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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
(hx) 01:03 PM EDT - Apr,07 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a survival sci-fi first-person shooter set in the near-future Chernobyl exclusion zone. According to the game story, there happens a second explosion in the heart of Chernobyl to generate the Zone - a 30 square kilometers area of the game - the place plentiful not only of radiation, but also of weird deadly anomalous energy, mutants, hostile NPCs and valuable artifacts. These are irradiated objects that have weird properties, so scientists are very keen to get a hold of them. You assume the role of a stalker - a guy roaming the Zone, risking his life, in search of artifacts (generated by anomalies) to sell them later to scientists, dealers etc. However, the ultimate goal is to reveal the mystery behind the Zone - what generated it and why it exists at all.

At the start of the game you'll wake up in front of Sidorovich, one of the traders in Zone. He's going to be one of the most important characters in the game, since all missions related to the main quest of the game will go through him. Since you have no memory of who you are and what you're doing in this God forsaken place, you'll have to do a few jobs for Sidorovich and his friends and find out why the only entry in your PDA is 'Kill Strelok', what the STALKER tattoo on your arm means and what secrets lie at the center of the Zone...
At its heart, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a first-person survival shooter that blends action with role-playing. You don't develop your character or improve your skills as in most RPGs, but you can equip various combinations of objects that tweak your defenses or resistances to damage, offering some opportunity to tweak your stats. Your daily tasks, as a stalker, go to the extent of collecting artifacts to sell, fighting mutants, hostile stalkers, avoiding dangers, gathering information on the Zone and its inhabitants etc. There's a main story that you can follow through the game, but you are free to take on non-obligatory secondary quests and research the Zone on your own. The side-missions are pretty generic, though, and something close to unending. Often you will be asked to find an object, clear an area for mutants or criminals or kill a stalker. There's no real story in it and the only reason to do the missions is to earn money. The Zone  is actually split into 11 smaller areas (plus a few subterranean levels) but each one is limited by fences which you can't jump and connected to each other hub-style, though points which you can't avoid if you want to go from one area to another. This is kinda frustrating as you can't reach Pripyat without going through the Red Forest, even though on the map this might seem possible....So, the game does play a lot like a linear game, albeit one with very open levels. Fortunately, there are seven different endings, of which only two can be considered 'real'. I would recommend you to dig a little on the Internet for information about the movie and novel to understand the core ideas on which the story was based and why some endings are they way they are.

As I mentioned above, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s gameplay  deviates from the traditional FPS combat we've seen in many games before. Relying on your mini-map, you'll track down mission objectives and often get into open-ended firefights with enemies methodically hunting you down from varying directions. Each sub-zone consists of rather large areas inhabited by humans and animals, all living their own life. Surviving in the Zone which is filled with radiation, mercenaries, mutants and military is something I hadn't experienced in any game before.

Interactions with NPC's happen through a dialogue system that's clunky at best, both in presentation and content. Thankfully, you have a PDA to keep track of everything: active missions, an overhead satellite map that shows the objective location, statistics, even your standing towards varying factions. Without the PDA, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.would likely be an impenetrable maze of quests and characters :-)

