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

Key events

In a restaurant somewhere in sunny Los Angeles County, 13 years ago, two old friends were having lunch. Wine and conversation were flowing. They remembered how they'd met at LucasArts in the 90s. They weren't there to talk business but they did because video games were their bread and butter. One of the men, Jack Sorensen, was reeling-off job opportunities he knew of - he being executive vice president of worldwide studios at games publisher THQ. "THQ Australia?" he enquired. But the other man, Dean Sharpe, didn't seem interested. He had closed his own studio Big Ape Productions a couple of years earlier, dropped off the radar and taken a break, and now he was ready for something new. But Sharpe wanted a challenge.

Few settings have captured the imaginations of game developers and players like Chernobyl, the site of a reactor explosion in 1986 that created one of the world's few actual nuclear wastelands. The legendary Exclusion Zone - now, would you believe, something of a tourist attraction - has provided the stage for countless virtual conflicts and survival stories. There are the indirect recreations, such as Big Robot's bleached starship graveyard The Signal From Tölva, or the Erangel island map from PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds - an abandoned Soviet testing facilty in which the wanderer is forced towards rather than away from the centre by an ever-encroaching sea of blue energy. And there are truer-to-life portrayals like Call of Duty 4's "All Ghillied Up" mission or GSC World's STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl, which gives you the run of an Exclusion Zone in which space-time is starting to fall apart like overcooked pasta.

Former STALKER team announces Chernobyl-set battle royale game

How about a STALKER battle royale game? There's one in development. It's called Fear the Wolves and it's made by Vostok Games, the studio formed from the ashes of STALKER developer GSC.

Fear the Wolves takes place, like STALKER, in the creepy radiation-blasted wasteland of Chernobyl. It's a 100-player deathmatch where you can play lone wolf or in squads - but players won't be the only enemy. Deadly anomalies constantly threaten your health, mitigated somewhat by protective gear found while exploring. Of more pressing danger, however, will be the mutated forms lurking in the shadows...

Fear the Wolves will be released at some point this year on PC and consoles - presumably much later this year. There'll be an early access phase on PC beforehand.

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How many games can claim to still have a dedicated following, 10 years after their release? That still have fans conjuring up new mods to alter and add to the game? S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is pretty much the definition of a video game cult classic. This strange Ukrainian survival shooter is for some the best the genre has ever seen. But its audience wasn't spurred into existence upon the game's release. Fans had followed the development of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. for years before it eventually came out in 2007. In that time they saw various versions of it, each containing numerous areas and mutants that never made it into the final game.

Dodgy crowdfunding project Areal returns as Stalker Apocalypse

It's a better pitch but still not convincing enough.

Controversy surrounded a Kickstarter project called Areal earlier this year. It was billed as the spiritual successor to the creepy, cult S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, made by some of the same people, and it had serious ambition - but also serious flaws.

Areal adds key S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Survarium designer

But serious questions about the Kickstarter still remain.

There's been a noteworthy update to the controversial Areal Kickstarter (beyond what I dug into last week): the full-time hiring of Alexey Sytyanov, the lead game designer of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and the lead game designer of Survarium.

For an area that's been blasted by radiation for the past twenty years, the sloping hills of the countryside around Chernobyl are impressively virile. The grasses have shifted from soft greens to muted browns, admittedly, but there's still a lot of vegetation, and, more worryingly, a lot of wildlife.

GSC denies Stalker 2 cancelled rumour

GSC denies Stalker 2 cancelled rumour

UPDATE: GSC deletes Twitter denial.

UPDATE 1: GSC has deleted its Twitter denial of Stalker 2's cancellation.

ORIGINAL STORY: GSC Game World has denied a Ukrainian news report that claims Stalker 2 has been cancelled and the developer shut down.

Following the publication of a UkraNews.com report that claimed the promising open world shooter had been canned after GSC founder and CEO Sergei Grigorovich decided to close the company, the official Stalker Twitter page posted: "No we have not closed GSC or cancelled."

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 creeping towards RPG?

Q&A notes greater focus on survival.

There's going to be a greater emphasis on survival within S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, developer GSC Game World has revealed - hinting at a shift towards being an RPG rather than a shooter.

