S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl Reader Review
It's a rarity to find a decent FPS game that tries to achieve something new and ambitious within the genre. It's even more of a rarity to find a game that takes a historic disaster and turn it into an enjoyable experience. But every now and again a gem of a game comes along to show us just how far a genre can be stretched to bring us something intriguing and original.
Stalker is one of those games.
I'll start out by saying that Stalker isn't a perfect game. It has some noticeable bugs, problems with AI, issues with frame rates on lower spec PC's and a broken quest system. But beneath its rusted shell, lies one of the most atmospheric, intense, addictive and original games to grace the PC in recent years.
Stalker achieves its merits mostly through its atmosphere. The graphics technology is extensive in its components. There are dynamic night and day time lighting effects, parallax mapping, bloom effects, realistic shader technology and so on. All of this adds up to create some genuinely freaky environments. Abandoned villages and research facilities are the best examples to show off stalkers grim mood.
The atmosphere brings a whole new level of enjoyment to a solid FPS. The mysteries surrounding the "Zone" are both enigmatic, and quite intimidating. The mutated inhabitants of the zone are freaky and powerful. You find yourself dreading to find one in that old abandoned hospital, or lurking around the back of that shack. There have been many times I've found myself hearing some really deranged sounds in the area around me, not from ambience but from actual living things. I rush into a bleak crumbling house and just watch the doorway for about 20 minutes until its day again. There are some really classic moments of gaming to be had and you will really want to share it with your friends.
Another key component that completes the atmosphere is the sheer feeling of survival. You need to eat and drink to stay alive. Bullet wounds should be treated quickly to avoid bleeding to death. Deadly anomalies and radiation threaten you at every turn. Stalker is a free roam game, but ironically it'll cost you. You need to stock up on med kits, bandages, food, ammo, equipment and so on, before venturing out into the wild. you are a guest in an unwelcoming neighbourhood.
As immersive as Stalker is in its close quarter game play, you can't ignore the fact that it has some great free roam features as well, which is essential when you think of all the encampments and military bases you can attack. Stalker gives plenty of wiggle room for tactics and encourages you to opt for a more considered recon approach. The developers also threw in a bunch of neat weapons to cater for your preference of tactics, which brings me to my next point.
The weapons in stalker are in great variety and visual style. All are based on real firearms that exist today, with the exception of a couple, (Like the gauss rifle.) The weapons are quite inaccurate which can be a plus and a minus, while some gamers may find this irritating. It helps to give that sense of realism to combat and to carry the panic and anxiety into fire fights. Making you think twice about how you are going to use your last 3 rounds in your handgun.
One of the problems with stalker that comes back to bite it in the butt time and time again is the AI. Not necessarily the tactics of the NPC's, but certain irregularities that stand out for me. For example: in a number of situations I've found NPC's running into walls, walking to close to each other in scouting groups, and generally being clumsy in combat. Although it doesn't detract too much from a fire fight, I find it more noticeable than not.
As I mentioned earlier, there is something wrong with the quest system. I find myself failing certain quests, like defending a camp, because the leader of the camp who issues the quest and the reward, seems to run aimlessly at the enemy with a death wish, they end up getting riddled with bullets before you have a chance to step in and followed by MISSION FAILED. Or other quests that say, "You failed to return for the reward" which is quite a strange reason to fail a quest... In other words tedious trial and error game play is strongly involved, so gamers who strive to complete side quests, be warned!
The main quest however is one that is of fantastic concept and is imaginative. Again this is let down by the poorly orchestrated quest sequence. I think that if some puzzles were integrated into game, it would diversify the game a little, as most quests involve retrieving something important and shooting your way in to get it. The difficulty of the game varies depending on your skill. There are 4 difficulty levels that range from normal, to suit the average gamer to master for the total game fanatic (like me :]).
Lastly is the multiplayer. The multiplayer is a decent, solid experience. It has the basic death match and team death mach, along with artefact hunt with maps set in well known areas of the zone. It's defiantly a worthy contribution and adds longevity to the game.
SO IN CONCLUSION'
Stalker is a very good game. What it delivers is solid and enjoyable. Again the flaws are too big to ignore and knock the score down a bit, however If you look past the deteriorated unfinished paintwork, you will find a rich, new, experience that rivals other games in its genre. To understand how unique Stalker is you have to play it. It's a genuine classic and a game I would certainly recommend.
8 / 10