One that blows your mind away
Six long years. It took six years for GSC of Russia to turn S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (referred to as stalker for the rest of this review) into a playable form. Of course there are some bugs in the game, but should we really expect any game to be bug free, even if it has been in development for six years; no. The game introduces you to your scenario with a very high quality cinematic, which exposes who your character is. Apparently you fell out of a “death truck” when it was hit by lighting and you are found by another Stalker who takes you to a fat ogre for payment. I call him the fat ogre, in reality he is your lovable Russian with sarcastic remarks and a lust for money. Anyways, you are thrown on a table in front of the fat ogre and he starts looking for your PDA. Needles to say he finds it and you, the alive-dead character on the table reaches out and grabs it, you have a tattoo with the words S.T.A.L.K.E.R on your arm. Which allows you to be deemed the “Marked One” by the fat ogre, because apparently you have amnesia; his cure for this is to keep you busy. The main mission of this game is to find Strelok, a stalker whom disappeared a while back according to the ogre. Along with main missions, there are side missions, but since there is no incentive to perform on these tasks, you may never touch them. Although, a few are actually forced onto you, such as helping to protect a camp from bandits, which if you succeed all you really get is money. While the game isn’t linear, because you can go off, do all the side missions, and never touch the main story, the story missions themselves are on the rails but the train can be derailed. So, needless to say that in this immersive world nothing is linear, but sadly you never need to touch the side missions to have an exhilarating time. Now these missions, especially the main story can become frustrating with how well Stalker’s Radiant AI system works. Realism seemed to be key in their development when it came to how many bullets it takes to kill someone and where the most destructive “hit boxes” are located. Aim for the head, you won’t be disappointed.
Enemies in this game, become far and wide as you face the military, bandits, rabid dogs, pseudo-dogs, pseudo-giants, snarks, poltergeist, rodent, flesh, and bloodsuckers. Encountering a bloodsucker is probably the most terrifying thing in this game, they have the ability to turn invisible and some can use psycho mind tricks that will mess with your visions and brain. I found it easy to kill them if you look for their eyes while their invisible and pump two or four shots of from the shotgun right in-between them. Most of these animals, other than the poltergeist, bloodsuckers, and snarks are relatively harmless. The human enemies though, paired with Radiant AI, just as the animals are, will give you a tough time if you aren’t aiming for the head. By the end of the game, you will have encountered everything since you have to travel deep into the heart of Chernobyl just to beat the main story. To kill enemies you need weapons, weapons such as guns and grenades. You can only have four weapons and binoculars equipped and ready to use at all times. You have a knife, a pistol, your choice of shotgun or smg(which ever one you prefer when you find it), and grenades. Your friend will become the shotgun, smg, and pistol. While I did find the grenades useful to clear out groups of bandits, it never came in handy much. The rule stays the same for all weapons, including the knife, aim for the head and the enemy will go down fast…just like real life. I haven’t talked much about graphics, usually the first thing I delve into with reviews. Here is the reason why, we know they are dated; they wouldn’t be superb anyways because of the size of levels, and three details and lighting make up for it. That’s right folks, this game has high detail and paired with HDR and other lighting effects it will turn this bleak Chernobyl into a sometimes mutated fairy-tale. Now, on the internet people have been complaining that this game isn’t very pretty; well it won’t be pretty because you are playing in a nuclear wasteland set in and around Chernobyl. Although, this game will cause even the best of computers to become slow at times and buckle under the attention to immersion and lighting in this game. Here is a scenario, say your traversing the harsh radiated landscape at night and it begins to rain. You see the rain and you hear the thunder along with chirping of mutated birds and insects. The thunder intensifies lighting a coming, boom you hear and see the lighting and the whole world around you lights up. Here is why this game can bring even the best computer down to its knees, the attention to detail doesn’t include just textures, it includes atmosphere of the game, which is superb beyond all expectations.
Two things have yet to been discussed, artifacts and anomalies. Artifacts are essentially radiated pieces of earth or metal that now holds a form of value. The value of these ranges from very low to very high depending on the rarity. How greedy are you? Ask yourself this because, either you can go through a trader who will get some profit from this, or, you can sell directly to a scientist in the area, which brings in more RU’s for you. The game does use the official currency of Russia. Now anomalies are exactly what the definition says, “n odd, peculiar, or strange condition, situation, quality, etc.” In this case, they are random spots in and around the zone that will cause harm to anything that walks in their wake. There are four different types, lighting, bubbling green that causes severe blood loss, burner, and vortex. A few of these anomalies actually move on the ground such as lighting and burner. Others such as bubbly green and vortex are stationary and have life spans. These two things are related, if there are many anomalies around there is or some artifacts around. Around the bubbly green, I found “fuzzy” which looks like a big brown fuzz ball. You know the core of the game now, game play itself is more realistic than un realistoc because of the ballistics system used. Did you know gravity affects bullets? Apparently, many shooters don’t understand this, but stalker does. Don’t go around thinking you will be able to snipe someone with a pistol or smg; they all have realistic ranges. As you make your way through the zone and into Chernobyl itself, the nuclear power plant that blew up years ago, you will be scared and at times happy. Immersion in this game was a goal; they achieved that goal not through graphics but through attention to atmospheric detail. Along with random stalker’s and other characters that go about their lives thanks to the Radiant AI system, so do animals, but the humans get to speak in Russian that no one understands. Voice acting isn’t the best, then again who cares when you have a game this phenomenal on your hard drive. I would write more, describe more, and praise the game until I die, but I want to get back to the Zone and have some fun. The game is designed like an RPG in some ways; you will find upgrades for your weapons, like I found a silencer for both my AK and my pistol. You also have an inventory, which you can only hold up to fifty pounds at the start. The inventory is of course where you will conduct trading deals along with checking your reservoir of ammo and health packs. Eating isn’t priority in the game, but is needed at times when you’re low on health and need a caffeine boost. Talking with characters isn’t the most exciting thing unless your listening to their Russian gibberish, then it is rather enjoyable. The RPG side of the game isn’t as expanded as most people, but from a first person lover it is a wonderful addition that won’t slow you down. Before I do that, multiplayer should probably be discussed along with a few bugs. Multiplayer is a bust, it won’t be the new thing but it is fun for a while. Like in Counter-Strike you buy weapons, grenades, helmets, protective vest and what not. Thanks to realistic bullets, though only snipers can snipe and smg’s can sometimes pull off a pop head shot. It’s not fast paced and the system doesn’t feel very well balanced. It seems like the developers through it together at the last minute and tacked it on to their wonderful single player experience. The bugs in the game are things such as NPC’s clipping through walls and the game sometimes not starting up. This can be fixed with a reinstall though and you don’t lose your save games. I’m saying that from experience. Overall the game is gorgeous, in a radiated mutated way and it is one of the most immersive games that can compete in not just a shooting experience, but horror also. If you’re a PC gamer, you need to go pick this game up. Did I mention that some character play guitar and that Vodka reduces radiation?