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S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl Review
by Generalissimo Furioso
There's an overwhelming idea in the game development industry that only the Americans and Japanese can belt out quality video games. However, if this game is any sign of the future, then the Eastern Europeans may destroy us all! Developed by GSC studios, which is located not too far from the site of Chernobyl itself, S.T.A.L.K.E.R is a game that should be played by anyone at any cost (I don't care if you have to rape your mother to play this game, DO IT).
Reminds me of the shed behind my uncle's house...
S.T.A.L.K.E.R is set in an alternate universe where the accident at Chernobyl occurred not once, but twice! This second explosion was so massive and powerful it obliterated the landscape for miles and twisted time and space itself. Of course, capitalism sets its greasy mitts into the affair once it realizes that the time-space anomalies have created incredibly rare materials and Artifacts, and, of course, hundreds of would-be treasure hunters venture into this zone of radiation and unknown horrors to stake their claim in it all. You play as an amnesiac who wakes up near the least hostile (though not exactly safe) area, and in order to find your identity and escape the Zone, you take on various jobs and assignments that take you all over the freakish landscape. It's not exactly story of the year material (that spot is reserved for Metal Gear Solid 4, because you know it'll kick ass) but it's a lot more engaging than aliens invading us for no apparent reason (raisin).
Lookout! It's an Iraq War Veteran!
Before I get into the gameplay, I should really cover the environment because it's really unique and innovative to the genre of the FPS/RPG. The environment is basically what you would expect from an apocalyptic event like a nuclear explosion; trees are wilted and barely alive, cars are torn asunder and their pieces litter the landscape, massive Soviet buildings look like abandoned ruins from centuries ago. Prepare to see some freaky ass shit on your journey. While there are mutants, and they are unique and freaky (PSEUDO-GIANT!), they aren't your biggest threat. That role falls into the hands of the many other scavengers (they speak Russian!) scouring the Zone, especially those on the military's payroll (they have lots of big, shiny guns that go bang-bang, and you die!). From the edge of the Zone to the husk of Chernobyl in the center, you're going to be pretty amazed by the sights of it all.
You maniacs! You blew it up! You blew it all to hell!
Gameplay comes off as a blend of RPG-styled inventory management and tactical first person shooting, which works to provide a really realistic package (You can carry more than two guns, but if you aren't careful, your ass won't be able to run for more than two steps). You can tell a lot of thought was put into how the combat should play out. The AI is really well done and will cut you down if you think you're Rambo or Master Chief. This of course forces you to think while in combat. Should you attempt to pick off the enemy from afar in order to cut down on your damage? Or should you attempt to engage them up close to ensure that your shots do full damage? This combined with the incredible weapon physics (bullets are things now! They aren't just lines that come out of your gun and do damage!) makes for some really exciting gun fights, especially once explosives start to enter the fray.
It's like eating at Arby's...
The RPG elements are dumbed down a bit from what the developers initially wanted (though if it were entirely left to them, this game may have never seen the light of day) in the sense that you don't have to sleep on a regular basis, and eating food is just that, eating food (no having to worry about rotting shit or poison meat). But what is impressive is how bullets don't just deal damage, they wound you and your enemies, forcing you to perform first-aid and apply bandages (lest you bleed out and die). This leads to situations where you wonder, "Should I go and finish off my enemy, or should I lick my wounds and come back later?" To deter Rambo-ing further, weapons wear out from use, (the developers initially wanted the player to perform maintenance on a regular basis, but that had to go in order to make deadlines) so the fancy assault rifle you bought won't last you too long if you fire it wildly into bushes and rabid weasels. Also of great importance, you come across several Artifacts in the Zone that can grant you extra abilities such as extra endurance and resistance to radiation. But almost all of which are double-edged since you gain something, yet also lose something (It's complimacated).
The thing that really makes S.T.A.L.K.E.R stand out are the Anomalies scattered all over the place. Since Space-Time had its ass handed to it from those explosions, you're going to encounter various types of disturbances in nature that sweep the gamut. From the annoying Gravity Wells, to the dangerous Burners and the Deadly Vortex, you're going to see some crazy shit go down, especially since many of these anomalies seem to take on lives of their own, moving about the environs, shitting lightning and spewing radiation (which can be cured with either expensive medicine or cheap rotgut vodka!).
Note To Self: Lightning Bad
While the game is great, it does have its issues. For one, the game is rife with bugs that range from irritating to restarters (note to Completionists: without a patch you ain't going to be able to finish about half of the sidequests). Also, money is really prevalent. I managed to beat the game with almost 2 million rubles in my sack, so you're not really going to be in a rut when it comes to buying fancy new guns and armor. But the thing that really pissed me off was the fact that the AI doesn't seem to comprehend the action known as climbing a ladder. They can flank and provide covering fire, but apparently they can't put their feet onto the steps and going up. But since this game is on PC, there's going to be no shortage of fan-made patches and mods that'll most likely cover all of the things I've noted as annoying (something consoles seriously need to consider. Though it is feasible on the PS3, I've heard little to nothing about anyone trying it).
How many needles of black tar heroin to make this game good?: None, unless you can't find the "best" ending without being high