Friday, October 10, 2008

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

STALKER is an interesting if flawed first person shooter that's greatest strength is its atmosphere. It spent a long time to development, leading some to think it would never be released, and it definitely shows its age in some areas. The shooting gameplay itself doesn't really handle the way you'd hope it would in a modern game, leading some combat encounters to be more frustrating than they probably should be. Especially early on, the handguns and hunting shotguns you find simply aren't very effective, and you have to be careful whenever you're around enemies. Once you start finding some automatic weapons though, it becomes a little easier to defend yourself. Although it's a shooter, due to the lackluster combat and interesting setting, I would have preferred a bit more exploration and survival horror and a bit fewer shootouts with the various bandits and soldiers who always seem to show up wherever you are.

Made by a Ukrainian developer, the game's plot is based on the story of the Russian novel Roadside Picnic with the Chernobyl incident as the basis for it. You play as one of the stalkers, who live in the area around the power plant, searching the irradiated wastelands for artifacts that started appearing after a second explosion. The game's main story is fairly linear, but you have the freedom to ignore it when you want and just explore the various ghost towns and abandoned laboratories, taking jobs for various people. It's interesting to just wander around, avoiding the mutant animals, scavenging bodies for food and ammunition. If you do follow the story though, you'll encounter a fairly intriguing although not really surprising science fiction tale, both fighting large groups of enemies in abandoned bases and city blocks and strange monsters inhabiting the dark underground facilities that hold the clues to what's really going on.

Playing STALKER was a unique experience, one unfortunately marred by a final area that, compared to the rest of the game, was pretty much completely terrible. You have the ability to survive against soldiers because you can fight them from a distance, but taking them on up close runs the risk of bringing death pretty quickly. Which is why it sucks when you're stuck in cramped corridors fighting guys with extremely good armor, while you're constantly being bombarded with radiation, which unfortunately doesn't have the same damaging effect on the guys you're fighting. If it wasn't irritatingly unfair already, the game actually seemed less stable in that area, crashing on me multiple times. There are multiple endings, although to get the best one you have to keep playing farther, and the final final area is almost as bad, because it just feels completely tacked on and unnecessary, with nothing interesting really being added. The whole last section of the game left a horrible taste in my mouth. If you can forgive bad difficulty swings and weird inconsistencies like the translated dialogue being different from the subtitles, STALKER's still worth experiencing.

No comments: