Your heart is pounding. You are vulnerable, exposed, and fat with loot. You need to leave this place, get out before you lose everything. You hear footsteps echoing in the distance, the report of gunfire punctuating this place. You are being hunted. You thought humans escaped this feeling long ago, evolved into a species at the top of the food chain, unbothered by the primal cycle of predator and prey. Things are better now.
Yet you’re having the time of your life.
Welcome to the world of extraction shooters.
You might have heard this term before, as it’s quickly entering the gaming vocabulary to describe a new genre of shooters. Even developers like Bungie and Embark use it to describe their upcoming games Marathon and ARC Raiders, respectively. But what exactly is an extraction shooter, and why are they quickly becoming in vogue?
Some Darn Fool Thing in the Balkans
The first extraction shooter to enter the gaming mainstream was 2017’s Escape from Tarkov. Developed by Battlestate Games, Tarkov is a hardcore tactical FPS set in the fictional Eastern European city of Tarkov. Players act as private military contractors and bandit scavengers entering the city to find fortune and glory.
The primary gameplay of Tarkov involves entering a location, looting weapons and items from the location while avoiding or killing enemies and finally “extracting,” escaping the area with as much as possible. Tarkov is unique among its competitors in the FPS market thanks to its stakes: death in Tarkov means not only losing what was gained during the run, but also any weapons and equipment the player started with.
The game’s high-level weapon customization and technical gameplay mechanics make Tarkov more complex and less newcomer-friendly than other FPS games, and its limited-release model that renders it currently unavailable on major gaming platforms like Steam poses another barrier to entry. Still, Tarkov has reached a huge audience, drawing hundreds of thousands of players, according to a 2020 report from PCGamesN.
Tarkov has become the model for extraction shooters. The most important element is the loss of equipment on death, but other elements like dense levels, realistic gunplay and the presence of AI-controlled enemies are also looking to be integral to the overall genre.
Something Wicked This Way Comes
The next extraction shooter to take off in a big way was Hunt: Showdown, developed by Crytek of Crysis fame. The game takes Tarkov’s high-stakes gameplay and transplants it into a rural landscape populated by dangerous and grotesque monsters. Players embody bounty hunters hired to hunt down these monsters, though they face competition in the form of other players.
Hunt released in 2019 and has since become a sleeper hit. Reaching a 30-day average of over 16,000 players according to SteamCharts, the game boasts a solid following.
Hunt is differentiated from Tarkov due to its simpler, more forgiving progression system and slow-paced combat. Set in 1895, Hunt’s primary weapons are revolvers, shotguns and rifles that have limited ammo capacity and are slow to both fire and reload. This makes combat more strategic than in Tarkov which features a plethora of fully-automatic weapons that make killing enemies quickly a breeze.
Hunt continues to grow in popularity and is regularly updated, making it a prime early example of extraction shooters as they emerge as a genre.
Reach for the Stars
Space is where extraction shooters seem to be going next. Bungie announced Marathon at Sony’s Playstation Showcase in May, and its trailer has been viewed nearly 20 million times. The game is a reboot of the Marathon series Bungie first developed for Mac in the 90’s, featuring a bold new art style that’s quickly intrigued players. Meanwhile, Embark Studios, which is holding a Closed Beta for their game show FPS The Finals right now, is set to release ARC Raiders, another sci-fi extraction shooter set in a machine apocalypse. Another example is Marauders, set in an alternate future where the Great War never ended, featuring archaic weaponry and hulking spaceships.
Just like Battle Royale games before them, extraction shooters are shaping up to be a popular genre of games for the foreseeable future. New spins on the formula will likely arrive as developers seek to innovate and experiment within this new space.