"For a game that was in development for nearly seven years, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is a surprisingly mediocre first person shooter. It is tough to get excited about the several variations of a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, etc that you will encounter when other games offer gravity guns, laser cannons, and other cool weapons. However there are a few nice touches of realism in the combat, from guns jamming to barely being able to sprint to carefully having to aim your shots. ..."
For a game that was in development for nearly seven years, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is a surprisingly mediocre first person shooter. It is tough to get excited about the several variations of a pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, etc that you will encounter when other games offer gravity guns, laser cannons, and other cool weapons. However there are a few nice touches of realism in the combat, from guns jamming to barely being able to sprint to carefully having to aim your shots. The problem is this isnít executed all that well and in the end isnít very realistic. Is aiming with a pistol really supposed to be more challenging than aiming a machine gun in any other game? Also, for an open-ended sandbox-style first person shooter (more on this later) it isnít very deep and even shallow compared to Deus Ex, which was released seven years earlier. You character barely progresses over time and the game in general hardly takes any risks. There are multiple endings and different ways to form alliances and handle certain scenarios, but you never quite get the feeling that your actions are affecting your game.
While the mechanics are generic the story isnít going to pull you in, either. I had no idea what the hell is going on and you most likely wonít, either, since the various NPCs do a terrible job at keeping you up to date with whatís going on. From what I understand shortly after the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear accident in 1986 the Soviet government closes off the area known as The Zone (how original), to use it to conduct experiments. You play as an amnesiac Stalker Ė a person who illegally snuck into The Zone to gather powerful artifacts Ė who is trying to figure out his past. That is all. The game does keep a journal that can easily keep you up to date with what is going on, but unless youíre willing to spend a good amount of time reading journal entries in an inventory that looks like it came straight from a late-90s PC RPG youíre out of luck. Speaking about the NPCs, they arenít anything special, either. Some will converse with you and occasionally aid you on a mission but theyíre all completely generic and forgettable. There arenít any memorable characters that stand out at all.
Although the game is nothing more than a generic shooter of the past, the premise is something new and exciting. Instead of the move from point A to point B and/or complete the following objectives that we see in every game in the genre, STALKER presents an open-ended sandbox-style first person shooter. Think Grand Theft Auto in first person and set in Ukraine after a nuclear explosion. You get to pick missions and align yourself with certain factions, or you can just explore the eerie world on your own. The cool part is this exploration often leads to new areas that wouldíve otherwise gone unnoticed. These areas can often lead to useful items that give this exploration a purpose to sway away from the storyline. Although the game isnít as in-depth as say, GTA, there is truly no first person shooter out there like this that gives you this much freedom.
The gameís atmosphere adds to the sandbox design to make it something truly special. STALKER is truly one of the most haunting and atmospheric games to come out in recent times. Although the voice acting is average at best, the sound effects are some of the best Iíve ever heard in a game and do a fantastic job at setting the unpredictable tone. At one moment you might be walking along with nothing around you, and all of a sudden your radar lights up indicating a giant battle on the way. These battles start off rather lame, but later on become intense. The enemies truly put up a fight and you better hope that you have the right equipment with you or else youíre in trouble. Once again I didnít think the realism approach was done too well but it does make every battle a challenge. This is definitely a nice change of pace from the Half Life2ís that bombard you with health after every battle. You truly have to manage your equipment since the enemies will show no mercy. While the weapons and items are forgettable, the exhilarating battles certainly are not.
Even though the gameplay is far from the best in the genre and the story is a confusing mess S.T.A.L.K.E.R. certainly has the right idea. While itís far from what it could have been it still offers an open-ended experience like no other that will suck you in no matter how mediocre some elements might be. It is definitely flawed and probably will be obsolete once other developers snatch this idea and do more with it but right now thereís nothing out there quite like it. The haunting atmosphere, challenging firefights, and (somewhat) open-ended gameplay is enough to recommend this title to any first person shooter/sandbox gameplay fans, assuming they meet the steep system requirements of course!
Community review by Halon (July 27, 2008)
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