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

I've been very tardy on my reviews, haven't I? Life has gotten in the way in a very fierce way. That and I have a new computer in which I can play new games! In many cases they hype is just hype and has caused a great disappointment. This time, I'm reviewing S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.
Released in 2007 by Ukrainian publisher GSC Game World, it pays homage and mostly just rips off the novel 'Roadside Picnic' and the Soviet movie based on the novel simply named 'Stalker'. Having read the book and seen snippets of the movie GSC opted for a more violent interpretation of both works. How original.

Anyway the entire thing takes place in, if you haven't guessed already, the Ukraine near Chernobyl in an alternate telling of present events as it takes place in 2011. All of this is in 'The Zone'. The simplistically named area around the radioactive contaminated area set up; also called The Zone of Alienation. In this area, the size of most states, has now been drastically reduced to the size of Luxembourg with mutants, anomalies and stalkers. Even the city of Prypiat has shrunk down and moved a dozen miles within a stone's throw of the power plant itself.

The entire game takes place after a second disaster happens and people turn into mutants and physics into a thing of the past with anomalies; strange phenomena that will ultimately kill you. The mutants are actually one of the few highlights of the game with unoriginal named things like 'Bloodsuckers' and 'Poltergeists' along more comically named 'Snorks' due to the fact of having a snorkel gas mask on still. The only dangerous ones are those mutants that can become invisible or attack in packs like dogs and mutated wolves. Even these become annoying when you ascend in rank and level as a stalker.

Like any other game of the last 20 years it's all about killing shit with a shallow plot. In this case it's the mythos that makes the game more interesting plus it's very nice to the point of euphoria knowing that you're the only one you need to depend on and you mainly work by killing people or mutants and selling artifacts; strange little things that the anomalies make.

With hazards like anomalies also must come radiation for the entire place is flooded with it. Or at least that's what the game's blurb told me but in the game it's not so much flooding the place as it has tiny puddles of it. Hunger is also another hazard which you have to over come as the character has a very slow metabolism as you need to eat every three days. Lastly is the annoyance of bleeding. Every time you get attacked, you will in some manner, bleed. Even falling from a bit of a height will  make you bleed. Why? Because if you have deductive reasoning, you'll understand that this game isn't quite finished...

I say this because certain things pop up, mostly literally, around the player during gameplay. For example: when exiting a map area to another, the game asks if you want to go or not. Choosing 'no' will swing your character back around and face the other way. I found this out in a very bad way as I was being chased by snorks. I had the option of hiding behind a peeled back door and pipping them in to pick them off one by one. But alas, this wasn't meant to be as I flipped back around after choosing no and summarily got slaughtered.

Again one thing pops into my mind (no pun intended) about me coming into another area that I just recently left and since it was a small area I had very little time to react. I just cleared an old checkpoint full of bandits and was coming back to accept my reward, thinking that the place was clear. As soon as I stepped in the game thought it would be a good time to spawn 4 or 5 bandits right behind me as soon as I took a step. This too got me killed.

There is one other flaw in the game as there are two sequences that are scripted to take the camera and swing it around. Although this makes for a good effect, the programming is such that it can be nearly a month later in game and the camera shot will still happen! This leaves the player vulnerable if he takes another path; and there is another path to the same location. In this event the camera took a shot of a downed helicopter and slowly took it's time until it got back to me so I could see just in time my character being fucked over and killed by a bloodsucker mutant. Lovely.

Now I've bitched about the game so far but that doesn't mean it's a bad game. It's just barely playable with AI being able to see you through very tall and thick plants and grass to being able to pick you out in the dead of night without anything to give you away save you're moving at a snails pace and you're sneaking. So what's good about S.T.A.L.K.E.R?

Well you do have guns. I like guns. It's fun to point a gun at something that you don't like and see it die. I like that. Of course I'm being a bit sarcastic but it is fun and oh so satisfying in a game to kill something that's been giving you a hard time. The sarcasm is the fact that the game revolves around this plus tasks you need to complete. Tasks, I may add, that you will fail if you wander too far from the objective or simply not get your reward or simply take too long in doing.

Like most weapons in life your proficiency depends on many factors such as ammo, the gun and the steadiness of your hand. I think shooter's have spoiled us as all games up until this point has us believe that every hero has near perfect aim. This isn't the case in stalker. The weapons are very realistic save the names. All of them are convoluted to mimic what they are in reality.

Gone is also the fact that every hero was some human hybrid of half man, half refrigerator that can take a dozen rounds to the face and not even flinch. In stalker you can't take more than a dozen hits before you go down and die. Of course this depends on your armour and how far away you are from the attacker at the time with head shots as insta-kills and too many leg shots crippling your target.

Another good thing about stalker is the ability to trade with neutral or friendly stalkers. Medicine, first aid packs and even vodka you can all trade around. For some reason only merchants can trade guns and ammunition. Even if the stalker has one kind of weapon he's using (and there isn't any women in the game), he won't take the ammo or a better weapon. It could be pride of the fact it's one of the many oversights in this game.

Weather, unlike other games, actually affects your enemies aim and attacks. In rain the things that want to kill you are a worse shot than in a sunny day. This also affects them tactically as in night or a thunderstorm they can sneak up around you or beside you and try to kill you that way. So in that respect, the AI is actually better than any FPS so far in gaming. Of course this is like saying it's a diamond in a big pile of Ukrainian horse shit.

Far be it for me to spoil the ending but sufficed to say it's lame, illogical and you can only get there to the 'true' ending by meeting certain criteria like not having so much rubles, not being a prick and not doing anything selfish.

So in the end, should you buy stalker? Yes and no. It's a exercise in attrition as enemies constantly respawn in an area of respawn anywhere the game wants, really. The plot is incoherent and the characters are flat save for a few. Also the surnames of characters are laughably pathetic. The only plus sides are the graphics, gun play and....well that's it really.
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Added: 7 years, 8 months ago
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