Your character has an RPG-inspired inventory system, which means you'll find yourself constantly looting dead bodies for medkits, ammo and other supplies. You'll also earn tips about where to find hidden caches of equipment, which are uploaded to your rather handy PDA, and you'll generally pick up enough medicine, bandages and food to carry on - if you want to continue to spend time in the Zone, you'll have to eat regularly and treat yourself against the effects of radiation sickness. As you progress through the game, you get access to vastly improved weapons, which in a way allow you to virtually level up your character as you progress through the game.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. offers a wide variety of weapons to keep you amused - Knife, Black Kite, Big Ben, Noiseless Kora, Fort-15, PMm, Walker P9m, Noiseless Pistol (PB1s), Martha, Kora 919, HPS1-1M, SIP-t M200, Fort12-mk2, UDP Compact, Combat Chaser  (shotgun), Sawn-of dbl-Barrel, Chaser 13, TOS34, SPSA14, Lightened IL 86, Sniper TRs 301, Balance IL 86, Fast-shooting Akm 74/2, Sniper Obokan, Noiseless Viper, Thunder 5.45, Viper 5, AKM74/2, AKM74/2u, Obokan, IL 86, Thunder S14, GP37, TRs 301, FT200M, S61 5K, VLA SPeccial Assault Rifle, Vintar BC, Sniper Rifle(SVDm 2), SVUmk2, Bulldog 6, Rocket Launcher, Gauss Rifle. The weapons have durability to them. The green condition bar for each weapon marks its reliability, damage, range, and other stats. The worse a weapon, the more often it will jam, miss, and otherwise be ineffective. I would like to mention that firing weapons is perhaps the game's biggest weakness (at least for me) - they feel weedy and often lack the precision of enemies who are using the exact same toys.

The game also takes a slightly different approach to health, with a bleeding system whereby injuries will continue to reduce your health unless bandaged. There are three levels of bleeding, each indicated by a symbol that appears on the right hand of the screen, and failure to act upon these warnings ends in a drawn out demise. Health can only be increased from using artifacts on the belt. Some artifacts in the middle of the game world (starting with Rostok Wildlands) will greatly increase your health at a fraction of the penalty.
What this game does really well is atmosphere. At no point are you in doubt that a big catastrophe took place here. Everything is ravaged - only a few buildings are left standing, and even there everything is chaos. Small things like curing radiation with vodka, NPCs playing guitars by the fire and irradiated piles of garbage including ancient Soviet tractors add to the atmosphere immensely. Besides, the Zone is constantly evolving and mutating into new forms.... There's no doubt using the Chernobyl as the setting was a brilliant developer choice!

Multiplayer components of S.T.A.L.K.E.R come in the expected FPS flavors with the added ability to buy better equipment and armor through matches with money. There's DM, TDM and an 'Artifact Hunt' mode which is basically Capture the Flag with a single flag for you to bring to the opponent's base. Disappointingly, there's no co-operative multiplayer option. The levels are based on the single player environments and tend to favour long-range combat. Although there is no great novelty in the game modes, the unique environments and rock-solid gameplay make for some satisfying online fragging sessions.

Overall, S.T.A.L.K.E.R left a positive impression on me, even though initially, I disliked the game quite a bit (I had to tweak the game settings to make it playable on my rig - Athlon 3500+, 2GB RAM and 6800GT 256MB). But the game began to grow on me and soon enough, I couldn't get enough of it :-) Best of all is the atmosphere that the game creates, immersing you into a post apocalyptic Chernobyl. If you like first-person shooters, S.T.A.L.K.E.R is definitely one of the 'must play' titles of 2007.

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System requirements:
Minimum: WinXP SP2, Win2k SP4, Intel Pentium 4 2.0 Ghz / AMD XP 2200+, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB DirectX 8.0 compatible card / nVIDIA GeForce 5700 / ATI Radeon 9600, DirectX 9.0 compatible sound card, 10 GB available hard drive space, LAN/Internet connection with low latency Cable/DSL speeds for multiplayer, Keyboard, Mouse

Recommended: WinXP SP2, Win2k SP4, Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 / AMD 64 X2 4200+, 1.5GB RAM, 256 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible card / nVIDIA GeForce 7900 / ATI Radeon X1950, DirectX 9.0 compatible sound card, 10 GB available hard drive space, LAN/Internet connection with low latency Cable/DSL/T1 speeds for multiplayer, Keyboard, Mouse
b>High: WinXP SP2, Win2k SP4, Intel Core2 Duo E6700 / AMD 64 X2 5200+, 2GB RAM, 512 MB DirectX 9.0c compatible card / nVIDIA GeForce 8800 / ATI Radeon X2800, DirectX 9.0 compatible sound card, 10 GB available hard drive space, LAN/Internet connection with low latency Cable/DSL speeds for multiplayer, Keyboard, Mouse
Note: recommended specifications provide optimal experience for single player and up to 4 player/medium size map multiplayer