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - let's drop all the dots - seemed to divide people. For every person I know who would enthuse and OMG about the atmospheric shooter, there would be another for whom the game had been a horrible mistake. This article, I suspect, isn't going to be for that second group of people. They've tasted this peculiar Ukrainian experience, and they won't be going back. For those who know the game, accept its foibles, and still find something worth spending time with, this will be a story they understand rather well. They'll probably be nodding along at the most salient points. Hopefully, however, we'll also have a third species of reader: the one who has yet to give it a try.

GSC confirms S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Prypiat

GSC confirms S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Prypiat

Plus: sequel and console P.O.R.T. promised.

GSC Game World has announced a second standalone expansion for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. called Call of Prypiat, which will be released on PC this autumn.

The developer also revealed to Russian magazine Igromania that a console port of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game is under way. Plus, GSC president Sergei Grigorovich said during an online-conference that "we will certainly develop S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2". Both translations are courtesy of nV News, although there's no further detail offered for either project.

Call of Prypiat takes place in the faithfully-recreated eastern part of the eponymous city, which was abandoned after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl.

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GSC releases 2004 build of STALKER

A glimpse of what might have been.

In an unprecedented move, Ukrainian developer GSC Game World has released a build of its infamously troubled PC game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shaodw of Chernobyl that predates the final release by two and a half years, Shacknews reports.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl

I feel like I should warn people off Stalker. It's a grim beast, with rough animation and that laggy, about-to-explode feeling you get from some less polished PC games. It's really hard in places, and half the text is gibberish. Worse still, it's going to run like a tired old alcoholic on lower-spec PCs... and yet in spite of all this I simply cannot stop talking about it. All day long I've been opening MSN windows to annoyed friends and trying to explain the really awesome thing that just happened in Stalker. More importantly, perhaps, I've been trying to explain to them just what Stalker is. It's like X meets Y meets Z meets oh I wish you were playing it too.

It's an open-ended first-person shooter. Initially this appears to be something like 'Half-Life with added wideness' - a series of objectives, linear enough, lots of violence, some nice physics, and with plenty of retracing your steps. But the further you play, the more the game opens up. Instead of being an on-rails FPS where everything takes place in one carefully scripted corridor, Stalker allows plenty of scope for exploration. Occasional scripted events are dropped into your path, keeping the tension high and the narrative blooming. The wide levels soon expand into huge interconnected spaces, each one randomly populated by interacting and competing factions. Could this, you wonder, be some kind of Oblivion With Kalashnikovs? Or are we just talking Boiling Point with no vehicles? All the baggage that games like Oblivion bring with them simply doesn't appear here, and it's far leaner, and more Spartan than Boiling Point. The Stalker lives a simpler existence: you fight the locals, and the local fauna, completing missions given to you by the various characters you encounter along the journey. Occasionally you'll hallucinate. You gain the trust of some folks, and the ire of others. It's all very shooty: killing comes first, other stuff second. It's not a bad FPS, despite the wobbly Counter-Strike-variant feel to the combat. And it's not really an RPG, despite the amount of time spent poking about on your inventory screen, map, and mission log, and the amount of time dealing with different factions. There's something different about Stalker. It's almost as if the most important aspect of it is not combat, or interaction, or story-telling, but survival.

But perhaps the precise position of this oddity on the proverbial Venn diagram of overlapping genre conventions isn't really important. What is important is the atmosphere.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl

Ready, steady, glow.

Originally announced in 2001, and having missed its proposed 2003 release date by a considerable margin, you can hardly blame folks for suspecting that this long-awaited Iron Curtain shooter was little more than vapourware.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. MP beta

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. MP beta

We've got some keys for it.

Radiation - it's not all ice cream and sandcastles in February. It's also one of those rare occasions where we don't want the graphs to go up. Still, there's nothing wrong with fictional radiation, which - to some extent - is what S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will be peddling when it comes out on 23rd March.

In the meantime, why not get the jump on the other proles by hopping into the game's multiplayer beta test? It's due to get going at the weekend, and we've teamed up with THQ to give away 100 keys. All you have to do to claim one is hit the competition page, where - along with a simple question-and-answer bit - you'll also find a mutated version of this pointer text, possibly with some different jokes. Are you that lucky?

Look out for more on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. as we close in on release, and don't forget to hit up the gamepage for previews, interviews, news and even a Eurogamer TV Show throughout which it features prominently.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. release date

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. release date

Delayed FPS gets firm target.

THQ UK has confirmed that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl will be released on 23rd March in Europe.

The PC-exclusive first-person shooter - first announced toward the end of 2001 - has been the subject of much speculation after repeated delays, although much of its ambitious design remains intact.

