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S.T.A.L.K.E.R - MP BETA impressions
(devilhood) 11:21 PM CET - Feb,27 2007

After years in development, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, is just a few weeks away from retail release, and in today's preview, Gameguru Mania reader Devilhood gives us his impressions of a beta build of the game. Enjoy!

Oh yes! Four competitions later, and an e-mail to THQ, I finally receive my S.T.A.L.K.E.R. key(s). This game was in production for what seemed like a thousand years, so I consider this BETA a gift from the gods. I prepped myself, dimmed the lights, et cetera, the whole broody Chernobyl atmosphere was established. Before I continue, I would like to remind you that this version of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a BETA, so any issues I mention in the review may be addressed upon final release.

I braced myself after clicking on the shortcut, wading through the annoying logos at the start. Note: be warned, the THQ logo scared the crap out of me with its loud sound. The look of the Title Screen along with the music is drab and depressing, that's a good sign, as it prepares you for the broken down, rustic environments you'll be facing. The options are well arranged and everything is easily understood, and before you xtreme users say anything, there was no file configuration editing needed to attain super high detail. I checked the credits menu briefly to see if there was a hidden surprise, and I was graced with some rather interesting music.

There are currently two available maps on the BETA: *Yantar* Factory, which is fairly small, and Railway Station, which is double the size. I did however spot a developer test out a few new maps, which I know nothing about, on a private server, maybe it will be made available to the BETA testers at some point with a new client release.

The advanced server options let you specify whether or not there are active anomalies on the map, team-balancing, friendly indicators, time-limit, respawn options and weather options (all these and more can also be changed using the in-game console).

Regarding weather options, there is a changeable field called 'coefficient', which allows you to change the speed of the day and night cycle. It's all quite nifty, but the most frustrating thing is that you cannot disable group-respawn, so we are yet again limited to the uninspired quake fest game-types, instead of the more realistic Elimination and Team Elimination style game play that hardcore gamers have grown accustomed to.

Incidentally, I thought the developers themselves said this game was targeted for hardcore gamers? They managed to add a dressed up version of CTF along-side the bog standard Free for all and Team play game-types, named 'Artifact hunt' which was quite fun to play. It wasn't enough to ease the frustration of having no Elimination game play, but it was enough to keep me occupied for quite some time. You basically start with two teams and each team attempts to capture an artifact and bring it back to base, trust me, it sounds a lot simpler than it is.

The great thing about it is that you can really feel the adrenaline flowing when you're half-way back at your base with the artifact, in stormy weather, thunder and lightning going off with beautiful use of lighting and HDR, knowing that anyone can pounce at you any time. With that said, I have to admit that the lighting and particle effects are really quite breathtaking.
The way you can utilize the environments for cover is quite unique, whilst using the SHIFT+CTRL to crouch extremely low you can fit into some incredibly small places. Hide and seek mod anybody?

Knocking over barrels and other objects is out of the question though, as there was a total lack of object physics. You can't even smash glass windows! This is a great shame because both maps are extremely well designed and beautiful to look at, having physics would make it a heavenly experience. Before each match starts, a loud female voice counts down in Russian to set the mood I assume, a nice little touch, but she sounds like she's counting from inside a metal canister.

The sound effects are generally very realistic and the weapons have a nice punchy sound to them. Footstep sounds are far too exaggerated, often drowning out the gorgeous ambience and spooky sounds going on in the distance. I made sure EAX was enabled in the sound options; though it doesn't really sound like the game is taking advantage of it, as there were absolutely no environmental transitions when walking in and out of buildings. Surround sound doesn't work in the current build of the BETA, so I was stuck with good ole' stereo, which was fine by me seeing as I was mostly playing with my Beyerdynamic DT 770 headphones on.

