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

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
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Written by  :  Spartan_234 (462)
Written on  :  Apr 07, 2007
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

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The best game ever made, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sets a new standard in the genre.

The Good

While most first-person shooter games always make promises of realism and immersion, none of them -- not even Half-Life and Deus Ex -- even come close to accurately simulating real life. Of course, this is largely because developers are afraid that making a game "too realistic" will suck the fun out of it. But if developers like GSC Game World can take the time to make it as realistic and fun as possible, squeezing in the details that you'll find in real life, they'll actually end up with an unbelievably great game like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an open-ended game, which means that instead of a linear gameworld where you follow the same path every time, you can freely roam around the gameworld and accept missions from other people that you find. Most of these missions are completely optional. This freedom, coupled with the fact that everything happens in real-time, ensures unparalleled replay value. Further adding to the immersion is the really intense nature of the combat. Since your weapons are inaccurate to start out with, and you don't take much damage before dying, you need to use tactics and stealth to survive against your extremely cunning AI opponents. Whether you're fighting mutant or human enemies, these guys use cover and tactics more efficiently than anyone can ever dream of. They also act differently depending on various attributes, like how hungry they are or even the weather outside! You really feel like you're in an actual gunfight. Heck, you could avoid combat altogether by using stealth tactics to sneak past your enemies...it's all up to you.

Attention to detail is very characteristic of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. A first in the shooter genre is the inclusion of food and sleep. Just like in real life, you'll need to eat food to stay alive, and get sleep in a safe resting spot. Dynamic weather and real-time alternation between day and night settings also help to fool you into thinking that you're truly in the game's alternate reality. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also corrects the cliché of having to walk over items to pick them up. You press the Use key on items to add them to your inventory, and when you loot a corpse, you're presented with a menu so you can choose which items you want to loot. You're also limited to how much you can carry, and heavier items take up more space in your inventory. While this has been attempted in previous games, players would be frustrated when they had to pick up items in the heat of battle. This isn't an issue here, as you only have to pick up items when you're not in combat.

Just when you thought that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. couldn't get any more immersive, it presents you with photo-realistic graphics using GSC's own X-Ray engine. While the engine doesn't really have any graphical features that we haven't seen before, it more than makes up for this by having the best detail and lighting that you will ever see in any game. As expected, the great graphics come at a cost: even on my high-end PC, the game ran pretty slow unless I toned it down to minimum settings. If you have the rig to play it with the settings turned up, though, you'll constantly be amazed at how lifelike these graphics are. The audio is also spot-on. The weapons sound almost exactly like in real life, adding even more flavor to the combat. Since most of the characters are Ukrainian, they speak in actual Ukrainian accents, which adds to the authenticity of the game. Some characters just speak Ukrainian, so you'll see subtitles to be able to understand what they're saying.

The Bad

You're kidding me, right? This game rocks!

The Bottom Line

Mixing the best elements from games like Half-Life and Deus Ex with brand-new innovations, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. sets a new standard for future games to follow. Forget all those games that guide you along the same path each time. Forget all those games with rough level transitions. Forget all those games where you can snipe with a chaingun. Forget all those games where you don't eat or sleep. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will become the new obsession of gamers everywhere, and will do to the gaming world what The Wizard of Oz did to movies. My suggestion is to finish every game that you haven't beaten yet, as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will truly make all your other games lose their luster...