Can Marauders dethrone Escape From Tarkov with dieselpunk spaceships and impeccable vibes?

(Image credit: Small Impact Games)

My first match of Marauders, a new dieselpunk extraction shooter currently in closed beta, was very short. I started out standing inside a Rustbucket, a small, dingy frigate with nothing but an engine in a single turret. I was flying toward the zone's main attraction, a central space station that can be boarded and looted for its treasures, when I got pulled into a dogfight with a fellow Rustbucket. I pummeled it with rockets until it looked pretty dead. I was sure I'd killed them when, out of the corner of my eye, a little pill-shaped pod slammed into my ship: "BREACHED" read a warning on my HUD.

I jump out of the pilot seat, transitioning to a first-person perspective inside my ship, to see if "breached" means what I think it means. I peeked downstairs at the airlock and found a gun staring back at me. We exchanged a few shots, but my single-shell tubed shotgun can't beat their MP40. I fall dead, and the guy who I originally had cornered on an asteroid is the new captain of my ship.

It's these moments, when the extraction shooter format intersects with Sea of Thieves-style plundering, that I've enjoyed Marauders best. The problem is that ship captaining and breach boarding are actually a minor part of the experience.

The majority of the time, Marauders is a lot like Escape From Tarkov, but in space—creep around dark hallways, loot every box can you can, kill the occasional player (or an NPC that you mistook for a player), then leave so you can keep all the stuff you found.

Loot bust

My friend and I played for hours this week and the most interesting thing we managed to loot was a larger backpack.

I'm a big fan of the burgeoning extraction shooter format, especially the way Hunt: Showdown does things, but Marauders seems to more closely emulate Escape From Tarkov, including many of the qualities that keep me from liking it. For one: it's all about loot, and the loot is boring.

The only concrete goal of a match is to loot containers and players for stuff that you can either sell or use to craft other stuff later. Between scrapes with AI raiders, I spent a lot of time opening cardboard boxes that held a single can of food, a bundle of wires, or a shoddy helmet—the sort of loot that might excite me in an open-world survival sim like DayZ but is barely useful in a run-based game like Marauders. My friend and I played for hours this week and the most interesting thing we managed to loot was a larger backpack.

I'm not feeling the loot lust in Marauders yet, though I do like its arsenal of World War 2-era guns. Rusty MP40s and Luger pistols pair surprisingly well with the grungy blue collar space aesthetic. Guns are highly lethal and fights are usually over in a matter of seconds. Even a thick armored vest will only protect you from a few shots. Marauders has other milsim trappings pulled straight out of Tarkov, like its realistically slow walking speed, its lack of crosshairs or hit markers, and noticeable delay in actions like jumping and sprinting.

I enjoy immersing myself in the clunky, simulated body of an actual human in low-stakes milsims like Squad, but I'm increasingly convinced that control lethargy and minimal feedback don't gel with competitive shooters. When most of the loot that I have to my name is on the line, I like knowing for sure when my bullet hits an enemy. This may just be the familiarity of 350 hours in Hunt: Showdown talking, but I much prefer the way that game balances realism with videogameiness. Movement and shooting are as snappy as Call of Duty, but its guns are highly lethal and difficult to master.


(Image credit: Small Impact Games)

Extraction inaction

My favorite part of Marauders is, ironically, the inconsequential extraction phase where we run back to our ship and fly outside the map zone to leave for good. The game counts on your squad to remember which airlock you parked your spaceship at, a fact my friend and I repeatedly forgot when it came time to leave. As we combed the edges of the station pressing F on airlocks until one of them opened, I was taken back to the time I forgot where I parked our generic white sedan in a sea of cars at the local mall.

I think the idea with the extraction is that you might run into enterprising pirates waiting to breach your ship, a cool scenario that I would welcome, but we've gotten nothing but empty space on every trip to the exit. The few times my ship has been breached happened toward the beginning of the match before we've looted anything at the station. That makes sense to me—do I really want to spend up to 25 minutes outside the raid zone waiting for the occasional ship to leave? That seems like a boring way to play, especially considering the trip between stations and exits is short, so the window to plunder is small.


(Image credit: Small Impact Games)

I'm also a little perplexed by Marauders' progression. I have a lot of money, but not a lot to spend it on. You can visit a single vendor that offers a few random guns and supplies on a timed cycle. So far these vendors have only offered stuff I already have or larger items I don't have any inventory space for. I was excited to unlock the medkit recipe, but then found out it required a material I'd only found once before.

Currently, Marauders is a cooler game to describe that it is to play. There's not a lot to it in this closed beta build, a fact that may sway the Tarkov faithfuls from committing to it for now, but Marauders definitely has it beat in theming and approachability. Personally, I think there's more potential in borrowing from Hunt: Showdown than chasing after Tarkov's loot obsession. On top of the goal of finding cool stuff, why not add centralized goals (like Hunt's boss fights) that draw players together? Or side goals that only exist in the exterior space zone? It certainly helps give matches a more defined ending than "our pockets are full, let's leave I guess."

If you want to check out Marauders for yourself and decide that I'm completely wrong, buying into its $27 pre-order period is currently the only way to get access to the closed beta that ends on July 26.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.