“Welcome to Tarkov.”
That’s what my teammate had to say after I died in what felt like two shots from a guy I’d pinned in a room and hit seven times in the chest. It was frustrating. No, actually — it was downright infuriating. I’d brought a good kit out and still got completely owned in a heads-up gunfight. Now, I’m no noob when it comes to FPS games. I’ve been around the Glock a few times, but this was yet another of Escape from Tarkov’s brutal learning experiences: bring better bullets, you know, right after I’d finished screaming into a pillow-like teenaged girl who’d just been sent to her room.
Thanks to its recently Twitch popularity and item giveaway on said platform, you may have heard of this title and wondered what the hell this game even is. Escape from Tarkov is a hardcore first-person looter-shooter for Windows PC with survival elements akin to DayZ and Arma 3. It has very realistic gun modding, an RPG-like skill system, and a global inventory (essentially where you put all the loot you’re scared to bring out cus you’re a chicken like me). It’s set in the fictional Norvinsk region Special Economic Zone that became Tarkov, a gateway between Russia and Europe. The zone now finds itself occupied by Scavs, murderous scavengers who walk about like shotgun carrying loot goblins, and whom UN forces sent to as peacekeepers.
It also has PMC’s (that’s you, most of the time) roaming about the place completing various tasks for the NPC traders, or just out there to make Scav runs yourself. The whole thing is accompanied by a soundtrack that sounds like someone put some dubstep on before proceeding to throw the speakers in the trash compactor.
Now the PMCs (Private Military Contractors) are split into two factions. You have BEAR, the Russian ex-special forces unit looking to uncover what the Terra Group had been up to in the area, and USEC, the Western private army hired by Terra Group to protect them from the former.
When you log in for the first time, you are asked to choose between these two factions. Now, as it stands in Beta version 0.12, it doesn’t make a huge difference as you can still run with friends of opposing factions and when in-game people of either faction can, and almost definitely will, try to kill you and take your hard-earned Roubles. Oh, and your ushanka hat too. Scav’s gotta eat.
Ostensibly, the gameplay loop goes a little something like this: take some gear from your stash into a raid and go for one of the trader tasks. Kill anything that moves. Loot anything that doesn’t move. Get your ass to an extraction point and pray you don’t get shot.
In reality, what happens is you take some stuff from your stash, but you accidentally forgot any meds or splits. So, when that first Scav you encounter blacks out your leg with a shotgun blast, your dumb ass is limping the whole way to the next extract. Ihaven’t done that before… several times… honest…
The game manages to invoke that Metro/S.T.A.L.K.E.R vibe of unease and constant threat looming to the point where you’d rather hear gunshots all across the map than the dead silence of customs, jumping at your own footstep sounds. And sound, by the way, is hugely important in this game. Everything you do in this game makes noise, from checking your inventory to aiming down sights. And with the time to kill being so short, getting the drop on your opponent is key to winning your firefights and taking that sweet, sweet loot. There are even in-game headsets for your character to wear to amplify certain sounds and drown out the ambient sounds of rain and wind. That feeling when you actually get the drop on a solo player just sat there looting something smack bang in the middle of the Dorms, completely unaware you’ve got your sights locked on his big shiny dome — priceless.
Solo Or Grouping?
Whilst grouping is possible (and fun for the most part but for all the wrong reasons), I’ve found solo runs have been my most successful and profitable runs. The big trouble with groups is that, aside from wearing all the same gear or buying a colored armband from one of the traders, there’s no real way to tell who’s who without saying, “Is this you?”
This can lead to you killing your teammate, them killing you, or not realizing a solo just wandered into you and killed you both before you even think of returning fire. The problem gets worse once you run more — every crunch and step is met with: “Was that you just now?”
It’s understandable, with the type of game this is, but it’s downright annoying at the best of times. I’ve been that solo guy who waltzed into a team of 3 all sat on and around a big rock and Woods and wiped the lot whilst wearing no armor and having only a Vepr Hunter to my name, then took every valuable bit they had. They must have been absolutely fuming with me, I would have been.
And that’s the thing with this game — you can’t get attached to your loot. Even your hard-earned, prized, modded-off-its-face M4 can be lifted off your cold, dead corpse in under a second, all it takes is one well-placed shot to the face. Gear fear is a real thing, but the best thing you can do is either run it in an offline raid against the AI (to get used to using it before you take it out in the “real” world), or sell it. If it’s sat in your stash, it’s just doing exactly that — sitting in your stash being a useless waste of space.
The ammunition you use, by the way, has a huge impact on what types of players you can drop. There’s somewhat of an established meta right now, see if a limb gets reduced to zero hit points and then takes another hit, and that’s it — you’re dead. So if someone is wearing big boy armor, you just shoot them in the legs ’til they drop. Or better yet, you scatter them across the nearby area with a grenade, like the socks on a college student’s floor.
A lovely Reddit user by the name of NoFoodAfterMidnight has created a very useful spreadsheet on which rounds penetrate what class of armor and how much damage they deal, and it can be found here.
The skill system is executed rather well so far, though there are many skills that remain unfinished and locked. At the moment, skills like covert movement can be leveled by simply moving around the map, adding bonuses like making your footsteps harder to hear. The recoil control skill can be leveled up simply by shooting a whole bunch, making your full auto fire a lot more controllable with less vertical and (more importantly) horizontal recoil.
The leveling system allows you to access more upgrades for your Hideout, a menu that allows you to build up a base of sorts that can generate items from other items, and even allows you to build a Bitcoin farm (no, I’m not joking). It also allows you to level up your NPC traders, granting access to more equipment such as weapons, meds, and armor and better trade deals with them by lowering their prices and upping the amount they buy items from you. The traders also require you to build your reputation up with them to level them, which can be achieved by trading by either them or completing their tasks.
The fun stops, however, when some of the more game-breaking bugs kick in. I’ve had my character be locked into an endless reload cycle, bugged my gun out so I can’t shoot it or change weapon, lost items I dropped through the floor of the map, and been kicked from a game mid-raid only to reconnect and be dead. Also, while recent popularity has driven up the player count, it’s also driven up the matching times to ludicrous waits. Some can get up to as high as 10-14 minutes sat in the queue. Battlestate Games have been trying to address this by upping their infrastructure, but as of right now, it’s still an issue.
There’s also the issue of exit campers. These guys are the worst. They bring very little in other than a high-powered weapon and some food/water. They spawn in, check the extracts then run straight to them, and sit in a hiding spot overlooking the exits, popping people off as they try to leave then looting all their goodies. They’re like panda bears, eating shoots and leaves and doing nothing.
So, is the game actually worth your money right now? Well, I don’t have a straightforward answer for you, but here’s what I’ve got. If you like the sound of it, I’d say take a look at some streams and uncut YouTube videos to get a feel for the pace. It’s quite slow most of the time, but it does retain the tension when you’re in it. So if you’re the run-and-gun, Call of Duty/Battlefield-type of player, it may not be for you. If you’ve enjoyed mil-sims and survival games, however, this may be right up your alley. There’s a number of bundles available right now that you can only purchase directly from Battlestate Games, found here. Prices are in Euros and there is normally an additional small charge on the purchase.
Now, I started on the Standard Edition, but once I’d got on a roll, I upgraded to the Edge of Darkness Edition for maximum stash space, and also because I’d had about 40 really enjoyable hours in the game. I personally recommend this to any fan of survival or shooter games.