When Small Impact first told me it was creating a space game inspired by hardcore looter shooters like Escape From Tarkov, I had my doubts. Developers have long tried to replicate the success of Battlestate Games’ extraction shooter to no avail. DICE attempted it with Battlefield 2042’s Hazard Zone mode, as did Improbable with Scavengers, but neither really fulfilled the brief. After playing Marauders, though, I’m convinced Team 17’s new developer is onto a winner.
Marauders is much more than just Escape From Tarkov in space. You’re not just dropped into a No Man’s Sky dieselpunk adventure with a gun and told to crack on. Instead, you’re put behind the controls of a spaceship – in my case, the grand old Rust Bucket – in an alternative history setting and given the keys to the galaxy.
This is made even more exciting by the fact there are essentially three layers to the game: space exploration, ship fighting, and raids. Everyone starts out in space, where you and your squad pilot your way through a procedurally generated world, looking out for other ships or points of interest in the process. From there you find yourself a target, and you dictate how you want your raid to go; you can go full space pirate and attack other ships or you can dock at the nearest station and head in on foot.
During my first journey into space, my three-person squad decided to try our luck in the Mines – a big point of interest that floated into our view shortly after entering space. Armed with a Thompson (the game’s set in a timeline in which the Great War never ended) and some semi-decent armour, I felt confident as the airlock of this impressive looking area came into view. Before we opened the doors though, I made a note of a three-digit number on show. Without it, we’d lose access to the holding bay in which our ship was parked – making our escape a little bit trickier.
But as the doors opened and we pushed further and further into the unknown, I was reminded just how punishing these extraction shooters can be. I took my eye off my teammates for a couple of seconds and during that time they began engaging an AI player. I didn’t know who was who and neither did they. When I rounded the corner to help, I got a bullet promptly to the face from my own teammate.
Embarrassed, and well, a little bit annoyed, I watched over the shoulder of Joe, my PCGamesN compadre (you can read his preview right here), as he swept through the locale and made a bid to escape back through open space. While they left the mines and tried to find an extract, I started my build for the next raid.
I was a little down on my luck to be honest with you. I took most of my good gear into that last raid only to be team killed, so I decided to venture into the unknown this time with a pistol and a dream. We went into space in the Rust Bucket again – Joe took on the role as pilot and I manned the turret. It wasn’t long before we encountered another ship and we decided to engage.
The Rust Bucket – the base ship which you’ll always have access to, regardless of whether you’ve lost the rest of your fleet in a raid – isn’t exactly built for combat, though. While we did manage to land a few shots on the other ship, it wasn’t long before we were forced to scramble for the escape pods – small ships made for one person that aren’t really built for battle. But instead of running away, we decided to go full send and attempt to board the ship using these tiny little pods.
How we weren’t shot into oblivion is beyond me, but we made it. As the three of us – all in separate pods – got close to the enemy ship, a prompt came up allowing us to board. Within a matter of seconds, you’re thrown on board the ship, gun in hand, and told to get the job done.
It’s not as simple as that, though. As all three of us boarded from different pods, we all entered the ship at different points. With my head still pounding from the last friendly bullet, I started talking my teammates through my location and once we met up, we began pushing the bridge together.
In an attacking formation, we cleared corner after corner. It didn’t look like anyone was here, but then suddenly, a gunshot sounded. The pilot appeared brandishing an MP40 and we knew we had to be quick if we wanted to make it out alive. Gunshots began ringing out left, right, and centre, as another two players (or AI, who knows) appeared right on cue. One of my teammates goes down, but we’re able to finish them off – and now I’m the proud owner of an MP40 and a nice, shiny new ship.
Since one of our teammates died, we decided to bounce – heading to the nearest extract. Unlike Escape From Tarkov, which is notoriously difficult to navigate as a new player, particularly because extracts can be hidden in things like cracks in the walls, Marauders is much easier. Every map will always have two extracts in space that are easy to spot – so you won’t be forced to fly around the edge of space, desperately looking for a way out.
On the way, we encountered a few more ships but we mutually decided to leave each other alone. In a full server, which can accommodate up to 16 players – as well as countless AI raiders – I think we probably would have been intercepted, but here we were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Back safely in the main menu, I decided to sort my gear out. The jigsaw inventory system is much like Tarkov – you can drag and drop gear onto your player from your stash and vice versa. You’ll need to play inventory Tetris if you come out of multiple raids successfully, and you’ll need to cling onto certain items for trader tasks and crafting. You’ll also have the option to open strongboxes here – if you’re lucky enough to find them in the wild or a trader that stocks them – which reveal a mystery item. These are a little like loot boxes, but they can’t be bought using real-life money.