You get to select from one of eight neatly designed character skins with brightly coloured arm-bands, assumedly to signify your team and also make snipers a little easier to spot. I wasn't too specific when testing, so I mainly just did auto-select. The Shop screen is well designed and appropriately categorized, with an astonishingly large selection of weapons. This currently includes 8 different Pistols, 3 Shotguns, 11 Assault Rifles, 4 Sniper including a Gauss Gun reminiscent of Fallout, 2 Heavy and Grenades. The only weapons missing are some quality melee alternatives. Oh, how I would give anything to use a cattle prod in this game. Hah.

Some weapons are not selectable at first, meaning that you have to rank-up before you are able to buy them. There are also quite a few Miscellaneous items (nope, no cigarettes) such as an Anomaly detector, Anti-radiation drugs, Med-kit, Binoculars, Flashlight, Silencer, Scope add-ons, grenade launcher add-ons and three types of armour. Med-kits are very important if you want to keep your death-count down and your frag-count higher! After selecting the weapons and items to buy, you can save your selection temporarily in one of four individual slots, allowing you to recall a specific set-up depending on how you want to play. This is quite useful, but as I said, the saves are only temporary, so when you quit they will unfortunately disappear! When you die, the items bought will be dropped along with your body, so anybody can come along and loot you of your possessions.

Pressing the 'M' key during game play brought up the map screen, giving us a little teaser with the locations that we will get to visit in the game. They are: Deserted factory, Military warehouses, Railway station, "Yantar" factory, Dark valley, "Agroprom" factory, "Rostok" factory, Vehicle station and Desolated village. There were a couple of large areas that weren't tagged with any particular zone name, so the list is most likely incomplete.

Now, here is something that really dug at me quite often whilst playing and it's the online gamer's worst nightmare: Lag! Even though I was playing with a ping constantly around 30-60, there was considerable lag on servers that had about 8-12 players, like the kind of 2 seconds input lag that would drive any gamer absolutely insane. Apparently this issue was occurring quiet frequently with the earlier BETA client that was released a while back, and for some, the latest client has fixed it. This problem forced me to host games of my own to play with 2-4 players, but that was just as interesting anyways.

The atmosphere in this game is just so uniquely captivating that when you sit and immerse yourself, it feels like you're almost playing a masterpiece, but obviously, because it is a BETA, it's not quite there yet. Let's hope they clear up all the big issues for Final Release.

genre: sci-fi first person shooter
platform: PC
release: March 2007
developer: GSC Game World
publisher: THQ

last 10 comments:

lmer(01:05 AM CET - Feb,28 2007 )
Oh man, sounds more like an Alpha :(.

Great write-up Devilhood!

devilhood(01:10 AM CET - Feb,28 2007 )
Thanks, yeah Alpha is definately the word :lol:

I think if they decide not to add any kind of group spawn disable, you will most likely see an Elimination mod come out.
The physics are apparently fully intact for SP but disabled on MP, I was pretty peeved about the lack of glass smashing though.
Fingers crossed for the final release I guess.

hairball2(10:05 AM CET - Feb,28 2007 )
ill guess they have removed "all" physics from the MP beta demo, but in this video(old) you can lots of physics in the singelplayer demo:

so i think the topic of the review should sound more like:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl MP beta demo review.

(10:14 AM CET - Feb,28 2007 )
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl MP beta demo review.

Okay...Although there's no SP beta so... :wink:

devilhood(11:22 AM CET - Feb,28 2007 )
hairball2> ill guess they have removed "all" physics from the MP beta demo, but in this video(old) you can lots of physics in the singelplayer demo:

so i think the topic of the review should sound more like:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl MP beta demo review.

It wasn't intended as a demo, it's a BETA, meaning that the purpose of the build is to bug-test and offer feedback.
I believe they haven't even finished the other maps properly yet.
Yeah, SP has full physics, so I'm assuming physics haven't been completely disabled in MP, meaning that people could probably enable them via custom maps or a mod.
There is a rumor floating around that the final MP code will contain a lot more physics than what was present in this current build.

darknothing(08:54 PM CET - Mar,06 2007 )
looks like a bf2 mod to me...

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