Marauders is a Tarkov-style survival FPS game that wants to impart one key lesson – life is cruel. Indeed, it would have to be, in a Dieselpunk alternate history in which ‘the Great War’ never ended and everyone is fighting over scraps of the asteroid belt in the early ’90s. Darwinism reigns supreme and Marauders is not going to give you a shiny insurance payout if you lose all your stuff.
“Losing all your stuff is tough,” Cameron Small tells me. He’s lead designer at Small Impact Games, a four-person studio that’s working on Marauders with Team 17. “It’s a tough thing to get over. But I don’t think any feeling beats it in terms of progression.” It’s also a very risky strategy for an indie game in the battle royale-adjacent space, as he’s quick to acknowledge, but: “as long as we can educate the player that they can go in with nothing and come out with everything, maybe it’s worth [the risk]”.
Small Impact was founded on a love of survival games, hardcore shooters like Escape from Tarkov, and about half a dozen other influences that all combine to make Marauders. The studio clearly revels in the harshness of Darwin’s ‘survival of the fittest’ theory and the winner-take-all opportunities it implies; Cameron tells me he enjoys going into a game of Tarkov naked and seeing what he can walk away with. “Your first raid could be your best raid, or your worst,” he muses.
For me, my greatest raid in Marauders was my third. The premise is simple enough: you and a crew of up to three others spawn on a ship out in space. The only map types we’ve seen so far are asteroid fields, and each has two exit gates for extraction. There are also plenty of AI-controlled gun turrets, rival spaceships (controlled both by NPCs and other players), and ‘installations’ where you can dock and hunt for loot.
You can hit up one installation, several, or simply wait in space to hijack some other sucker who went to the trouble and steal their loot instead. If you’re clever enough, you can even board another player’s ship, hide somewhere on board, and secretly extract with them. Whatever you decide, you have to make it out of the zone alive with your loot if you want to keep it. If you die, you lose everything you took in with you – ships, gear, the lot.
I’m on my way towards the gate at the end of my third raid. The first two had been truncated affairs with the usual learning pains and a couple of technical hiccups, but the third has been a smooth ride so far. I’ve raided an installation, secured the loot, and even taken out some NPCs and an enemy crew in an abandoned mine. Wanting to experience the full game loop as intended, my shipmate (The Loadout’s Jess Wells, who loves Tarkov) and I decided to call it a day there.
We make our way to the nearest gate. On the way, I spot the glow of an engine plume out in space. It’s near the gate, but on the other side of a large asteroid. Putting on my best stealth hat, I slowly hug the giant rock and come up and around its mass, looking ‘down’ on the ship from above. It’s a top-of-the-line military frigate, the best ship you can (currently) get in the game, but it doesn’t seem to have spotted us. Quickly, Jess and I rush to our escape pods.
These nimble one-person craft are fast, but weak and lightly armoured. They’re only designed for two things: making a quick escape out of the nearest gate, or boarding another ship. Punching through its hull, we board the frigate. It seems deserted at first, but then I stumble across someone playing around with weapons near the docking hatch, deep in the hold – and it’s not Jess. With the element of surprise on my side I dispatch the stranger, and we finish our sweep of the ship.
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We’ve hit the motherlode. Not only are we in possession of an intact military frigate, we’ve also stolen this poor soul’s stuff – a bevy of top-tier weapons and gear. We hurry to the bridge and fly to the gate, feeling like (pirate) kings, and I suddenly understand why Marauders exists. It’s a moment so pure, so cruel, and I hope it never happens to me. Ever. Note to self: always have someone on watch.
Whoever that person was, they won’t have completely bottomed out. Despite not wanting to offer too much loss mitigation, Small Impact Games is willing to give everyone a free starter ship (the ‘Rust Bucket’) and a basic loadout to take into every game no matter what happens. From there, you’re in charge of your own fortunes.
Marauders has a lot of promise, but the real test will be how well it can scale up and administer the last pieces of the puzzle to retain player interest. Small Impact is planning to have a stint in Steam Early Access – I’m not trying to be harsh when I say that this will be needed – and I can’t wait to see what the team builds on these foundations.
There are plenty of things I haven’t mentioned, such as a metagame that involves crafting everything from gear to ships. There’s ship-to-ship combat itself, in which players have individual jobs like in Sea of Thieves: someone piloting, someone manning the turrets, and there’s even a fire extinguisher for someone on damage control. Cameron wants to design a rewarding prestige system, which awards special currency that can purchase endgame items. There are also factions and contracts (read: quests) for you to take on.
Marauders is planning a closed alpha for anyone who pre-orders the game sometime ‘soon’, but if you happen to be at W.A.S.D – the new UK consumer game show of which PCGamesN is the official media partner – you’ll be able to try it out early. In the meantime, this is one we’ll be watching with keen interest. I just hope it doesn’t get jacked by pirates before it can realise its ambitions.