Extraction Shooters, Looter Shooters, Tarkovlikes -- call them what you want, this is a growing genre. Marauders puts players in the shoes of a space pirate risking life and limb for loot, and I dove in to see if it lived up to my expectations.
Marauders is set in the far-flung past of the late 90s. The Great War has never ended and endless industrialization has forced humanity to fly to the stars. Three factions -- the United Allies, the Kingdom Alliance, and the Central Empire -- battle it out with massive ships and endless armies. You are allied with none of these factions. Instead, you are a humble space pirate, skulking in the shadows and living off of whatever you can steal, scrap, or salvage by raiding derelict space stations and hopefully coming out alive with a sack full of valuables.
The Space Race
A raid in Marauders doesn't actually start in the space station you're raiding. Instead, you begin your adventure in a spaceship. You have to actually fly from the edge of a map into a raid. Unfortunately, this initial foray into a raid is one of the weakest parts of the game.
The space combat metagame may very well change, but my early experience with it doesn't leave me with much optimism.
Frankly, space combat doesn't have much use now. You can make it from the spawn point to your target in 2-4 minutes. Even an average pilot can likely avoid most incoming fire by flying wildly, taking a longer route, or sitting behind cover. If your ship does get disabled, you can make it to an escape pod and probably still get away.
Granted, this might change as more players invest in ships with better weapons -- the Tech Test I participated in didn't really give players enough time to unlock the really beefy ships. The space combat metagame may very well change, but my early experience with it doesn't leave me with much optimism.
Sadly, Marauders also commits one of the cardinal sins of space combat games -- it doesn't treat space like a truly 3D environment. You cannot rotate on all axes. You cannot roll your ship or do a loop-the-loop. You can only strafe horizontally or vertically and turn your ship by aiming in a particular direction.
That's not the only problem with space combat. Marauders also ignores the whole "inertia" thing. A constantly thrusting engine should be picking up speed, but instead, your craft is treated as if it has drag. Take your foot off the gas pedal and the ship slows down. That's not how zero-G works, and I don't believe that's how spaceflight should be represented in games. Marauders is worse for it.
The Great Raid
Although space combat is a bit wonky, the rest of Marauders is much better. Your experience improves tremendously once you actually get into a Raid -- although the core gameplay is not without its rough edges.
The AI for hostile NPCs is acceptable most of the time. I've seen NPCs flank and correctly use cover more often than not, but they'll also occasionally freeze up and stare at a wall with no explanation.
Each raid location offers a unique experience. The Navy Outpost is filled with deadly SAS (Special Air Service) soldiers equipped with Bren machine guns. On the flip side, the Penal Colony is mostly filled with prisoners who will shoot at you with cheap guns or charge at you with a shank.
Raiding, unfortunately, suffers from some questionable design choices, too. You cannot choose where you'll be raiding -- you're always randomly sent to one of the five core locations. The Merchant Ship and Damaged Capital Ship are locations that can rarely spawn within those existing levels -- and that's fair enough -- but it's maddening to be unable to travel to a specific location in a game that gives you missions that can only be completed on those maps.
Room For Improvement
Many of the most annoying flaws in Marauders are not huge problems -- it's the odd bug or level design quirk that can really throw a wrench in the works.
Take armor, for example. As with many similar games, some armor has built-in pockets where you can store items. Drop this armor, though, and you cannot put it into your bag. You also can't open it up like a backpack on the ground, nor can you fold it away for storage. If there are items in dropped armor, you'll have to pick up the armor, put it on, take out the items, and swap armor again. It doesn't line up with how the game treats other wearable inventory space.
Don't expect a complex weapon crafting system like you'd see in Escape from Tarkov, though -- most guns don't have any attachments and the ones that do only have 1-3 total with no alternate choices.
Another missed opportunity lies in the level design. Every airlock has the exact same layout with no variation - yellow canisters on the left and crates on the right. These serve as natural cover, and the clipping on the canisters, in particular, is atrocious -- I couldn't shoot between them in certain places, and that has led to an early demise more than once.
The five starting raid maps have some decent variety in enemies, but some of these locations don't make sense in a story sense. Take the Navy Outpost -- you can walk in through any airlock virtually unopposed. An Airlock is essentially the front gate of a space station -- when's the last time you saw a military base without at least one guard posted to fend off intruders?
Finally, Marauders has a great variety of guns -- dozens, surely. Don't expect a complex weapon crafting system like you'd see in Escape from Tarkov, though -- most guns don't have any attachments and the ones that do only have 1-3 options with no alternate choices.
Marauders Preview | Final Thoughts
Despite these problems, I had a ton of fun with Marauders. I truly believe that it has the potential to be a solid extraction sooner. A lot of love has gone into this game, but it just isn't there yet -- at least for me.
I've encountered the occasional technical issue such as shots not properly registering, but most of the major problems I've encountered have come down to design decisions that don't feel fully fleshed out.
Marauders has entered Early Access and Small Impact Games expects to work on it in this state for 12-18 months. Fortunately, the devs seem keen on listening to player feedback. I truly hope they take the lessons of the next few months to heart -- Marauders has the potential to be an excellent game in this rapidly-growing genre.
TechRaptor previewed Marauders on PC via Steam using a copy provided by the publisher