snd: 4/5 - some sound effects are top notch, pretty good music, generally everyone speaks Russian :-), weapons sound weak, some bugs
gfx: 5/5 - depressive, amazing virtual world is like being at Chernobyl!, anomalies, great weather effects, support widescreen resolutions; you'll need a rather beefy PC to really appreciate it!
playability: 5/5 - atmospheric, immersive, open-ended, +30 hours of gameplay, solid AI, multiplayer via LAN/Internet, combat is awful, PDA has pathetic interface, no driveable vehicles, feels somewhat unpolished
genre: survival sci-fi FPS
platform: PC
release: March 2007
developer: GSC Game World
the game is similar to: Boiling Point
publisher: THQ
Excellent
Overall: 85%


last 10 comments:

RRojasFX(03:25 PM EDT - Apr,07 2007 )
Hello!

It's a great game, but the graphic engine is too heavy.

Notice that dawn and dusk by the same side.

devilhood(05:17 PM EDT - Apr,07 2007 )
Loving every bit of this game so far :)

Anonymous(05:25 PM EDT - Apr,07 2007 )
The best combat AI comparing to other FPS games + if you add new weapon sounds, from http://stalker.filefront.com/files/Stalker/Mods;3785
then nothing is better.

darknothing(06:46 PM EDT - Apr,07 2007 )
i love this game, there lots of noticeable bugs throwout the game that arnt hard to miss at all, but the game play and atmosphere are great, i jsut wish there was a working coop mode out there.

devilhood(07:28 AM EDT - Apr,08 2007 )
Give it time darknothing, I'm pretty sure you will see a co-op mod in perhaps 2 or 3 months time :)

xxxx(02:55 PM EDT - Apr,10 2007 )
although I know HX is just supporting his countrymen or something, I'd recommend that before you buy this game, get the demo download a copy or something and check it out first. This game is maybe a 6.5/7.5/10 at the most. Sick sound, poorly optimized gfx, next to no physics, horrible user interface, no drivable vehicles, zero bob, no weapons sway at all much less environment noise.

I was major huge on this game when I heard about it and was hyped like a SOB but after buying it, I got bored playing it. Beta helped for that. The sound sucks worse than Farcry(why can't Euros do sound in games? I don't know). The gfx are dated, maybe if you have a more recent card than my 7600 maybe it looks better however I saw this game on a 7950 and at high quality it didn't look anywhere better than mine. Smoother if anything but even then stuttered on the 7950...

85 to me is major exaggeration. I'd give this game no more than 65-70. It's just a notch above average but even then missing lots of things and the 'quality' edge is just no there. Don't know what happened over the years, but as some suspected, time was not nice to this game. Very mediocre if not boring game.

Really too bad this game ended up the way it did imo. At least Quake Wars looks promising and I got some decent stuff to play.

(03:13 PM EDT - Apr,10 2007 )
I'm a big fan of Arkady & Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic book. Maybe that's why I gave the game a bit higher score :-) Besides, I really like the overall feel and atmosphere of the game...

Ainstain Junior(06:40 PM EDT - Oct,17 2007 )
I like the combat to Streloc and the Non linear feeling its great,grafics are great,very cool weapons and a large arsenal,anomalys are No10,the mutants are scary and clever Ai.Some of the good things.Now some of the bad things.A lot of bugs,crapy side missions,Human characters are mediocre,not a Hollywood style game,bad script and some you know crazy stuf.!!With a little job more we will tallking about a 95% game.I expect a better game for all of the years that worked..!My opinion you have to play it.Finish it its another matter some times its so unfair you want to brake the screen.!!A 87% from me.

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