Crafting wise, things scale as you become more experienced players and level up. Using bits you find in raids, you can eventually craft anything from ammo to armour to weapons. You’ll be pleased to know though, that unlike Tarkov, there are only set ammunition types for each weapon – you won’t find 19 variations of 5.56 here. As for traders, you can accept jobs from them as and when they show up which, if completed, will improve your relationship with them. I’m told that, although there is a reputation system in place currently, working with one trader or another won’t negatively impact your relationships with others – but it’s something Small Impact might include later down the line.
These are both great options for accomplished players looking to make a bit of extra cash on the side or for players who struggle to get the better of others in PvP scenarios. In Tarkov, it’s easy to hit rock bottom when you’ve had a few bad raids and as keen extraction looter players, it’s something Small Impact wanted to tackle with a few well placed features. In Marauders, there is no insurance system but you will always have access to a ship and basic loot – regardless of your level. So that you can raid at any time, you’ll always have access to the Rust Bucket, a pistol, and some basic armour. It won’t help you if you round a corner and face someone with an MG42, but it’s something.
If you’re worried that the developers are only thinking of the casuals, don’t. Marauders has a prestige system that’ll allow you to unlock new features every time you hit level 50. There are dozens of rewards to pick from, but the most enticing is the ability to expand your stash. The only catch? You’ll need to wipe your character to do so. By prestiging, you’ll relinquish control of your inventory and your fleet – taking you back to square one again. It offers the perfect challenge for those looking to push themselves and players who find the six month cycle of Tarkov wipes monotonous.
With a reassurance that I wouldn’t lose out if I died in space, I decided to go big for my last raid. I picked up a flamethrower – don’t ask me how that works in space – and some beefy armour and boarded our newly acquired ship. This was the one, I thought. This is where we go from zero to hero.
This time I took the reins as pilot. Controlling the spaceship wasn’t as complicated as I expected it to be, and, after spotting a point of interest we wanted to move towards, I stuck the thrusters on to avoid a nearby turret. After we docked, we moved through the airlock, remembering to note down the three-digit number in the process, and into the port. It seemed quiet, but we’d been warned that Navy Commandos – essentially AI bosses – ruled the roost here.
We moved through the lower ground, picking our way through the boxes and shelves in the process, until we eventually heard movement. I rounded the corner firing flames, burning an AI into a crisp in the process. I picked up his MP40 so I could challenge raiders at long distance and then moved further into the port. We took down a couple more raiders, some of whom charged us, and others who peppered shots at us from range, until we eventually came to a bar area.
We didn’t find any Commandos here but there were plenty of AI to be found. By this point, Joe and I had found our groove and we were able to clear the bar area with ease. Full to the brim with loot and containers, we decide to head back to the ship to extract.
Since the ship has a stash area, we could have chosen to dump our gear and head back in – something, I’m told, is quite a viable strategy – but we opt to leave. Once we’re back in the ship and in space, we begin flying to the exit but something shiny catches our eye. A huge military ship, which is clearly being flown by a player, disappears behind an asteroid. We’ve been successful up until this point, and consumed by gear fever, we decide to give chase – but using our pods instead of our big, slow ship.
We approach stealthily and our unsuspecting enemy doesn’t have a clue. Within seconds we’re onboard and we rush to the bridge. I can’t see or hear anything, but then from up ahead, a flurry of gunshots sound. By the time I reach the pilot seat, I find Joe looming over his kill – a player geared up to the high heavens. Adrenaline pumping, we both take our share and decide now is the time to leave. By the time we left the raid, my heart was pounding and I felt like a true space pirate.
While I only played a handful of 25-minute raids during this preview, it became clear that no ventures into space are ever the same. While you might act like a rat and skirt around the edges, every encounter you have – either with a player or an AI, or on foot or in space – is entirely different. You can choose to risk it all and go in fully geared or approach things more cautiously, moving to points of interest using pods. It’s this, combined with the high-stakes gameplay extraction looters have become known for that makes Marauders such an intriguing game.
Although it certainly shares DNA with Escape From Tarkov, Marauders still feels like a distinct and original game. The preview build we played might have been a little rough around the edges, but with a bit of tender love and care in early access, I believe Small Impact can make the genre more approachable, while taking it – and other Tarkov-like games – to new heights.
Marauders will be at WASD in April – if you’d like to give this new extraction shooter a try, you can buy your tickets here.