Explore the burnt out shell of Chernobyl while shooting and savaging your way to the top.In 1986, an explosion ripped through the fourth reactor of Chernobyl’s nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine, showering deadly radioactive fallout over the Soviet Union. Sadly, this much is actual history – and still an environmental disaster to this day.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. concocts a near-future scenario where a second incident has turned Chernobyl into an even deadlier wasteland, populated by bizarre mutant animals, murdering bandits, an unsympathetic military presence and other, far more sinister mysteries.
If you’re expecting a slick Half-Life-style FPS with explosive scripted events and lively characters, you’re not going to get it here. S.T.A.L.K.E.R submerges you in a bleak, heavy atmosphere that’s laced with slow-paced exploration, tense combat and fiddly character management, putting it in the same ballpark as Deus Ex (though it’s not quite in the same league).
You’ll need to stay alert and scavenge for resources, from stealing stale bread and vodka (your character gets hungry, whilst a chug of spirits can ward off radiation), to pocketing stolen ammunition and bandages. Fleecing dead bodies of their gear becomes an essential part of life as a mercenary 'Stalker’ in Chernobyl’s deadly radioactive Zone; as does trading junk with NPCs (Non-Player Characters) and running odd jobs (many of which involve tedious backtracking across the vast landscape) to earn money and equipment.
Combat is compelling thanks to a great range of realistic weaponry, the need to ration ammo and some extremely smart and elusive AI. Animals may retreat if you open fire, whilst humanoid foes attempt to ambush, flank and outnumber you.
Odd radioactive artefacts can also be equipped to enhance your abilities, so it’s not only your arsenal that improves over time.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is peppered with enough water-cooler moments – many of which emerge from your own random interaction with the game’s detailed world – that you’ll forgive its occasional technical flaws and bugs. Your in-game PDA is a bit of a design mess, so it can be easy to fail missions unexpectedly – but you won’t want to stop playing.
The post-apocalyptic mood is brilliantly brought to life through the spooky, crumbling architecture, hazy radioactive anomalies that bring about a swift death, eerie sound effects and sudden, shifting weather patterns. If you’ve got a machine that can handle it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is highly memorable gaming.