The grip of Battle Royale-type games is still tight on the top spot of current gaming trends, but it is important to remember where this style of games got its inspiration from. Way back around 2012, a tiny mod for a relatively unknown hyper-realistic FPS ARMA 3, called Day Z, caused a massive splash throughout the industry – a splash whose echoes can be felt to this day.
It birthed what is today recognized as a genre in its own right: the survival sandbox shooter. However, it has shown to be quite tricky to get right, as even major publishers have struggled to reach the success of the original mod. Now, after years of development, a small Russian studio dubbed Battlestate Games is trying to do just that, and it seems they just might make it. A short note first: Escape from Tarkov is
The gameplay loop is simple, yet effective for what it set out to do: you pack whatever gear you dare risk and are dropped into a huge open map. You fight, loot, and eventually escape. Or die trying. Other players are also spawned throughout, and it’s up to them whether they want to team up against AI-run opponents called scavs or just shoot you and take your gear. Usually, it’s the latter.
Which brings us to the first word that comes to my mind when I think of this title: punishing. Death is just a few stray bullets away at any given time, and even the most heavily geared badass can bite the dust because of a single minute misstep. Death, of course, means losing all the gear you collected. Combined with the fact that you can take any equipment you’ve acquired in previous games with you on a mission, this makes for an enticing balancing act of risk vs. reward.
The core aspect of any FPS game, the gunplay, is rock-solid. All weapons behave much as you’d expect them to and are accompanied by some exquisite sound design. Adding to the relentless tension present in almost every second of gameplay is an interesting medical system with limb damage and blood loss. Also worthy of note is one of the most varied and robust weapon modification systems out there, which will have you tinkering with your favorite gun for hours on end. (Until you lose it to a scav’s lucky headshot.)
The way Escape from Tarkov looks is a reminder to all of us of just what the Unity engine is capable of. The game looks gorgeous and successfully manages to give you the feeling of danger lurking behind every corner. Of particular note are night-time missions, which will have you sitting on the edge of your seat as you crawl through the shady bushes and abandoned buildings. The amazing sound design must also be mentioned, as it does wonders to immerse you even further into the deadly atmosphere of Tarkov.
Even though it wears its rapidly-aging inspirations on its sleeve, Escape from Tarkov is a breath of fresh air in the current gaming landscape. Absolute commitment to harsh realism and a clear vision of what makes a survival game good have made one of the most heart-poundingly exciting titles of the past decade.