S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl (PC DVD)
- Gigantic game world of the Zone of 30 square kilometers
- Free non-linear exploration with vast outdoor and indoor areas
- Constantly changing world of the Zone and unique life simulation system
- Unique types of weapons and enemy impact:
- About 30 types of weapons with weapon upgrades
- Strong non-linear story line with over 8 completely different endings
- Realistic AI and life simulation of game creatures and characters
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STALKER: Oblivion Lost combines the first-person action, role-playing and survival-horror genres set in the disaster zone of the Chernobyl nuclear facility. As a stalker, the player earns a living exploring the underground laboratories, abandoned military bases and radioactive forests of the Chernobyl Zone in search of artefacts and anomalous formations to sell to underground dealers and scientists in research camps on the border. As the game progresses, the player will explore new areas, procure items and weapons and interact with a number of strange characters as they come to discover what truly lies at the heart of the Chernobyl disaster.
Although it hasnt quite reached the legendary levels of delay of Duke Nukem Forever, you could still be forgiven for wondering whether S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will ever come out. Thankfully the months and years of hold-ups look like being worth it, with a unique mix of first person shoot em-up and role-playing game. The idea is that theres been more trouble at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, causing bizarre mutations and other stranger phenomenon (the unusual storyline is highly influenced by Russian Sci-Fi classic Roadside Picnic).
The games open ended gameplay casts you as a "Stalker", a professional mercenary who makes a living salvaging items from the Chernobyl area and selling them, adding an Elite style trading element that further differentiates the game from the norm. Another atypical feature is plenty of non-player characters you can talk to and interrogate at length, receiving missions and even joining various different guilds. You not only have multiple options in any conversation but can also vary your tone from aggressive to friendly or disrespectful.
The games action credentials dont take a back seat though, with excellent graphics using the developers own proprietary "X-Ray" graphic engine and the renowned Havok physics engine. Naturally theres plenty of weapons, both manmade and otherwise, as well as a wide range of vehicles to commandeer and use over the 30 square kilometres of game world. Hopefully this will prove that the adage about the best things coming to those that wait applies to video games too.
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Rewardingly tense moments like this really only tend to happen in difficult games, and to all intents and purposes, S.T.A.L.K.E.R is difficult. Gratifyingly so.
When you begin the game, you really are (as all the NPCs you meet like to remind you) a complete and utter newbie and the first time you venture out of your little camp you usually get a taste of how little you know of how to survive in the world. Packs of wild dogs follow you at a distance, waiting for you to be in a vulnerable position. Every now and then one will venture up for a look. It's at this point that a veteran would let off a few pistol shots towards them and keep his fingers crossed that they'll think better of attacking, however, you're not a veteran. Instead you wonder, feebly, if they really are as menacing as they look, and before you know it you've got every stinking mongrel this side of Chernobyl barking madly while they take turns in mauling you.
And this is where one of the most rewarding aspects of this game comes to light. The game gives a brilliantly realistic and immersive experience that you have to LEARN to adapt to. I think this is why there are so many bad reviews on here. Just so you know, the game is hard when you start out!
Weather effects are fantastic. You will be out roaming on your own, occasionally coming across groups of bedraggled stalkers (not all of whom want to rob you thankfully) when you will notice that night is closing in. The day and night cycle is actually relatively long and so doesn't seem unrealistic. But night time is not a good time to be caught out in the wilder parts of 'The Zone.' Whether it be Russian military patrols , hungry packs of dogs or something worse, you really need to get to somewhere where there are a lot of other people before you get yourself shot/eaten/something terribled.
The maps are brilliantly designed and completely believable. The tunnels look excellent and the sounds and whispers of the wind or otherwise when you are down them really set your hairs on end.
Again, I think the AI of ALL of the bad guys including animals is well thought out. Wild pigs act realistically; people act realistically. If you start fighting a group of 5 guys with mp5s and you manage to kill 4 of them, 50% of the time the last guy will either just stop shooting and hide behind a rock and hope you don't find him, or make a run for it.
Some people have mentioned that you get weighted down by items in your inventory and have to rest a lot to be able to get anywhere quickly.
This is a valid point, but then, much of the game is actually based around finding other people's secret stashes in the many hiding places of the zone. If you can't carry all your stuff but have guns you want to keep, find an out of the way hiding place and stick them in there.
Then again, the running out of stamina issue can get annoying but making sure you aren't carrying too much stuff helps this.
I have to say I have not completed the game yet but have had it for quite a long time. I still enjoy taking my time, acquiring a good bit of kit and doing side missions and spacing out the story missions. I have not found the story missions boring or confusing though. The fact that you don't know anything is the whole point of the game as you have amnesia! In that sense it's a bit similar to HL2 where you have to actively search for clues about who/where you are.
