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

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Written by  :  Indra is stressed (20719)
Written on  :  Jul 28, 2009
Rating  :  3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars3.71 Stars

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[v1.0] I don’t speak Russian, but I speak S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

The Good

Review Version: v1.0
Review Date: July 28, 2009.
Review Length: 10 page(s).
Game Version: v1.0
Tech Specs Used: Intel Core 2 6300 1.86 Ghz CPU, 3 GB Memory, 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 8500 GT Video Card.

Difficulty Setting Used: Master.
Finished: Yes, 4 out of (rumor has it) 7 possible endings:
[1] I want the zone to disappear; [2] I want to be rich; [3] Join the C-Conscious; [4] Destroy the C-Conscious.
Last time played: June, 2009.

Preferred main weapon: Vintar BC Silent Sniper Rifle.
Preferred side arm: Big Ben (Special).
Preferred artifact: Mama’s Beads (5% bulletproof cap).
Faction supported: Tried Freedom; Freedom and Duty; and finally killed all of them. :)
Favorite Pastime: Blind dog hunting with grenades.
Most feared enemy: Bloodsuckers and anyone with a rocket launcher.
Last or highest statistics: 3486
[Stalkers killed: 2050; Mutants killed: 796; Quests completed: 697]


Note: This section may be skipped

First person shooters aren’t really my kind of genre. Despite having periods in my life where one of the best enjoyments before returning to the dorm was having the highest frag kill count at the end of the day, a certain encounter with a “sniper” on multiplayer games who head-shot me with a Desert Eagle pistol from way across the map made me decide that despite his excellent shooting skills, that bloke seriously needs to get a life. Ironic, since I was the one carrying the sniper rifle. :p But more importantly, it seems that I should get a life too. Or so I thought. :)

Frankly, if I knew what this game was about, I probably wouldn’t get it in the first place. I was “fooled” by the incorrect genre listing on MobyGames that this game is an RPG [correction pending]. So, I bought on the premise that I’m getting a game where I shoot things and develop my character so I can shoot more things. ;p

Apparently S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has reached a certain amount of fame among the would-be-gaming nerds and has even been rumored to be nominated for the most prestigious award in our nerd slang: a classic. Surely such a rumor must be confirmed, if only to dismiss the possibility that this game is yet another marketing hype. But then again, apparently the Russians developed this game, and as far as Eastern Europe (or Asia according to MobyGames, see forums for further details :p) is concerned, they don’t have enough cash flow to fund such a marketing scheme, additionally also not enough dumb adolescents to actually believe it even if they did. :p But then again, the publisher is THQ.

Introduction Guide
Note: This section may also be skipped

If you haven’t played the game and would like to know what it’s about, here a rough summary on what to expect. It’s a First-Person Shooter (FPS), which means that you shoot things from an angle where you cannot see yourself (i.e. First-Person). As a shooter, you can expect certain standard issue weaponry from N.A.T.O. or the Warsaw Pact. Sci-fi weapons exist (though few), and other specially upgraded weapons. Besides shooting things, gameplay usually consists on finishing the main quests, or if the player so chooses, finishing sub-quests (for money, or other item rewards) offered by various Non-Player Characters (NPCs).

And in case you’re wonder, yes, the game has sniper rifles. Whoopee!

The venue is set in the area surrounding the remnants of Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 2011. The plot contains fictional elements of the “what-if” variants in regard to life forms being effected by highly contaminated radioactive waste, to the point where their genes are altered, ultimately turning them into monster-like mutants. It may contain a mild horror theme, but then again, I’m a wuss when it comes to dark corridors with strange noises. :p

The fallout of Chernobyl created a contaminated area immediately quarantined by the military. Anomalies started to emerge in the “Zone,” as well as valuable “artifacts” (items with somewhat magical-like properties, created by the anomalies) sought by the scientific community. Although under quarantine, due to roaming mutants, contamination and whatever secret projects rumored to be conducted in the Zone, many fool-hardy individuals, dubbed as stalkers, brave the zone to obtain these artifacts and sell them to the highest bidder.

