Sunday, August 28, 2022

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) Review

I finished this game on Friday, October 2, 2009, 5:30:00 PM. This review was first published on GameSpot on October 22, 2010.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is one of those games that is hard to describe. Games like this are produced once in a generation. S.T.A.L.K.E.R enjoys a cult like following among PC gamers and for a good reason too.

At release, it was quite buggy for most people. Thankfully, I never bought it at release. I have been told stories of people who played about 30% of the game and the developers released a patch which rendered the previous saves useless. I can imagine the frustration of gamers who bought it at launch.

Nevertheless, the game is not without merits. I wouldn't begrudge the game for its bugs. I am not a very forgiving gamer, I don't persist games which frustrate me; but I stuck with the game, and I am glad I did. This is typical PC game in that quick save is your best friend.

If you are spoiled by games like Call of Duty with regenerating health, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R is going to be hard, even on normal difficulty. I remember struggling my way through the game at the start because i did not have good weapons. This part was really the least fun for me. Once the good weapons become available, which is not too long into the game, life in the zone becomes more bearable.

Also, irrespective of the type of weapon, the game is easy or hard depending on how good a shot you are. Once you get used to the game, its easy to score head shots with pistol and earn one shot skills. Just don't expect an achievement to pop up every time you do that. None of that nonsense here.

Speaking of the atmosphere, the developers got it spot on. Unless I am mistaken, this was about the time when dynamic day/night cycles in games were yet to become a norm. At least I don't recollect playing a game with dynamic day/night cycle prior to this (If my readership knows of such a game, be kind enough to mention it). The zone feels a lot more eerie at night than it does during the day. Being the kind of person that I am, I hated venturing out at night; I even found the dogs scary, so I stuck to traveling during the day.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is not a scary game as such, it does not try to scare you the way F.E.A.R or Doom 3 do. Those games rely on startling the player with enemies jumping out of dark corridors. S.T.A.L.K.E.R instead relies on creating a very depressing atmosphere, with a few scares thrown in. The overall atmosphere of S.T.A.L.K.E.R is a great mix of open environment and claustrophobic underground labs. There are some very tense moments in the underground labs.

If you are too scared to go out at night, go out during the day and you see mutants going about their business in broad daylight. They seem a lot less scary in that case. This is probably what sets apart S.T.A.L.K.E.R from a survival horror game. A survival horror game gives you very little options and there is no escape, hence the survival aspect. I remember parts in the game where I could almost always find a perch and take my time picking off the mutants. The game is scary in very subtle ways.

I need to touch upon the topic of bugs before I conclude. I played the game with the latest patch (1.0006) installed and I have encountered numerous AI bugs. There were times when all the AI around you is just plain dead and times when after a quick load, an enemy would spawn right in front of your face and shoot before you could do anything. This resulted in some backtracking.

I recommend the game to any FPS fan. Bugs or not, this game must be played. Its about 20 hours long, and that's almost 5 times the length of some games released these days (Medal of Honor - 4 hours long; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – 6 hours). Of course, the time taken to beat is not always a measure of a good game, but in this case it is, and for what it costs, its incredible value as well.

+ Excellent visuals
+ Atmosphere
+ PC game inside out
+ Level design
+ Story (Yes, its rather good, although its not very well told)
+ Enemies (When they all don't play dead, but to be fair that only happened once)

- Bugs

Verdict - Must play

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