2009 – Marauder / Men of Prey / Мародер

Aperion’s previous game, 7.62 High Calibre, was a real-time open world tactical RPG, heavily inspired by the Jagged Alliance series. While rather buggy and with a boring storyline, its complex simulationist combat and highly detailed “gun porn” conquered quite a few devout fans.

Marauder, also known as Men of Prey in Europe, is instead a linear, story-driven game, based on a book series by the same name from Russian author Berkem Al Atomi. The game places you in the boots of Akhmetzyanov, a common man trying to survive an alternate-history Russia where the government collapsed, anarchy reigns and the US is invading.

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Don’t expect a pleasant story. Ahkmet himself is neither a virtuous paragon nor a noble-hearted anti-hero, but a man willing to do anything to keep him and his wife safe. You will fight militias, raiders and cannibals, but also desperate, starved neighbors trying to take some of your precious food.

Marauder’s combat perfectly reinforces its harsh atmosphere. The unique real-time with pause system from High Calibre is still here, if slightly streamlined. Every action takes a set time to be performed, and each has its pros and cons. The shotgun is a sure kill at close range, but it takes 0.42 seconds to ready it, while a pistol-wielding enemy can fire in just 0.08 seconds. You must take that into account in order to survive.

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While I usually prefer turn-based tactical games, Marauder’s intense and nerve-wrecking battles make great use of the game’s elaborate real-time system. To add to the challenge, Ahkmet can only see what’s in front of him and must otherwise rely on hearing to guess the enemy’s position. This is further accentuated by the game’s overwhelming odds, pitting you alone against dozens of looters or a full elite military squad with nothing but a rifle, some mines and your wits.

The game keeps the extensive and highly detailed armory found in High Calibre, with almost a hundred weapons, and adds a few more RPG mechanics to the formula, such as character creation, a skill tree and lock-picking. You’ll also get up to three companions as the plot advances, allowing for more complex tactics.

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Sadly, Marauder is extremely linear. Besides the main story, you’ll only be able to visit a bazaar, do a couple of side-quests and have one-line conversations with a handful of NPCs. And the dialogs are all in Russian, with poorly translated English subtitles.

Rough, challenging and intense, Marauder is an unique low budget tactical RPG. Its bleak story, harsh setting, high difficulty and complex combat are a sure treat to cold-blooded tactical enthusiasts. Felipe Pepe

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