBG is awkward at best.)

Escaping Tarkov is not as simple as walking out the front door. Depending on what map you’re playing on (at this point there are five available), you’ll have around one hour to find a key, find the escape, and hope no one is waiting there with a shotgun. Keys can be found in crates or other loot drops around the map, as well as the NPC units that spawn throughout the map. AI-controlled enemies aren’t exactly brilliant in their tactics or marksmanship, but they present enough of a threat to keep you on your toes when entering a compound. And you never know what they might be carrying around, so it’s usually a good idea to engage these guys frequently and aggressively.

The game draws you in with a pace that’s a few degrees slower than most other battle royale titles, but with absolutely no dialing back of the intensity. Your decisions must be deliberate and thought through because death really hurts. It’s not a matter of just queueing up again. You’re likely losing all the gear you brought into that raid unless you got it insured through a trader, and even that’s no guarantee. That means outfitting a new character from the ground up, which could require some nifty haggling with the traders that are your only source of loot outside of the raids. This encourages a gameplay style that is more careful and calculated, and it brings a weight to each firefight that isn’t felt in many other games.

Although Escape From Tarkov does require the usual shooter skills, such as precision aiming, map knowledge, and smart positioning (especially in team fights), it’s the learning curve outside the combat that will likely scare away many players. Escape From Tarkov is as much about preparation as it is in-game decision making.

This isn’t a review.

Having played between twenty and thirty hours, I can’t honestly say I could provide a detailed analysis of the game as a whole, which should tell you a bit more about how much this game has to offer. And with the game being in Early Access, one could assume that there is a lot more on the way.

It’s unlikely that Escape From Tarkov will reach the pop culture heights of something like Fortnite or even PUBG, but there is an outstanding chance that this will be a game that satisfies the need some gamers have for a more nuanced battle royale experience. Admittedly, I said something similar in my review of Hunt: Showdown, but I find it exciting that a genre that was so often described as “ya know… like Hunger Games” is finding ways to evolve beyond the simple formula I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Yes, the game needs some optimizations.

Yes, there have been problems with hackers in the past, although the 0.9 patch seemed to make strides in that department. No, this game is absolutely not for everyone. It’s not quick, it’s not casual, and it doesn’t care about your feelings, but I’m just about certain Escape From Tarkov is worth your interest. It requires more patience than any other battle royale game, but it’s a satisfying feeling when it all comes together and you escape Tarkov just in the nick of time.

… Not that I would know. I’ve been playing this game for weeks and I still haven’t actually escaped. Every character I’ve started has died a miserable death. What’s been surprising to even me over that last twenty or so hours of gameplay is that I’m still eager to learn and improve. We’ll have to see if that continues being the case, but at this point it feels safe to say that Battlestate Games has struck a dangerously satisfying balance that might be as fun as it is intimidating.

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Adam Wheeler

Adam Wheeler loves his computer, his cat, and his work-from-home lifestyle. When he feels the motivation to put on pants, he tells jokes on stage. With no real distractions in his life (friends, relationships, a reason to go outdoors, etc.), he is able to provide in-depth analysis of games and the culture that surrounds them. Adam almost never has anything better to do.