Ever since writing about GSC’s plight, potential light at the end of the tunnel and fully admitting that I was now intrigued about their games, one of my friends has been actively cultivating that interest. It got to the point where he actually bought the game for me on Steam just so I could “experience the greatness myself” as he put it. I also promised him I’d write about my thoughts, so after a month of procrastination, I’ve finally delivered on that promise. After putting some time into the game, do I agree or will he live in everlasting ridicule?
My thoughts await you below the break.
Honestly, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a challenging game. At its core, it’s a first person shooter, but the compelling aspect is that you’re in an open environment, free to explore the irradiated countryside of the Ukraine as you see fit. It actively chooses not to help you or to hold your hand. The game leaves things very cryptic at the beginning in the hopes that you’ll want to keep playing to find out more. It may be a turn off to some, but if you stick with it, it does open up as it begins to peel back to layers. Also, this one came out in 2007 so yes, it looks a little dated by today’s standards. Don’t let that stop you though.
Things start off with your character seemingly dead as he’s being carried off in a death truck heading outside of The Zone. Things don’t go quite as planned as the truck over turns and your body spills out into the night. You’re soon discovered by a soldier who brings you back to the local man in charge, named Sidorovich. From here, you’re given a PDA which at the start only has one goal. To kill a man named Strelok. To advance the plot, you’ll need to take on quests and tasks that’ll send you all around the zones including the ruined interiors of the Chernobyl Power Plant itself.
Honestly, the voice acting is pretty weak along with the characters themselves. They’re just not very compelling and honestly, there’s not a ton of diversity among them. For example, fellow STALKERS that you come across all look basically the same. one might have a tan hooded jacket compared to someone else’s grey hooded jacket. You’re also not going to learn much from them as they don’t do a great job with filling in the back story. Normally, this would be a problem for a game that purposely leaves the plot vague in the beginning. The big hook here is that your character, known as “The Marked One”, takes very diligent notes in his PDA. So much so that you’ll actually learn a ton about the world, the people, the creatures, and will help you understand.
Most of the quests here are your straightforward go here and kill x or group x and will offer a simple reward to you for succeeding. The real compelling quests are the ones you get to advance the plot as they take you between the many zones to meet various factions. One of the cooler aspects to the game is the fact that the world seems to be living and breathing around you. The A.I. system creates believable environment around the player as creatures will attack bandits, different factions will battle each other, and you may even hear gunfire off in the distance. It creates a very believable world around the player. Couple that with the creepy atmosphere the game hangs over you at all times and you have one immersive experience.
I do wish it had a more robust RPG element to it, as I think that would offer so much more to the player. You will find better weapons and items like artifacts, food, and different types of ammo but you can’t deny the power that loot has. There’s no stat tracking or different gear to equip here, so those looking for another Fallout type experience will be disappointed.
The shooting mechanics are really great, but at the same time, present a higher learning curve during the first parts of the game. The starter weapons are generally poor in the damage and accuracy department, but as you play deeper into the experience, you’ll find stronger weapons, better ammo, and weapon mods which are basically stronger variations of the base weapons. Enemies are seemingly very strong as headshots are the only way to bring them down quickly. Otherwise, expect to use up a lot of valuable ammunition to drop the numerous enemies that inhabit the world. Also, while I’m on the topic, the various factions in the world seem to be marksmen even at the beginning stages of the game so make sure you save often as you’ll be seeing the game over screen quite a bit.
Overall, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a very unique experience and easily has one of the eeriest environments out there. I’ve heard it has a multiplayer aspect to it as well, but it’s not something I’ve tried out. Not only that, the game is 5 years old at this point and I’m not sure how much of an online presence it has left. If you’re willing to endure through the growing pains of the early moments and really put an effort to learn the game, you’ll find a deep and rewarding experience waiting for you. Also, you may find a Bloodsucker waiting for you around a corner as well. Make sure you’re armed to the teeth.