S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. We’ve had to wait a long time for it so I started this review in the spirit of “when it’s done”. As you all know the makers GSC and THQ want to virtually recreate the area around an exploded nuclear reactor including anomalies, independently acting inhabitants, enemies and colleagues that all react to your moves, added with of course the necessary action, horror and adventure.
An ambitious game and finally again one that breathes the spirit of PC games and is made with the hardcore FPS gamer in mind. The result is a mutated monster with pimples, swears and the necessary stink, but in exchange you do get dragged into an impressive adventure filled with wonders, surprises and emotions. One with balls! For real men!
You are the Marked, have lost your memory and are quickly sent into the radioactive area to not only find yourself back but also figure out what’s going on. What immediately gets noticed is that you have quite a lot of freedom and aren’t taken by the hand like in Call of Duty 2. The environment is large and open, and you can, if you have enough weapons, health and bullets, walk as long as you want. Not only does this remind you of that other genre, the RPG, but also the artifacts you can collect add to that feeling.
These artifacts are created by the radioactive radiation and are up for the picking. You can collect and sell them, but more fun is to use them yourself and improve your character. You’ll also have to eat regularly and take antidotes (vodka can help now and then as well) to not succum to the terrible circumstances in the Zone. An RPG-elements that’s less worked out are the side-quests that you can do next to following the main storyline. The reward for your extra work is too thin and on top of that they’re not interesting enough to just do them. If you want to keep yourself occupied for more than 15 hours though, then you’ll be happy to do them. The storyline itself is mature and a bit hard to follow due to the cut up telling style but this will never bring down the fun.
Unfortunately for your health your opponents, human but also less human mutants (think poltergeists, zombies, dogs and all kinds of weird creatures) also get boosts or freaky things thanks to this radiation. The resulting shooting itself, after all it’s still an FPS, surprised me the most actually. This is quite realistically done with not only a nice, diverse lineup of weapons but especially a good feel that forces you to make use of cover and firing at the right time. This authentic feeling continues in your backpack: you can only take a certain amount of weight and will have to choose your weapons carefully. On top of that you’ll need to make sure to have the correct ammo which increases the tactical aspect even more.
A lot was talked about the AI of the enemies and after a couple of hours wandering around this indeed looks to be of a very high level. Not that we fell off our chair, but their use of cover, retreating when they think they’ll lose and their general use of the surroundings is better than what we’re used to. Also the fights where you have to work together with a couple of friends won’t test your ability to get dragged into the story.
Graphically STALKER doesn’t disappoint either eventhough the game has been in development for years and the impact the visuals made some time ago has been toned down a bit. Especially the atmosphere is good while the surroundings look authentic, abandoned and sometimes chicking skin inducing. This adventurous and uneasy feel of being somewhere you shouldn’t be and where so much suffering is due to human error makes that this game doesn’t show the standard unperonal atmosphere that so many other FPS games have. Add to that the many nightly scenes with terrifying light effects and you’ve got a unique experience that has no problem convincing you to shut your eyes for the many flaws, bugs and of course high system requirements and low framerates.
As so often with good games, the music adds an important and necessary part to the atmosphere. Think not only of a soundtrack but also to environment sounds like thunderstrucks, the howling of some monster and very sharp and clear gunshots and fire fights. We can also be very short about the multiplayer component. The shooting is equally satisfying as in the single player campaign, but the modes are too thin and the gameplay too little unique to be a reason for purchase.
STALKER is as said a heavyweight. The large and open environment with realistic gunplay and adventure inspiring setting, the limited but appealing RPG-elements, combined with an atmosphere that will make shivers run over your back make this game one you just have to check out. Maybe not the ultimate topgame once hoped, there are too many flaws for that, but a pure piece of FPS as the PC gamer likes it.