Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Modern Classics- STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl

Coming hot on the heels of news that S.T.A.L.K.E.R developers GSC Game World have closed up shop,  I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at one of my favorite games, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.

From the very first time that I saw screenshots of Stalker, back in 2007, I fell in love.  Sure the game looked a bit rough around the edges, but there was just something about its aesthetic that grabbed hold of me.  I've used the phrase "beautiful decrepitude" before, probably because I love the imagery it implies, and also because it's just fun to say.  Beautiful decrepitude abounds here, as this game takes place in the Zone of Exclusion surrounding the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which exploded in 1986.  Everywhere you go in this world, danger is sure to be found, whether it comes in the form or mutants, bandits, or bizarre radioactive anomalies that threaten to tear you to shreds.  You can bleed to death, you can stumble into a patch of deadly radiation, you can starve....the list of ways you can die is gigantic, and it makes this bleak world feel even more harrowing, and thrilling.

You will find many lonely camps like this.

Stalker takes place in an open world, where you can freely explore almost anywhere, and the NPCs and creatures of the Zone, powered by the A-Life AI system, will do likewise.  The game is populated by a handful of factions, chief among them being Duty and Freedom.  You can choose to align yourself with either of these factions, and they definitely provide some perks in the form of weapons, armor, and upgrades that wouldn't be available to you otherwise.  The game is also filled with people who need you to do jobs for them.  These side quests are by no means essential, but they'll lead you to interesting areas that you wouldn't normally see, and they'll almost always end with you getting some neat new weapon, piece of armor, or artifact.

The game displays a shocking, bleak atmosphere.

One of the most interesting features of the game is its attention to realism.  You will become winded if you sprint for too long, you will get hungry and eventually starve to death if you don't eat, you can become irradiated and die if you don't administer anti-rad medication or chug a few bottles of vodka.  The realism even extends so elegantly, and crucially, into the shooting mechanics.  Aiming down the sights of your weapon is most essential, and you must always account for weapon accuracy and even bullet drop.  Furthermore, even though you'll encounter a great many automatic weapons throughout the Zone, automatic fire is really only a surefire way to waste precious ammo.


Along the way you'll encounter numerous radioactive anomalies. These strange places threaten to kill you in any number of ways.  They can pull you in like a black hole, hit you with a jet of fire, or toss you into the air and tear you to pieces, and many more!  Why on earth would you go near these things?  Because that's where the precious artifacts are!  Artifacts are your reward for braving the dangers of the anomalies, and they're certainly worth it!  Many artifacts are, in fact, very harmful in that they'll lower your damage resistance, poison you with radiation, or many other terrible maladies.  They can, however, be sold for huge sums of money!  There are a handful of useful artifacts, though, and they can increase your stamina, raise your damage resistance, and otherwise buff you up!

The underground sections are some of the game's most compelling.
 The game on its own is fantastic, and it's made even better by my favorite mod, Oblivion Lost.  OL basically expands upon all of the strengths of the original game:  The A-Life system is expanded, giving the NPCs and creatures even more variability in their behavior.  There are scads of new weapons added.  There are a ton of new artifacts as well as an interesting new artifact crafting system.  Most interesting is the addition of "blowouts": basically, these are residual explosions from the power plant that can happen at any time.  Blowouts are dramatic and frightening, sending waves of radiation emanating throughout the Zone.  If you're caught outside when a blowout happens, you're fucked.  Basically, Oblivion Lost makes the Stalker better in just about every way.

You'll meet many NPCs from a handful of factions

Stalker is truly a unique beast.  Part Far Cry, part Fallout, entirely awesome!  There's a fascinating open world to explore, filled with gorgeous wreckage, populated by legions of NPCs and hordes of slavering monsters.  This game will tear you apart if you aren't careful, but if you're willing to brave the perils of the Zone, you'll surely be rewarded with a haunting experience that will stick with you long after you've finished playing.

Rock will travel to the Zone before he dies...


  1. God this was the first modern PC game I got to play, when I got a new laptop.

    Utterly amazing, and terrifying. I remember one installation I was told to go into, where there was either an anomalie or a psychic enemy who would lift up objects and fling them at me. The panic of not being able to fight off what was attacking me was intense.

    More games have to (actually, the NEED to) be like this. Ambitious and risk taking.

    1. Ooo I remember that installation! So excellent! I agree that games could definitely stand to be a bit more ambitious and risk taking!

    2. It's a shame the easy way out is too often the way most go. Getting that CoD crowd with kill streaks and leveling up, only to be abandoned a month or so down the line.

      Last Light will hopefully be good. Metro may not be a Stalker game, but in spirit they are very close to one another

    3. Agreed. Metro definitely nails the post apocalyptic atmosphere for sure! They're very close because a lot of people at Metro's developer, 4A, left GSC shortly before the firs Stalker came out.

  2. As soon as you mentioned bullet conservation, I was out.

    1. Yes, as someone who likes their games easy, I'd definitely tell you to skip it. This game will infuriate you.

  3. That said, you definitely reach a point in late game where you have a lot of fucking bullets. I used a shotgun for most of the game (This was using OL circa 2007-ish), and by the end of the game I must have had like, 1200+ AK rounds, which work in about half of the guns in the game.

    1. That's a great point, Dan. Bullet conservation is really only an issue in the early game, and as long as you control your fire and aim, it's not really much of a problem. Ditto for managing bandages and first aid kits.