S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Review

by DevilUknow     |     May 22, 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Score 9

By DevilUknow

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. takes you to an amazingly well realized, nightmarish vision of the near future. Get your anti-rads and your shotgun. It’s going to be a hell of a ride.

The wind blows and the rain drives hard. Lightening flashes and casts a pale light over the horizon. All around you are the baleful howls of mutants and monsters; they were once creatures of nature, but now they are a product of this manmade hell. You check your weapon and try to ignore the growling in your stomach, not to mention the lazy yet ominous clicking of your Geiger counter. There is a fortune to be made in the Zone and it draws all kinds of desperate men. But money is not what drives you; what drives you is murder.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is one of those rare games that comes along and defies genre classification, as it is far more ambitious and complex than a standard first person shooter, but not quite as complex and mired in stats as your typical role playing game. You play the part of the Marked One, a Stalker stuck in the “zone of absolute exclusion” that was established after the original Chernobyl disaster of 1986. You are found in a crashed truck with no memories and a note on your PDA that only states “Kill Strelok”. The setting takes place in the near future after a second Chernobyl incident that has unleashed mutant horrors and strange atmospheric anomalies into the world and it is implied that this zone is spreading. Beyond this, the story is not so much told as it is shown and defined by your actions.

You are guided through the game world by quests (or tasks in the game's vernacular) given to you by various seedy characters that range from the mundane (finding items, carrying messages, and the ultimate cliché of all, killing boars) to the daunting (sneak into an army base through a mutant infested catacomb, steal documents, shoot your way out and rendezvous with a gang of thugs for your reward). There are also factions that you can join and dozens of hidden stashes with gear, artifacts and weapons scattered around the world.

While the game world seems open ended, you are only partially free to explore it as you see fit; the landscape is not the enormous seamless world of recent games like Oblivion or even Grand Theft Auto. You are penned in by deadly radiation, strange magnetic storms and good old fashioned invisible barriers (masked with flimsy veneers like barb wire fences or steep hills). However, this is not to say that the level design is poor. Set piece locations are put too good use: a railroad bridge with an army encampment among rubble and destroyed vehicles underneath, an abandoned factory turned into a makeshift base by a bandits, a hidden sanctuary in a boxcar half sunk into a radioactive swamp. Nearly nothing happens in the middle of nowhere, giving the game a more structured and intentional feeling than most true open world games.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was made in Eastern Europe and has the unique feel most games from that region usually have. Gameplay is offbeat, ambitious and seemingly ready to rattle apart at any moment. This game is not overly impressive technically and it won't blow you away with graphical horsepower or special effects.

Deh Wasteland ees nice place to wisit

What S.T.A.L.K.E.R. does accomplish is an amazing degree of atmosphere. The Zone is an oppressive and dangerous place where you are NOT SUPPOSED TO BE. When you enter the world, you can hear the loud speaker of a nearby army check point warning people not to enter, assuring you that they are there to “protect you from the Zone, not the Zone from you”. Of course, you woke up INSIDE the zone with no escape as intruders (called Stalkers, which is a rather forced acronym for Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, Robbers) are shot on sight by the soldiers. There is never sunshine or the sound of birds, only wind and gray skies that occasionally tear open with lightening and torrential rain. Gunfire will occasionally rattle in the distance while the moans and growls of mutants and monsters are ever present. You'll see packs of irradiated dogs running down other Stalkers only to be topped by creatures even more monstrous feasting on their carcasses.

The “safe places” are damp ruins inhabited by dangerous and desperate armed men trying to find warmth around trash can fires and in bottles of cheap vodka. You will also quickly develop a feeling of wariness and paranoia created by the near invisible anomalies that will crush and kill you if you do not pay attention to where you are walking.

Even more impressive and terrifying are the underground tunnels you are occasionally forced to enter. Dark and claustrophobic, populated by powerful (and often invisible) mutants and other hostile forces, you'll actually begin to feel nostalgic for the wasteland on the surface.

My only criticisms are more like nitpicks than real complaints. You are limited in how much you can carry forcing you to discard loot picked off your kills that could have otherwise been sold to traders for a tidy profit. Stealth is important as you are rather fragile, especially in the early game, but your methods for silent kills are imprecise and unsatisfying; often you'll think you are going to stab a bandit in the back only to swing and miss, resulting in your enemy turning around and shooting you in the face. You'll also be killed a lot and this, mixed with extremely long load times, can begin to grate the nerves after a short while.

These problems, however, are no reason not to experience this game. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys getting lost in an amazingly well defined world and shooting mutants and raiders. And really, who doesn't?

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