Some of these stalkers later became organized into factions. Some factions may be befriended (by completing quests), thus offering additional quests or weapons/items for sale. Each NPC is a member of a particular faction. Killing an NPC will decrease the friendliness of the mentioned faction. Reputation ranges from Friend to Enemy. The “enemy reputation” will warrant members of the faction to shoot you on sight. Excluding the mutants, there are 6 humanoid factions: Loner, Duty, Freedom, Military, Bandits, and Monolith. Loners are technically non-faction. Killing them only makes enemies with their immediate friends within a line of sight. Duty and Freedom offer quests and hate each other’s guts. Befriending one (choice depending) may result in the other faction disliking you. The Military, Bandits and the Monolith factions are always considered enemies, and reputation towards them cannot be improved.

The science fiction (sci-fi) element of the game is anomalies and artifacts. Anomalies are er…anomalies that seem to defy the basic laws of physics. Anomalies usually can be visually seen, for example by a curious gust of wind in a certain spot, which almost looks supernatural in nature. Anomalies are dangerous, different anomalies may inflict different ways of damaging you or enemies/NPCs foolish enough to venture near it. Artifacts are er…artifacts created by anomalies. These artifacts contain properties which will affect your character. Most artifacts have bonuses with a certain price to pay for those bonuses. For example, an artifact when equipped may offer a slight resistance towards bullets, at the cost of radiation building up in you (thus, gradually damaging your health). Another different artifact-type may gradually decrease radiation, but lower your resistance towards fire. Thus, equipping several different artifacts may overall achieve maximum bonus for minimum cost. Rare artifacts however, often have no disadvantages, but rare in this game usually means there is only one or two throughout the entire game. Up to 5 artifacts may be equipped simultaneously.

Other features in the game are hunger daemons (not quite sure if you have to eat, never died of starvation before), inventory weight encumbrance, night/daytime cycling – weather included, one rifle slot plus one sidearm slot, armor, ability to carry bodies (not quite sure what for, but it’s fun regardless), ability to barter and talk with most NPCs, ability to store items, headshot kill, radioactive poisoning, and stamina (cannot run when tired). All of which, if I’m bored enough, will one day have their own MobyGames game group. :)

Endnote, the over-all goal in this game is to discover the mystery behind the Zone (besides shooting everything that moves strangely along the way).

First Impressions

Gloomy. Not really my favorite atmosphere, but then again we are talking about Chernobyl. A cheerful setting at an abandoned nuclear power plant would no doubt be inappropriate of moronic proportions. :)

Despite the grayness of it all, the gloom-atmosphere does indeed capture the imagination for person(s) residing outside the former iron curtain following its collapse. Broken down Soviet machinery, signs of economic recess, and remnants of Cold War weaponry. The only thing missing would be a drunken CIA agent in the background. :p

The beginning intro immediately captures this “idea,” a death truck filled with (obviously) dead bodies. Yep. This doesn’t look good. Especially when you figured out that you’re one of those bodies, though not very dead, despite qualifying as a Russian zombie, malnutrition and all.

So, now you’re in-game. The gloomy main menu itself gives the impression that your idea of a luxury meal is pile of stale canned meat. You’re alive, have amnesia (saw that one coming), and your only clue to your identity is to kill some Russian bloke. Sounds easy enough, how many Russians can there be in Chernobyl anyways? :p

Then it hits you. The music. Melancholy with a capital M. Yikes, if the atmosphere wasn’t depressing enough, the fantastic music would even make the most hardcore Russian zombie cry. Surprisingly, the music is mostly extraordinary every step of the way, especially when someone picks up a guitar and goes acoustic. Not the kind of feature I would expect from an FPS game, but regardless, whoever made those compositions has, without a doubt, great taste. Subjectively speaking of course.

