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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

I was a little late playing this game. My old computer couldn't handle it so I had to wait until I had a new PC. Late last year I upgraded and was finally able to play this game plus a couple other ones I'd been waiting to play. It's been awhile since I've played STALKER so some of it may be foggy but I'll try to review the best I can.

The story starts off with you unconscious being dropped off by another Stalker. You wake up and have no memory of who you are or what your suppose to do. The only clue you have is on your pda a simple message, "Kill Strelok." The setting is the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The original accident of history happens but after that in this games time line people started to repopulate the area then another accident happens followed by only the most desperate people trying to survive in what they call "The Zone." Many of these people are known as Stalkers. basically they're treasure hunters, or mercenaries. Using violent force to get what they need to survive life in the Zone. I'm not going to go into the story anymore because to me it was actually well done and I would hate to ruin it for anyone. But eventually you're off on amazing and fucking wonderful adventures. And I mean that. STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl (After this just known as Stalker) is one of the absolute best games I've ever played.

The best thing right out of the gate for this game is the environment and the NPCs. You really feel like you're in the Zone. Weather effects like rain and wind are made very well. The landscape of the different levels in the Zone are all different and original. You know exactly what part you're in without having to look at your map. The feel of being in an irradiated wasteland is brought through in drab colors and just an overall depressing atmosphere. The way this interplays with the NPCs adds even more immersion to the game. From the very beginning when you meet Sidorivich in his vault door concealed office all the way to the very end you meet some very well done NPC characters. Most of them have nothing to add to the overall story but that isn't important. Walking through towns you'll see other Stalkers just sitting around talking or listening to another Stalker playing the guitar. One complaint about this I have is all the voice overs for the atmospheric NPCs are in Russian. I have no idea what they're saying. I would of liked to see the subtitles play for these people. All the story people you talk to speak English, but with a Russian accent.

Controls, well not a whole lot to say about them. They're good, standard FPS PC fare. At the right sensitivity the mouse aiming was smooth and responsive. I played with the sensitivity option set to around the middle of the bar. All your options in game are a button press away as most of your stuff is handled through a PDA you carry. Missions, maps and any conversations you've had are logged here. It also allows you to see the other enemies on your minimap.

Inventory is set up like a RPG in a way. You see the picture of your character then all you stuff, weapons, armor, items are all listed on the other side of the screen. Now this game has a weight limit for what you can carry, so you can't carry everything around with you. You have to plan out what you need in advance and hope you took enough ammo or healing items to survive. Now following the RPG look of the inventory I wish you had had a level up system of some kind. You're capped at 50 (I cant remember the measurement unit) units of weight and that never goes up. You can find an exosuit that lets you carry up to 70 but you lose your sprint when you wear it. At first I hated not being able to carry more. Being accustomed to games where you can carry tons of stuff I felt limited. As I went further in I realized it helped with the overall feeling of the game. I do still kind of wish ammo didn't take up weight. There is a little bit of character customization in this. You can find artifacts spread around the world. You pick these up and can equip up to 5 of them. They do things like give you more health or lessen the amount of radiation you build up and can even let you run for longer periods of time. Some of these have a negative effect on them as well. One makes you easier to bleed from wounds. Artifacts can form around Anomalies, which are areas with some distortion effect. One is like lightning and shocks you. Another, the Vortex is dangerous as hell and must be avoided. It swirls you around then you just explode. If you sprint at the right time you can run through it but more times than not I just ended up a bloody mess on the ground reloading a save. They last a certain number of in game days then can disappear or appear in a new area.

Next up, weapons and they're a bunch of them. You have your standard fare. Pistols, Shotguns, Sniper rifles, SMGs, Assault rifles and explosive weapons, grenades or a rarely seen rocket launcher. The weapons all feel good and have realistic accuracies. Moving and shooting make hitting stuff harder just as ducking down makes your accuracy better. You can find scopes to mount to certain Assault rifles which helps the aiming on them big time. I thing there was two different types of scopes. One only worked on certain guns and the other on a different set. That I really liked. Weather can affect our aiming too. Rain and wind can make you need to adjust your aim but not dramatically, but it's there. All the weapons have weight so you cant carry on of each with you to be a walking army. You can have a pistol, main gun and a grenade of some kind equipped to use the number buttons or mouse wheel to select. Because of weight that's about all you'll carry anyway. Sometimes you can squeeze a sniper rifle in but that depends on your loadout. It's best to learn what faction uses which guns. That way you can carry a gun that uses the same ammo as them into combat. Nothing sucks ass more than needing one kind of ammo but all the enemies are dropping is a different kind. Now some guns have special properties to them. Be it a simple silencer or an assault rifle customized to shoot super ass fast. You'll see guns with bigger clips or built in scopes and some other stuff. It's a little hazy to me because I stuck with pretty much a certain few guns through the whole game. But something that sucks is the guns can degrade from use and can jam as they get worse which to me is fucking awesome. Guns and armor degrade. Now this feature in itself isn't lame but you cant repair stuff. Once something goes all the way it breaks and is worthless. A little bit in to the game you find a fast firing AK-74 and it's totally badass all over the place. It didn't make it with me all the way through the game but I would of liked it if it. I found a good replacement but still. Another minor complaint are the special guns don't look different from the regular type of guns. Now I know this isn't space with a bunch of fancy guns but at least a different skin or something on the gun to show the modification. Except for the guns with silencers on them there isn't anything to show that they're special unless you look in the inventory.

This game has multiplayer but I didn't bother to play it. I don't think anyone does. But I've read it's just basic Deathmatch, team deathmatch and CTF.

In closing all I can say is the same I've said all through this. STALKER is a freaking awesome game that needs to be played. Shamefully I have not played "Stalker: Clear Sky" the prequel to this yet. I plan on doing that soon. Later this year the third Stalker game is coming out "Call of Pripyat" and it looks badass.

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - 9 out of 10

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