Escape From Tarkov, the extraction shooter/horror sim from Battlestate Games, got a progression erasing wipe and a wedge of new content over the Christmas break, and as a Tarkov acolyte I got stuck in, looting and blasting my way through the game’s opening hours.
It’s still Tarkov. Patch 13.0 doesn’t change things as severely as last year’s patch that brought inertia and weapon malfunctions to the game. The changes here are smaller and harder to notice: early quests have been rejigged or adjusted in difficulty, while 7.62 PS ammo, an early game favourite, has been made harder to play from the get-go. These are small changes that make the game feel like more of a struggle, yet most Tarkov veterans have already adjusted to them.
The headline change is Streets of Tarkov – the first iteration of which has dropped in Escape From Tarkov patch 13.0, and is giving players a little taste of authentic urban warfare. Authentic urban warfare, it turns out, is a whole new beast compared to the bush-based antics of regular Tarkov.
Players are funneled down debris-strewn streets as they try to get their objectives, with would-be looters pushed up against each other in sporadic clashes as they try to avoid sniper fire, find hidden chemical labs or just extract with a few goodies.
Combat in Streets is intoxicating. Fights are fast and frantic, and because it really feels like a few dilapidated city blocks, there’s a variety of weird angles and unusual quirks to take into account. The abandoned grocery store you’re assaulting really feels like an actual grocery store rather than an FPS map. This is something Tarkov has always excelled at, but picking your way through a wartorn city is something entirely new for Tarkov.
It encourages you to play differently, too. An unsilenced gunshot will ring out across the map like a dinner bell. As the map is currently relatively small but densely packed, wandering enemy players, NPC or even player-controlled Scavs – with nothing to lose as they have been given a gearset by the game and sent out to mess you up – will swarm your position like something out of Aliens, meaning the aim of the game is to engage, break contact and get out of there before you get messed up by a tide of loot-hungry players eager to get their hands on your loot. While slow methodical play will hand you loot and success in regular Tarkov, on Streets it’s impossible to control every situation and so you have to play the hand you’re dealt, shooting and scooting through a city where nearly everyone wants you dead.
If this sounds stressful, it really is. Traversing this urban jungle is altogether more challenging than skulking through the arid mess around Custom’s stronghold or the trees that make up nearly every square inch of the Woods map. There’s precious little concealment here, and instead of hiding to lick my wounds I’ve found my squad and I will crash into an apartment building or corner shop and try to fortify it for a few seconds, enough time to bandage a wound, fix a broken arm or repair a blacked out leg so you can run away more effectively.
I still don’t know if I can recommend Escape From Tarkov to anyone but the most hardened FPS fans, but it still has the best firefights in the business. With this early implementation of the Streets of Tarkov map, Battlestate Games has also shown that it could have well have some of the best maps, too. Bizarrely, the big hope is that Streets doesn’t get bigger and more labyrinthian, growing only slightly while adding a lot more verticle play. As it is, it feels like a safari of everything great about Tarkov, with several players fighting to become the Apex predator.
Escape From Tarkov is available to play on PC.