I should finish this review now, even though there are so many absolutely enchanting things about this game that I haven't mentioned. But first some advice: Don't buy this game unless you're prepared to sit down for a good few hours (especially on your first time playing it) and taking it slowly and finding out what's what.
Pros: 1. Excellent AI makes for genuinely difficult/hair raising shoot outs.
2. Believable and highly detailed wastelands to explore and traverse.
3. The most atmospheric game I've played in years.
4. Extremely rewarding when you discover it's you (the gamer) who's gained all the experience and not you're character.
Bad things: 1. Big levels mean big distances, and with no vehicles... "These boots were made for walkin'..."
2. Stamina runs out a little too quickly preventing you from running long distances.
3. Ammo is scarce but adds to tension greatly.
As for performance issues, I run this on Pentium-D 2.8ghz x1950 pro and 1GB RAM and I've got it looking perfectly acceptable with no jerkiness.
In short - buy this game if you want to be pleasantly surprised by a slow burner that's something different. (The Pros massively outweigh the cons!)
To go on a bit more (sorry again!) - having played the game a couple of times + added several mods - all of which were easy to apply and fun to use - I finally loaded the many (many) Mb of the 'Oblivion Lost 2.0' mod.
Without gushing - this really transforms the game from 'very good' to 'excellent' - drivable vehicles, better guns, more (many more) critters, blow-outs, a truely random/living environment amd smarter AI.
Minor niggles exist of course (it's STALKER - duh!) such as the graphics revert to (uhmm, to be polite) 'kinda okay of you don't look too hard', and a few others besides... but trust me, if you own STALKER give this patch a try - just do NOT load it before you've played the game 'normally' (twice) - this patch isn't easy - but oh-boy is it ever FUNFUNFUN!!!
(Oh, and it's freefreefree budski's...................)
...and if, as much web-comment suggests, Oblivion Lost was how the original game was supposed to be, then I can't wait for 'Clear Sky'...
In summary - just buy it - it'd be rude not to! But...
It's best to understand right up front that STALKER is not a First-Person Shoot-em-up - at least not in the classic sense - and if that's your own particular taste ala 'marmite&toast', then you may not get on with this one. If anything, it's much more a snipe-em-up.
That's not to say that there isn't a lot of shooting-em-up needed - but only as a means to an end - this is more a role playing game, and is borderline an adventure. Think of Boiling Point (only done well) and even think of Elite if you are old enough (and yes yes I know it's not set in space).
Be warned though - from loading STALKER go straight to the web and apply all of the patches - and even then expect to still have the occasional crash. And then forgive 'them' for being brave enough for producing a game that dares to be different.
Also be warned some of the Russian/English is, err, a tad hard to grasp sometimes - but just imagine it's done for effect to make it all the more immersive. Actually 'immersive' is a good description of the game overall as there's a strong sense of being somewhere that's real - a living/breath place/space.
Key to it feeling immersive is that much (most even) of what happens in the game, is not scripted - so you can't learn your way through the maps - and as a result it's sometimes genuinely frightening - eg you can hear the pack of dogs approaching, but you don't know where they are... yet... Ditto working your way back through the underground research complex (to pick up all those extra goodies you could carry last time) is borderline terrifying as you hear the assorted critters, that have recently moved in, hunting you.
The sense of being on your own is all pervasive, so don't expect 'JTaC' with their satellites etc helping you through - the people who use you do so for their own ends - you should return the favour.
The graphics are actually pretty good and the sunrise/day/sunset/night cycle works really very well - but don't expect Crysis-levels of <fill in the graphics effect of your liking> - oh, and it does rain rather a lot! The weapons have a 'real feel' to them (not that I'd actually know) - and even jam from time to time.
There are sub-tasks a plenty, albeit the controlling AI sometimes gets a bit confused as to what's been done/where's the reward - but again, it's forgivable.
To echo what Paul and Axeman say - that the patches invalidate your saves is... errr... very not good, AND you really DO have to stick at this game, but trust me, once you 'tune in' and the rewards start coming, it easily makes up for the initial 'vague naffness' of it... honest!!!!
So - if you like first person games where it's not all shooty-shoot, then STALKER is a absolute must buy at £5/£10 of your hard earned pennies, and it will amply reward the time needed to get acquainted - and time is needed.
But: Don't expect an FPS; don't leave your brain out when you play; do take time to explore (always think in 3D in any built-up area); do, much like cricket, give yourself time to play yourself 'in'; and do use F6 (quick save) very (very) often - death comes quickly in 'the zone'.
(Sorry, I did 'go on a bit'...)
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