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

Few titles in the gaming industry have reached the infamous “Vaporware” status, in which a game is delayed indefinitely. Noteworthy examples of this phenomena include S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (hereby known as Stalker, or we’d have a . shortage) and Duke Nuke’em Forever. To many people’s suprise, Stalker turned from Vaporware into a tangible product when the game had officially gone gold. I was fortunate enough to get into the multiplayer beta (Thanks Geek Squad) and was able to try my luck at the game that was soon to be released. The multiplayer beta did not live up to the hype surrounding it, and fans quickly became worried and upset. This changed once rumors started to float around of the awesome single player experience that was open ended like Oblivion but without the in depth stats of an role playing game. Once this information leaked, the game was once again becoming hyped up by the community. After all these rumors spreading around about Stalker, what was this game actually about?

Stalker begins with your character inside of a death truck, driving to the exit of the zone. After this, the truck crashes, you are rescued, and it turns out you have amnesia. As you can see, the plot at the beginning of the game leaves a little to be desired, but the goods come to those who are patient.

My Rig

  • E630
  • BFG8800GTX
  • 2gigs of PC5300
  • RaptorX 150 gig HD
  • OS is Vista Ultimate
For a game that has been in development so long, graphical innovation wouldn’t be expected. If the consumer looks at Prey, the graphics turned out to be pretty good, even though the development cycle was extended month after month. The game still looks amazing with the lightning showing its electrical prowess in the skybox and the anomalies causing distortions in the environment. Then it pulls a complete 360 with the dreadful lip-syncing and some of the textures leave much to be desired. This game definitely shows that a lengthy development cycle can hurt the game’s eye candy in the long run. The whole of the graphics is better than its parts though and seeing one of the Stalkers sit down and play its guitar allows immersion into the game.

On one hand the graphics engine is dated, as I have mentioned before, but for one reason or another the game requires a beefy system to run. Before the patch, a lot of players were having issues with the game running under Vista and the problem was even worse for Nvidia G80 owners as the sluggish frame rates occurred under either operating system. With the patch, the game is a little less temperamental as the stability has improved and it doesn’t crash to the desktop in Vista. I hope the limitations of the engine was the reason none of the lips are synced to the voice.

Overall, I am pleased with the graphics as they all meld together into a nice package. The rag doll physics are nice, but when bodies fall through the world, there might be some issues. This sort of performance for a game, especially with such a long development time, is unexcusable. While on one hand the game looks great, on the other hand the performance issues are really keeping it down.

At the title screen, an ominous, foreboding song plays, but nothing can prepare the player for the journey they are about to go on. After that, the only music you will hear is produced by a guitar or a radio in the bar. Get used to the rhythm of your Geiger counter, as it will save your life (and music, it seems, would just distract you from it.)

Nothing oozes more atmosphere then listening to the howling of the mutated animals in the background or the squeaking of the alarm lights in a bunker. My first venture underground caused me to jump at any noise ranging from the squeaking of said light to the firing of a rifle and the accompanying bullet bouncing off of the wall. Then the Geiger counter started chattering as I stepped into a radiated area.

One interesting “feature” (if you call it that) of the game is that everyone speaks in Russian. The random chatter over the radio, enemies more than likely cursing at you, and the camp pow-wows that occur with the Stalkers speaking…everything is in Russian. When the game does jump over the English, sometimes you will shake your head at the absurdity of it all, but if you look at as you being a foreigner in a different country, the voice overs make much more sense.

If you have played any previous first person shooter, you will feel right at home with Stalker. Movement is produced by pressing the corresponding button on the keyboard and your character reacts. Weapons have different rates of fire, depending on the mode they are in and some also have a zoom function built right into the rifle. Pushing a button will bring up a PDA that portrays different objectives and a map. Nothing new and innovative to the grand control scheme of things in this game.

One quirky feature is that there seem to be two different positions for a  This game ships with two different modes of gameplay: The single player campaign and the multiplayer mode. All of the meat of the game is tied into the single player game as it was hyped up before the actual release.

I have to be careful not to spoil any of the game in the single player section of this review as a lot of the cool features are tied into the campaign. As was mentioned previously, you are an amnesiac Stalker (not to be confused with someone who stalks people) who is rescued and put to work inside the zone. The zone itself is an area around Chernobyl that is cordoned off from the rest of the world due to a second nuclear explosion occurring within the power plant’s confines. You start the game by talking to a trader, a person who gives quests, purchases items, and is all around sarcastic, with only one mission in your PDA: Kill Strelok.

The first mission equips you with a leather jacket, a pea-shooter pistol, a knife, and sends you in with a group of friendlies to secure a factory. Here you will see the fantastic AI in the game. Point a weapon at an enemy and they scramble for cover. See a group of two or more brigands in a area? Charge in with weapons a blazing and surprise them causing them to scatter and attempt to find cover. You haven’t lived until you use the alternate attack of the knife on an unsuspecting victim. Now be careful while you tango with death, as running around erratically could end your life prematurely as you run into an anomaly and you get fried alive. Even with the local fauna, it is possible to use this tactic. Being harassed by pack of mutated mutts mauling you? Charge in them and take them out with a shot gun blast to the face. Take them out quickly enough and the animals will pull their tails between their legs and run away.

Another option is to run away, but remember, you have endurance. Carrying too many items, excessive sprinting, and bleeding can cause fatigue to set in and cause you to add another tick to your death count. Bandages, food, anti-radiation medicine (one of the items is vodka with a nice side effect of causing you to get inebriated too), medpacks and a whole plethora of items are available to you to stave off death. Artifacts litter the landscape also either granting bonuses, handicapping your stats, or both at the same time. Half of the fun of this game is balancing artifacts to have the best possible combination.

The weather and day and night cycles play a role in setting the emotional mood of the game. Fighting at night and seeing a creature flicker past you as the lightning causes its shadow to be portrayed on the ground.  I was freaked out or killed on more than one occasion due to being suprised.

During your adventures in the single player campaign, you will see Stalkers going about their business as you attempt to earn an honest buck with side missions or just blazing through the primary mission. One thing I disliked about the campaign was the need to add a timer to some of the extra missions. Not sure why there should be a timer on a mission where you have to grab one dog tail for some client. Luckily if you aren’t in need of this timer, a nice little mod is out that will remove this aspect. Also, some missions start when you enter a zone and if you don’t beeline for the objective, you will fail and not be able to complete the mission. If you can see past some of these flaws, a game with atmosphere and unique enemies lies in the wait.

The multiplayer section of this game consists of deathmatch, team deathmatch, and the artifact hunt. Deathmatch and team deathmatch are self explanatory as we have seen these game types in previous first person shooters. This game functions sort of like Counterstrike as you use money to purchase new weapons and armor. One thing that is different is that your frags dictate your rank that in turn dictates what you are able to purchase. The artifact hunt consists of two opposing teams inside bases and a multitude of artifacts that spawn randomly inside of the battlefield. The win goes to the team who captures the most artifacts in a predetermined amount of time.

Stalker was released at the forty dollar price point and it was possible to find the game on sale for thirty to thirty-five dollars in ads for the week. For this price, and if you enjoy games set in alternate histories with an open game style, this is definitely a deal for the content that is included in the game. With the plural of mods that have been already released, ranging from adding vehicles to the game to increasing the carry weight of the protagonist, this game definitely has some legs to stand on. The seven different endings of the game can also be experienced with some tactical saving, but sadly, some of the endings will require the player to make decisions early on to experience the ending desired. I personally played through the game once and then watched the endings on the net as I didn’t believe it was time efficient to start the game over to improve my reputation with the factions.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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