Adventure - Russian-Style

Hello. Why do I have quests? Isn’t this supposed to be an FPS? Interesting. After talking to the first NPC, he offers quests to be completed. Hmm. This game may not turn out to be not-so-stupid after all. A lot of quests, which one to take? Maybe later. Explore first, missions second (except for the main quest). Standard rule in adventure gaming.

So, you’re a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Not quite sure what that means, but apparently it’s an equivalent to a scavenger. Makes sense. A lot of blokes here. All armed. His shot gun is longer that my pistol. That somewhat wrecks your self-esteem. Oh, well. How do I get out of this run-down village?

Amazing. First thing I noticed in the game when adventuring was the grass. All moving simultaneously as if the wind was blowing fiercely. The graphics throughout the game are surprisingly detailed, although this is more apparent in other areas such as building complexes. Well, at this point of my nagging, I’m sure you’ll get the idea, as far as atmosphere goes, this game has all of my 5 thumbs up. Thus far, you can travel around to most areas to your heart’s leisure. Certain areas are crawling with mutants, most animals are easy to kill; the humanoid versions can get quite nasty. Other places are filled with bandits or soldiers who make the game feel like an FPS again.

Many a non-linear style adventure game allows the player to travel anywhere, anytime, usually unrestricted. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is partially linear. Although the player can travel to certain areas, there really isn’t any point, as the main plot only develops by finishing assigned main quests. Although it depends on personal taste, I prefer “directed-storytelling” than a free flow story, if only to fully appreciate which direction the story teller wants the player to experience.

Shooting Things

Although the adventuring and quests part of the games, almost make the FPS elements of this game a sub-genre rather than a main-genre, don’t be fooled. The enemy artificial intelligence (AI) is pretty advanced, despite some bugs here and there. The AI pretty much knows how to maneuver and hide, sometimes even flanking. They do make use of obstacles, and usually prioritize (for those with guns) in finding cover rather than other FPS games where the AI just rushes forwards to you guns blazing.

Damage is realistic enough, depending on your armor and the weapon the enemy has, usually can hurt you pretty bad, pretty fast. So the Rambo-style of gameplay for adolescent eggheads by “shoot first”-“shoot fast”-“shoot a lot”-“aim later”, doesn’t really work very well in this game. And that's a good thing.

The Bad

After fully exploring the game, you can tell that this was one ambitious project. As far as the detailed graphics go, you can probably assume that heavy research was conducted for the game to be visually realistic. But as most ambitious projects usually end up in games, more than often, screw-ups do occur when meeting the deadline of not so patient but usually realistic publishers.

However, amazing enough, what blunders the game did have does not warrant any trashing enough to make me go berserk. So, well done, despite minor irritations here in there. A lot of irritations actually, but at least it didn’t make me want to throw out my monitor to the former Soviet Union.

Let’s get irritated.

Sub-Quest Screw-ups

Somewhat figured that this would be problematic. The sub-quests in the game is by far, the most problematic and bug-infested issue in the game. But despite the bugs, there are some features of the quests that are extremely annoying. Sub-quests have a time-limit. Usually 24 hour’s in-game time. Seems like a long while, not so when you’re busy gunning down bandits and soldiers while playing catch with mutant doggies and grenades. Time does fly fast when everywhere you go, you leave a trail of empty bullet shells, so when suddenly you realize you have only 3 hours left to finish the mission, and you haven’t even started, well, why use a time limit anyway? I’ll get it done, when it’s done. Having a “failed mission” in my statistic report does not bode well for my insides.

Other sub-quests are forced upon you without your consent. When entering certain areas, these missions require you to fend off attackers. Which is probably fine, but sometimes, to successfully complete the mission, you have to back-track off your intended course. Well, back to the majority of buggy screw-ups:
  • Some sub-quests cannot be completed regardless what you do;
  • Some sub-quests cannot be completed if you try an alternative method/sequence than the obvious one;
  • Some sub-quests seemed to have misplaced their intended objects or persons;
  • Some NPCs seem to have forgotten that I just completed the retrieve armor/weapon mission, that they are in possession of that item thus not really retrievable, yet they’re offering it again;
  • Some sub-quests require objects that are located in areas that I currently cannot enter. No warning either.
To be perfectly honest, most of the sub-quests are quite boring, if not for possible special items, or ego talking to increase your statistical score. Although, many sub-quests can be constantly repeated, this may give you something to do if you’re bored.

