Who says the only games I review should be in Alpha or Beta?!?!? Well technically, statistics say I have a better probability of reaching a wider audience, but I say “MEH!”.
To Kick off reviewing older games, I want to take a look at what is probably one of my all time Favorite games. STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl.
Thankfully this is not entirely from left field as Shane Van Dyke, one of the minds behind Paranormal Activity, helped write Chernobyl Diaries, coming out later this year… (I included the trailer at the bottom of this review.)
STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl was released in 2007 by THQ and GSC World Publishing. A good quick overview of the game is Skyrim Meets Modern Warfare 3. No Icons yet, but I give this one: 5/5 bullets!
Basically you are a dude, no name, no memory, just some scars, a PDA and no idea what the hell you are doing in the Zone, let alone what bacon might taste like. The story revolves around the idea that you need to find whoever stranded you in the slightly, to massively irradiated wastes surrounding the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine. Now time for some revealing background information!
The name sake of the game is a 1979 Russian film, here is the Trailer:
The major theme of both the movie and the game is that if you can get into the center of “the Zone” you will find a device that grants wishes. The movie, which was released before the 1986 Nuclear Disaster, takes place in a “Zone” where the normal laws of physics are not always the boss.
In the case of the game STALKER, “the Zone” refers to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone around the nuclear power plant, in Chernobyl. The center of the Zone, just happens to be located somewhere inside the irradiated plant. And now for the games trailer:
Enough about the story, I don’t want to spoil it for you, let’s talk about how the game works. Much like any modern RPG game, you wake up, get a quest, complete the quest, find out more about the story, and unlock more quests. There isn’t a “leveling” system to the game, but you do get ranked against all the other STALKERS in the persistent AI world, and the more “experienced” you get the better money you earn and the better equipment you have access too.
They just threw away that pesky “experience point and level bar” thing that makes a nice GUI cluttered. And then quickly tossed out the rest of the idea of leveling, and gave you cooler guns the deeper you get!
Also like most open-world style RPGS, you can go pretty much anywhere within each “Zone” anytime you like, as long as you make sure to pick your way around the hazards the maps have to offer. When you reach the edge of the “Zone” you either move to the next one, die as radiation melts all your important bits at once, or run into barbed wire.
You also contend with a complex inventory system, which shows what armor you are wearing, your primary weapon and side arm, and all that random crap you have felt the need to shove into your back-pack. Everything in the game has weight though, so at about the time you have 500 rounds of ammo, a shotgun, 9 handguns, and 47 health kits, you can’t move, but you make an awesome target!
The AI is good, for 2007, as far as the “Smart” enemies are concerned. 90% of the game you spend in conflict with one of the Zones major factions, so you are battling other STALKERS, the Military, Bandits, or other rival factions as you strive to remember what you had for breakfast. Flanking and cover are important as just a few hits will kill you, and a major hit causes you to bleed to death slowly, unless you get some first aid. The enemy use tactic to flank and trap you, and sometime you can walk right into an ambush.
But two can play that game, if you start shooting a guy, duck behind some bushes, and creep to the far side of the camp, the altered bad guys are still firing at your last known position. Trust me, this type of flanking is needed early in the game… when all you have is a sausage, a sawed-off shotgun that hold only two shells, and a pistol that Lenin threw away when he was 5.
As for the rest of the enemies? Well zombies are stupid, you can train them into natural world hazards, and the other mutants that are scattered around the world are pretty much re-skinned “attack dogs” who mindlessly attack you until you or they die.
Their are a few higher tiered mutants. One of which is a telepathic nightmare man, that uses the powers of your video card to convince you that you are in the 60s and having a really bad LSD trip, until you remind him that guns don’t kill people, you do. But seeing as how the pharmacy in the Zone is out of hangover meds, you get the “morning after” feeling of a Roger Waters designed flash bang for a few second. Then their is the Vampire Mutant..
You know your standard Cthulhu stand-in, that can turn invisible, run WAY faster than you can, and eat your face off with his magical and tender RAZOR FACE TENTACLES! But still mutants are mutants, and pretty much straight line at you until you are dead, although they do a good job avoiding the natural hazards of the world.
So by this time the Elephant in the Room has grown two heads(That’s a radiation joke…). I keep mentioning these “world hazards” and here is the quick run-down: OMGWTFRADIATION has taken the laws of Physics and smashed them around Tony Starks living room because lets face it, they are “puny gods”.
Scattered around all the maps are hazards from your common “my eyes are bleeding” pockets of gamma radiation, to other fun things like geysers of radioactive flame, dust devils that can tear your arms off, and well I won’t “spoil” the surprise… (In this case the “surprise” is any number of things that melt your face)
However their is a Golden Lining on those radioactive shit-storms… Each Anomaly, this is the cute little word used in game to describe these near invisible instagib traps, produce artifacts. These artifacts can be used to boost your in game abilities, or if you are like me and like your character resembling a shambling Sherman Tank, you can just sell them all to buy more guns.
For a game released in 2007 the graphics are pretty damn good, the grass moves in the wind, the sun sets and rises, you even get some cool God Beams during twilight, and assuming your computer can handle it the shadows move naturally. The skins are interesting, and the guns look damn good, for beat-up casts offs in a post-apocalyptic setting.
The RPG elements of the game ends with quest giving, and weapon/armor upgrading, the rest of the game is pure FPS. Balancing your weapons for each fire-fight becomes old quick, and you really learn what style you play best fast.
Sniping is almost non-existent in the game, sure you might snipe 2-3 guys, but then the other 30 are all over you, cause guess what? They have the same shitty, beat-up guns you do, and hey you can’t remember what you had for breakfast so Marine Sniper School is out of the question. It is refreshing that the game manages to balance all its weapons without having a some ungodly sniper weapon that ends each fight before it starts.
The world is persistent, factions fight, territory lines change, and mutants wipe out whole towns even if you aren’t around to see it. Which sometimes means your quest is just gone, but there is always another mission! I have played through the first game a couple dozen times, and never have I completed everything.
So whats the TL:DR? Skyrim with Guns. One last movie trailer…
Liked the review? Want to see more? Be sure to mention it all in the comments! Also be sure to check out STALKER: Clear Sky and STALKER: Call of Pripyat.