After years in development,
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of
, is just a few weeks away from retail release, and in today's
preview, Gameguru Mania reader
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
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
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
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
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.