NPC Barter Screw-Up

The good news is you can barter with any NPC stalker in the game. The bad news is, they mostly have nothing or junk to trade. Not quite sure why no one wants to trade bullets. Certain bullet types are hard to find and may only be purchased at far off locations like at the Yantar science lab.

Weapon Zooming Screw-Up

The logic is easy enough. When you zoom in a weapon, you’d like to see the target from a closer and better perspective. Unfortunately, for weapons without a sniper scope, zooming in blocks your view, become the weapon is in the way. Unfortunately, the developers, although trying to make zooming realistic with real-life, failed to notice that firing a weapon with your hands and firing a weapon with a mouse are two different experiences. When you use a weapon in real-life, you hands can instinctually coordinate with your eyes and memorize the intended spot you want to fire.

This does not apply in a virtual setting using a mouse. Firstly because you will have trouble identifying the exit point of the bullet, since there isn’t a little red dot, and for some weapons (usually side arms) it’s usually unclear where the exit point bullet is, as the gun barrel takes up a lot of space between you and the enemy. This is even worse when the weapon has a high recoil rate, constantly re-aiming to the same spot that you can’t see very well.

Basically this issue ends if the ability to zoom-in is marked by a little red dot or cross-hair that should indicate the intended exit point of the bullet. It may not be realistic, but always remember that in games, gameplay comes first, realistic comes later.

Weapon Delay Screw-Up

When you change weapons, either to rifle or sidearm, there is a 2-3 second visual delay of you somewhat re-arming the weapon. Not much use for visual eye-candy when you’re in the middle of a gunfight. Especially irritating when you’re throwing a grenade, change the weapon, and you have to endure the 2-3 second clickety-click delay, when you only have that much time to shoot at an enemy suddenly emerging in front of you. Can’t tell you how many times I died in those 2-3 seconds.

Grenade Throwing Screw-Up

Well, technically it’s due to my poor throwing and aiming skills. But when you see an enemy, and the enemy meets the cross-hair, you’d think that the grenade would hit near the target and not the right-wall beside you (sometimes you wish you were left-handed :p). Get’s worse when you’re trying to throw grenades out the window. Interior decorating anyone? Blood red in currently in. :p

Usual 3D Screw-Ups

Still the same issues. Enemies or NPCs getting stuck in walls. Bullets penetrating walls. Walking through walls (though extremely rare, usually just the weapon is seen through the wall). Hmm. Why are the walls always problematic? Should’ve hired a better mason and more expensive bricks. :p

PDA Map Screw-Up

Scrolling/zooming in-out of the map leads you to areas you’d rather not go to. Scrolling forward zooms you out, scrolling backward zooms you in. Entering the map does not automatically center zoom on you, and when you roll-over you mouse over a quest-area symbol, and your player icon is too close to that quest area, you cannot view the description of the quest.

Faction Screw-Up

Unless you plan carefully, befriending the Freedom faction and completing their designated quests, will permanently become an annoying feature for you throughout the game. Why? Well, because if you suddenly find yourself having the Duty faction as the enemy, you won’t be able to enter the Bar town without a fight, since it’s crawling with Duty stalkers. Only did I discover later that completing quests from both factions in order to raise your reputation simultaneously can you get away with quests requiring you to murder either faction members.

Inventory “not-really-a-screw-up” Feature

Well, one of the first thing’s you notice is that you can only equip one rifle. Not quite sure why, since I’m carrying 2 assault rifles, one sniper rifle, one sub-machine gun, one shotgun, 2 side-arms and a lot of bullets. Rambo would be envious. So, to use a different weapon, you have to manually go into the inventory screen and replace the active rifle/sidearm. Nice to know that the game inventory doesn’t pause in single player, so much trying to change the weapon quickly. Stupid bandit popping-out of nowhere.

