Whew laddie, I finally got in to the game that everyone has been talking about for the last year as the next greatest thing in survival realism since the Metro and S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. So needless to say this game had a lot to live up to in my mind. Now, before I get in to the actual preview, I want to provide two separate qualifiers: 1) this game is nowhere near done, I am currently playing something in between a functional alpha and a public beta 2) I am not a patient hunter type, I like to charge in and shoot things. Now let’s get to it.

Escape from Tarkov does not give the kindest first impression. There is no tutorial, no little welcoming touches, no explanations, no videos, and except for limited tips in the loading screen no intro at all. Instead you’re greeted with character creation, and faction choices.

Outdoor maps look amazing, if you have a good PC

The games central narrative seems to be in place, we are introduced to two factions who are fighting over a resource of some sort. One is called the USEC and the other is BEAR. The central organization these two factions war over is called The Terra Group Labs. The USEC are a PMC who work for them. The BEAR are another PMC hired by the Russian government to investigate the Terra Group Labs, and apparently steal their technology. So we at least have a frame narrative, even if for now all that changes is in game dialog, and what your character looks like. Both USEC and BEAR play essentially the same, at least right now, so this is more a choice of faction for looks and feel than anything else. The games story is not yet playable, so I can’t tell you anything about the narrative, but it’s supposed to be revolve around evil corporations, and technology, and war that is refereced in the flavor text as called the Contract war. A third faction the Scavengers or “scav” are playable, but they don’t carry anything over, and are a sort of fun way to play a quick game without risking your gear (more on this later).

After chose a faction, your presented with a simple screen asking you if you want to go to your character, or escape from Tarkov. Here we arrive at the games main mechanic in this Beta, Escaping from the various raids of Trakov. The game right now is broken down in to several raids, most lasting 60-90 minutes. Despite this amount of time being available the longest I have ever spent in a raid, either as PMC or a Scav is about 30 minutes. Before going in to a raid as your primary character (PMC) you chose your gear from a stash, and have access to traders to get more gear. I’ll talk a bit more about trading and the NPC’s who do it later, but now just know that any gear you have can be lost. The best metaphor I can give is Eve online ships. Your character here is your ship, and the actual raid is a 0.0, null sec zone. What you can find, and take from people you kill, you can keep, if you can escape. There are some survival elements in the game as well, and this plays in to the games patented “ultra realism” which ill take a bit about later, but for now just know that if you go in to a Raid with your best equipment and die, that stuff is gone forever.

all that stuff, you have on the left, is your load out, if you die its lost, the right is your stash, thats safe.

That’s basically the whole hook of this game right now. Later on there is set to be a wide reaching single player campaign with a story, but for now as it stands it’s a competitive PvP, and PvE, raid experience. I have taken on a couple of different ways of doing raids, but so far my favorite is to go in with no gear at all, save the standard melee weapon (an axe for USEC and a knife for Bear) and try to gank some players or AI scavs to steal their items. Since there are several raids already (with more planned) you can fit your gear to the different areas. My favorite is probably the close quarters factory raid, but there are also arguments for how much fun the wide open forest raid, and the checkpoint raids are. All of the raids carry the same sense of urgency, and of course just like any other game where you can lose it all, part of the fun is the danger you put yourself in.

The other part of the fun is Ultra-realism. Tarkov is a game that takes itself VERY seriously. Its promised ultra-realism extends to all aspects of the game. Basic survival systems are in place, food, and water must be consumed. Each body part separate health bars. There is no UI to speak of, beyond a small stamina bar and a stance indicator.

Additionally, there are a bevy of status effects, like broken bones, bleeding wounds, and trauma. These status effects can cause you to stumble, lose the ability to run, and lots more.  Later on health, food and water needs will carry over from raid to raid, as will presumably injuries and damage, but for now it’s a fresh start with each.

Your character has cumulative stats, that go up as you do things. Sort of reminiscent of the Elder Scrolls series. So exploring and running will level up those areas. While healing and shooting will level those up. You get EXP even if you are killed in a raid, so at least none of them are wasted. These levels are slow to go up but once they do they make a marked difference. Leveling stamina will allow you to run more, leveling exploration will give better loot drops, etc.

My favorite map, the Factory features close quarters battles

So, let’s talk about those raids a bit. Each one is a separate adventure, and some can last 6 minutes and some can last 40 minutes. On average mine lasted around 10 minutes, and most of the pros I watched on YouTube had a similar experience. The raids drop you in one of several spawn locations on the map with whatever gear you chose, and then it’s your job to go around hunting loot, scavs, and other players. Scavs are AI controlled bots, that have weapons and gear and patrol the map. There are a fairly good number of A.I. scavs on the map, and it’s not hard to find loot if you know what you’re doing, so most games at least end with some loot in your pocket. Now remember how I said that you lose everything when you die? Well I lied a little bit, each player has a container which is too small to fit guns in, but is big enough to fit bullets, medkits, and other stuff in, that they keep no matter what. This safe container is the only loot you keep if you die so make sure you make careful decisions on what to fill it with.

Beyond that raids are short, intense, and usually fun. I lost most of my good gear when I went in to one with a ton of it equipped, and ended up dying to an axe wielding player, so uh, don’t do that. After losing most of my gear in the first 5 runs I finally wised up and headed out with minimal gear. You can watch those runs on our YouTube channel, where I make I hopeless ass of myself even more than usual.

There is one more thing I have to talk about in Tarkov, and that’s the loot itself. In keeping with Ultra-realism, the game offers an unprecedented amount of weapon customization. I am not exaggerating with this. You can strip every single weapon down to its breech block and barrel, and replace every piece and part in various menus. I have never seen customization like this before in a game, the possibilities are basically endless, only confined by real life constraints. Each addition or subtraction effects the gun your modifying’s stats. There are tons of stats, far too many to list off, but adding a fore-grip may improve ergonomics, but it will cause it to weigh more for example. I could spend 1,000 words just talking about this system and how fun it ends up being but then we wouldn’t have a review!

Weapon Customization is extremely deep,and both gun nerds, and loot nerds will appreciate it.

Other than weapons loot covers quite a variety of odds and ends, there is food, drinks, computer parts, keys, hard cash in three different currencies (Rubles, Euros, and Dollars) and scattered other items. Most small items are found in loot boxes around the various raid maps, and trust me you will want to pick these up. Remember how I mentioned way back at the start that the game had a trading and shop system? Well those small items really play in to that system. Each of the present traders has a level, and you level the traders the same way you level yourself, by doing things. So as you level you will get better items and better deals. But, you will always have to find items to trade, as not everything in any shop can be purchased with cash. There are plenty of guides out there telling you which of the traders to level first, but for me I chose the guy with the guns.

Beyond raiding, trading, and leveling the game doesn’t offer much right now. A long and extensive single player campaign is promised, and since this game is developed by part of the team behind S.T.A.L.K.E.R I expect it should be pretty good. Even at this early stage I am really enjoying the game, it has that amazing danger element that you get with games like PUBG, and EVE, mixed with the ultra-realism of games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R and other survival games. I think to have any staying power there has to be a bit more to it, and some of the raids show some of this. For example the Checkpoint raid is a long outdoor map with a bunch of different terrain that looks ripped right out of a story mission. There are of course the same early access glitches you see everywhere else as well, server de-sync is common, loot wipes are assured, and balance is constantly being tweaked. Other than the usual not quite finished lack of polish I am very much enjoying the game.

If you want to buy Escape from Tarkov you can do so right now on their website, and purchase guarantees access to the beta!