Escape from Tarvok is a first person shooter title developed by Battlestate Games. At the very end of last year the game entered into closed alpha and in the last couple of months the game entered the closed beta phase. The game is currently all about obtaining and keeping hold of loot items, mostly in the form of armour or weaponry. Escape from Tarvok sells itself as both hardcore and realistic but does it live up to the billing? Let’s take a look!
This is certainly an experience. What players will experience are short amounts of intense tension, one round after another. The feeling is very much like a condensed version of the likes of DayZ. While in DayZ payers can spend an hour getting across the map before running into an edgy stand-off where someone will end up being shot. In Escape from Tarvok players get that same sense of nerves and surprise but without the waste of time that is the walking.
The maps even represent small snapshot areas of a greater map providing much needed variety. Each map has their own feel and benefit dissimilar playstyles. Factory for instance, as the name suggests, sees players confined to a medium sized disused factory building. This map is great for those with quick reactions as it forces players into close quarter combat. Factory also highlights the importance of sound within the game. Sound can truly give your position away as gunshots, or even your footsteps, can see enemies gaining information on your whereabouts. Thus, allowing them to close in on your position. The sneaking around that this causes, and the stopping to listen, only helps to heighten the pressure on players.
Another of the four available maps, Woods benefits a rather different style of play. While there are thick trees to pass through there are sections including a road that are long and open. This is perfect for those whom have with looted or purchased a scope from the black-market vendors. Woods is also one of the best maps to highlight the time of day system. Players are able to stipulate when they join a lobby one of two set times of day. The daytime version makes things easy to see at distance. While at night NVGs are almost a necessity to see an enemy coming. It is impressive how much these time of day settings can change the way a map feels. Hopefully in the full game a third time option of dusk or dawn will be included to get in the middle of full light and total darkness.
The visual presentation really helps to set the scene, immersing players into the desolate locations. This emphasise a sense of aloneness or being in the middle of nowhere that goes hand in hand with the atmosphere of the game. From the rubbish that litters the floors to the abandoned nature of pretty much every location players constantly get the reminder that they are not in a safe zone.
If there was only one aspect of Escape from Tarvok that other developers should pick up in it would be the “Scav” system. Players before going into a game can decide where to either play as their player made character or roll as a scavenger. This Scav character can be utilized only once every 30 minutes but has the ability to get a player some form of loot to start up again. It takes some of the punishment out of losing top end gear. Even if you lose your last items you don’t have to run your character in with nothing. It also allows players to play a quick round that doesn’t matter quite as much, in case playing as your permanent character is getting to stressful.
Once you’ve got some loot out either via your character or a scav if you don’t want to keep it you might as well visit the black market. There are multiple vendors to sell to. Not only are each after different items, they stock different content and there are 3 separate currencies. This can mean that the black market can be a little frustrating when you want a particular item. It does however make sense given the realistic nature that the developers are aiming for.
There are few games where you will be interacting with an inventory system quite as much as in Escape from Tarkov. Unusually inventory management is not just limited to something you briefly engage with to break up gameplay. In Tarkov the player keeps any gear which they can escape a map with, kept in a central stash which is accessed from the main menu rather than in-game. It is this inventory which is particularly critical, and its limited size means you will be spending time juggling items around the grid and into containers to maximise the amount of stuff you can cram in.
The gridded inventory management is reasonably well executed but does feel somewhat clunky as almost all such systems do. It seems with Escape from Tarkov though that this is to some extent at least intentional, adding tension to the act of looting by forcing you to perform a fiddly task which leaves you vulnerable. Foremost amongst these fiddly tasks is the reloading of ammunition into weapon magazines, which requires you to drag loose ammunition onto the magazine in the inventory.
The main issue with the user interface as it exists in the current version of the game is the lack of explanation; very few games I have played need a tutorial quite so badly as this. Quirks of the inventory system like manual magazine reloading are not a standard feature and so need explanation. Yet, the worst offenders crop up when you try and get into the game itself. The main menu options include Character, Trading and Quit, with the words Escape from Tarkov above them which turns out to be the option to actually play the game. This is just a small example that highlights the slightly different approach taken by the developers. There are many other small things which make the interface generally unintuitive, though this could be mostly rectified with a tutorial and some good tooltips.
Escape from Tarvok shows some real promise in terms of the short bursts of high tension. While it is a shame a few elements, such as the user interface and lack of any explanation, let the game down these are elements that can be improved upon and fleshed out throughout the beta. As more content such as maps and the system for radioactivity come online the game will grow in depth. Escape from Tarvok just needs time to flourish but gamers can get in on the action early on and there is plenty of high adrenaline action to be enjoyed it you do.
[Editor’s Note: Escape from Tarvok beta keys were provided to us for the preview.]