Don't Just Stand There! Play Call of Pripyat!
The original STALKER was a game with a spectacular concept. The goal was to make a highly atmospheric, self-contained survival horror world. Sadly, that game never lived up to that. It was a fantastic game with a killer atmosphere, but bugs in the missions and frequent crashes made the game difficult to enjoy. Not only that, but there were noticeable weak points in the gameplay. At the end of the game it wasn't uncommon to find yourself with more money that you could ever spend in game. The inability to repair guns could be very frustrating, especially when your favorite gun became unusable. Anomalies, at best, were a minor threat and artifact acquisition and their benefits was unclear.
Then comes Clear Sky, both a step forward and a step back in the development of STALKER's core concept. Gameplay mechanics were significantly improved, weapon upgrades and repairs made easier, artifact behaviour improved... but the game strayed away from the survival horror of the STALKER concept. It didn't have that same sort of intense atmosphere.
And then came Call of Pripyat.
Call of Pripyat has terrible voice acting, an unremarkable and even almost terrible main story. The graphics are not up-to-par with graphics these days, in fact the graphics are not even up-to-par with those in the original STALKER after installing the STALKER Complete Mod. The addition of burers seems unnecessary, and their ridiculous amount of hitpoints is annoying.
But, you guys... Call of Pripyat is an amazing game.
Call of Pripyat executes that "self-contained, living zone" idea almost perfectly. As you travel, you come across groups of stalkers exploring for artifacts, moving to a new base or just looting. From time to time you see them engaging in combat with the wildlife of the Zone. At night they find a place to sit down and chill, waiting for the bloodsuckers and chimerae to finish their hunt. The AI is very good. At times I found myself marvelling at the completely unscripted events that occured before me. Once, as I was hunting down a chimera, a new zone monster, I suddenly noticed the colors of the environment changing. My radio turned on and I was informed that a blowout, a sudden, large release of radiation, was coming, I had to find cover somewhere.
I ran about panicked. I was deep in the zone and, when you run in the zone, you're liable to be noticed. A pack of dogs began chasing after me as I desperately strafed and shot them with my modified chaser. The screen started flashing and I got desperate to find shelter. I saw a house not far off, I ran to get there. Inside I found a mob of brainless stalkers, zombified by the psychic emissions of the zone. I got into a massive firefight trying to get deeper into the building, where I would be safe. Suddenly, I notice up on my minimap that two other stalkers are running to reach this building. The blowout begins and I worry if they'll make it. The sudden, intense emission causes mutated rats to crawl out of the woodwork so I became preoccupied trying to kill them when suddenly I hear more gunfire. One of the stalkers had made it and was now helping me kill these rats. We then stood there, waiting, as the blowout went on outside. This whole event was completely unscripted.
So the AI universe is better! What else, though, you ask? Well,the artifact system, for one thing, has vastly improved. Artifacts are now your biggest source of income. If you want good stuff in the game, you'll have to go artifact hunting from time to time. You take out your scanner and a bolt and you walk into one of the many deadly anomalies in the zone. You feel your way about by throwing bolts, to see where the deadly anomalies are, and you navigate your way towards the artifact with the detector in your left hand.
The benefits of artifacts are much more clear and give a much bigger advantage to those who use them now. Anomalies and artifacts simply look better now too.
Guns, upgrades, and killing dudes! The gun modification system has been vastly improved and the shooting is better as well. Bullet physics are top notch. Not only is the shooting better, but the way people die is just... fantastic. I play a lot of fps's, and I have to say that Call of Pripyat may have the best ragdoll deaths I've ever seen. If you hit them in the head with a pistol, they crumple over. If you shoot them point blank with a shotgun, they fly backwards. If you mow them down with an mg, they shake and bleed all over. Getting into a firefight and picking off dudes is immensly satisfying.
Side quests. You will find a lot of side quests in Call of Pripyat, and that's good, because you need something to keep yourself occupied other than the main storyline. The side quests are your usual fare, kill this, get this, talk to this dude... but each one feels unique and is fun enough that they're all very satisfying. They really make you feel like you are a part of the Zone, that you are as much a stalker as the rest of them. CoP is littered with interesting and likeable, as well as dislikeable characters. I found myself becoming attached to the gallery of world-weary stalkers within the game.
Where Call of Pripyat is lacking is in the voice acting and story department. Sure, the original didn't have the best voice-acting or story either, but it wasn't as noticeable as it is in CoP. The story's ending is sudden and unexpected. The "mystery" is nonexistant. Your entire mission is to find out why some helicopters crashed. In the last half hour of the game... you find out. Let me tell you, it certainly won't floor you.
The other thing is that Call of Pripyat doesn't feel as "horror-y" as the original STALKER. The Zone in the original felt a lot les friendly, a lot more mysterious. You go into an underground lab once in Call of Pripyat... and while it has its moments, it isn't very spectacular. Certainly not when compared to those of the original. The monsters are vastly improved, bloodsuckers are threatening throughout the entire game. The snorks work together to get you... dogs are still annoying little c****... but it isn't as grippingly horrifying as the first.
But despite this, Call of Pripyat is a vast improvement in the mechanics of the Zone, the gunplay, the gameplay, the artifact collection... et cetera. It feels like a self-contained, whole world. Walking around at night in the rain, as the lightning flashes and the terrain before you is momentarily lit up in white light... it's cool. It's a very cool game. It is the best execution I've ever seen for an fps rpg. I prefer this system over that of Fallout 3, I prefer it even over that of Mass Effect.