Players will explore the deadly Zone around Chernobyl, scene of one of the world's most devastating nuclear accidents nearly 21 years ago, with a full life simulation that introduces depth to areas whether you've visited them or not.

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New S.T.A.L.K.E.R. media

Trailer on EGTV.

GSC Game World and THQ have released another trailer and a selection of shots as part of its series of releases cataloguing the game's features pre-launch.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. dev diary #3

See how photos became levels.

In parts one and two of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. diary, Ukranian developer GSC Game World talked about the history of Chernobyl and the origins of the game's story. In today's instalment, the team describes how it decided to utilise the region as a backdrop, and the steps it took to ensure believability without becoming tedious. You can also check out some comparison images - demonstrating real-life locations next to their in-game equivalents - as well as another EGTV trailer this morning.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. dev diary #2

More info, shots and footage.

In the second part of GSC Game World's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl developer diary, the team walks you through the origins of the game's story, and how it relates to the real-life events detailed in last week's first instalment. Look also to Eurogamer TV for an accompanying trailer, with a handful of new screenshots to be found elsewhere on the site.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. dev diary

Shots, movie, history.

With much delayed PC first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R. set for release next year, publisher THQ is moving into promotional overdrive with a series of developer diaries from GSC Game World accompanied by trailers and new screenshots.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

Come in Reactor 4. Your time is up.

The roads north of Kiev are relentlessly bleak. A capital's spattering of wealth gives way to a dark, eastern European quaintness as the setting morphs to rural Ukraine outside the city, then to abject poverty. Farming towns turn to villages then to hamlets. Cow herds thin. Geese gaggles vanish. Blue painted roofs become fresh metal, as bright as can be expected under such a ghoulish sky, then holey rust. Broad-faced men with deep-set eyes stare back at us from monolithic concrete bus shelters. Shops sell nothing but dull oranges behind muddy glass. A woman wearing a torn floral headscarf sits in the heaving rain underneath rotting beams next to a milk bottle. She doesn't even look up. The coach thunders on. Humour peters out. There are no modern cars here, just 50s trucks and green ambulances hung-over from the USSR. The driver slows and we pass a road-sign bearing a right arrow. The word "Chernobyl" even looks ominous in Cyrillic.

FeatureS.T.A.L.K.I.N.G. Heads

Shadow of Chernobyl men talk Zones and A-Life.

With S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl edging closer to it's first quarter 2007 release, publisher THQ and developer GSC Game World made a full showing of the near-complete game in Ukrainian capital Kiev late last month. Making its first public appearance with its final structure, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. showed itself to be a feature-heavy FPS which compromises between GSC's original ideal of a totally scriptless, randomised "adventure" through the 30km exclusion zone around Chernobyl's ill-fated Reactor 4, and fully scripted, story-driving levels.

GSC on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. rumours

Not a rubbish scripted shooter.

GSC Game World's Oleg Yavorsky has refuted suggestions that much-delayed PC title S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl - currently on track for Q1 2007 - has been cut down to a scripted, corridor-based first-person shooter.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. out next year

On track for spring release.

THQ has confirmed to Eurogamer that much delayed PC first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is now on track for release early next year.

Stalker dev refutes claims

Nearly beta, lay-offs misreported.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developer GSC Game World's responded to a Russian games mag's report that the repeatedly delayed FPS is in yet more trouble.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R in April 06 or later

This year's a bit congested.

Publisher THQ has confirmed reports that GSC Gameworld's toxic PC first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl will not be released until April 2006 at the earliest.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. gets delayed

PC FPS not out till next year?

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, the long-awaited PC first-person shooter from GSC Game World, has been delayed until 2006 according to fan site Oblivion-Lost.com.

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

Radioactive Reed braves the exclusion zone once again to bring you the latest fallout on GSC's stunningly beautiful first-person shooter...

For all the screenshots and video footage, STALKER may still have some convincing to do. After all, we know it's graphically beautiful and wrapped around the premise of a post-disaster Chernobyl, but how does it actually play? We've been all the way to Kiev and back to try and see for ourselves, but we're still waiting for significant gameplay revelations, leaving us to rely on measured optimism. We'd love to get carried away with the stupendous visuals, but we've been burned too many times - the best we can do is hope that it blossoms into a game to match the quality of the environments, and prove GSC Game World's various doubters wrong - in style.