Additionally, the encumbrance, though possibly realistic, is just darn irritating. Especially when you’re a greedy stalker like me, overburdened with Kalashnikov assault rifles to sell. Not able to run, walking obviously takes to long, and apparently you can’t hot-wire that abandoned tank either.

The Chernobyl Screw-Up
Warning this section may contain possible spoilers!

Near the end-game, you finally reach Chernobyl. This is quite odd, since before entering here, there was a minor sequence where you could see this arena-like area swarming with Wild Boar mutants, anomalies, and Monolith snipers. Somehow it got skipped. Dang it.

Anyway, the Chernobyl battlefield is the stuff FPS dreams are made of. Obviously, most developers have yet to realize that the most fascinating map is a big wide flat area with various minor obstacles. Not those dark damp confusing passageways…or is that just me? :p

So, here we are. Military soldiers everywhere, Monolith disciples armed with snipers and rocket launchers, Military gunships flying around, either shooting you, getting blown to bits by the Monolith, or even more interesting, getting destroyed by anomalies. So what’s the problem? Three things:
    [1] Point of no return
    Well, a warning would be nice. I hate it when developers do that. Especially the first time around, I realized I just ran out of bullets (yikes, and I had 700 to begin with). :p

    [2] Hey, where are the others?
    If everyone is trying to reach the center of the zone, where did all the Loner, Duty, and Freedom stalkers run off to? Now we only the Military and Monolith factions around. Not that I’m really complaining, but I was expecting EVERYONE to be here.

    [3] Time Limit
    I really, really, really hate it when developers do that. It’s me against everyone else (choppers included), I’m a bit busy right now. Can I please kill everyone and everything in sight? I’m having the time of my life here, so why did you developers put in a %!#%!$ time limit here. Gawd, this was a severely disappointing plot design.

    Did I mention I really hate it when they do that?
    Throws a grenade to whomever came up with this stupid plot idea.
End-Game Plot Screw-Up
Warning this section contains spoilers!

Well, depending on your personal choices, it’s more likely you’ll end up with one of the minor Wish Granter endings. The problem with the Wish Granter endings is that you’ll probably have no idea what the overall plot was about in the first place, which obviously will make you feel severely empty with that “huh, that’s it?” sensation and look on your face when you finish the game.

Additionally, entering the end-game phase, there’s this creepy Russian (I assume) voice-over in the background repeatedly saying something that sounds like this, though my hearing isn’t as what it used to be (in no particular order):

Vaznragav-dyonbudi toyke-agil
Tvai-yat-zeisdis, idi-kamen-nye
Prishsloviene yavizhud tvaize lange
Tvaiyezelangi skor-itsfo-nietze, idi-kamen-nye
Puszagar lasam laviek, idi-kamen-nye
Idi-kamen-nye, tri-abri-tyosh-tosh-toza-sluzh-nuvayez

If you don’t understand Russian and additionally as there aren’t any sub-titles to help you out, then it’s basically your closest bet on what to say to Russian chicks. :p

At least, dear comrade. Please tell me what idi-kameny-nye means.

The most possibly satisfying ending (and takes much longer) is if you refuse to join the C-Conscious. Although the ending still sucks, the game is more satisfying if you are able to see more than 2 ending cut-scenes. Unfortunately, you probably won’t know there are multiple endings to begin with.

Last but not Least

After killing possibly several hundred stalkers, you have the best rifle around (personal preference), heavy armor, rare artifact, a butt-load full of bullets, and an almost perfect head-shot kill track record; you’re basically a biological Russian assault vehicle. Then you discover something lacking.

There aren’t enough people to shoot at. :(

The Bottom Line

So, why is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. a classic? Simply because it takes the average FPS genre and pushes it to the next level. And suddenly you find an FPS that isn’t simply just about running around and shooting things.

Enjoy your visit as a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
The intelligent FPS game.
Na zdoróvye!