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S.T.A.L.K.E.R

Was S.T.A.L.K.E.R worth waiting for all these years? Will it implement all promises given by the developers during the development time? I invite you, if you feel you’re brave enough, to put on your anti-radiation suit (some Vodka would help as well), load your Kalashnikov, put your backpack on and join me while I explore the exciting world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

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INTRODUCTION

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is, with no doubt, one of the most anticipated games in the past several years. Because it had many problems while being developed, it came to a point that gamers didn’t really believe it would ever be released. Here are some details for those of you out there who are not familiar with the history and the development stages of this game: It was first announced on late 2001 and planned to be released in 2003. When GSC experienced problems, they kept pushing the release date back, but made sure no one forgot about the game, keeping their prospective fans on the edge with many teasers, previews, hot details, custom builds for demonstration and a whole lot of screenshots. Eventually, the game was been released on March 23, 2007.

The game is set in the Ukraine, in and around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The developers at GSC Gameworld have carefully reconstructed 30 square kilometers of area around the power plant for us, the players, to explore. This place is built in such detail and is an amazingly accurate replica of the actual site. In fact, it is so accurate that GSC Gameworld actually received an inquiry from the Ukrainian “Secret Service” to make sure that state secrets weren’t being compromised and used in any illegal way.

Let me tell you something between us, the place is highly dangerous and radiation is everywhere. Bandits, mercenaries and other groups will attack on sight while mutated creatures are crawling all over the place, searching for some fresh meat.

Was S.T.A.L.K.E.R worth waiting for all these years? Will it implement all promises given by the developers during the development time? I invite you, if you feel you’re brave enough, to put on your anti-radiation suit (some Vodka would help as well), load your Kalashnikov, put your backpack on and join me while I explore the exciting world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl.

 


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SPECIFICATIONS

Source Information

Published By:   THQ
Developed By:   GSC Game World
Genre:   FPS/RPG
Release Date:   March 23, 2007
Official Website

System Specs

Minimum:

  • Operating System:  Microsoft® Windows® XP (Service Pack 2) / Microsoft® Windows® 2000 SP4
  • Processor:   Intel Pentium 4 2.0 Ghz / AMD XP 2200+
  • RAM:   512 MB RAM
  • Hard Drive Space:   10GB
  • Video Card:   128 MB DirectX® 8.0 compatible card / nVIDIA® GeForce™ 5700 / ATI Radeon® 9600
  • Sound Card:   DirectX® 9.0c compatible
  • Multiplayer:   LAN/Internet connection with low latency Cable/DSL speeds

Recommended:

  • Operating System:  Microsoft® Windows® XP (Service Pack 2) / Microsoft® Windows® 2000 SP4
  • Processor:   Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 / AMD 64 X2 4200+
  • RAM:   1.5 GB RAM
  • Hard Drive Space:   10GB
  • Video Card:   256 MB DirectX® 9.0c compatible card / nVIDIA® GeForce™ 7900 / ATI Radeon® X1950
  • Sound Card:   DirectX® 9.0c compatible
  • Multiplayer:   LAN/Internet connection with low latency Cable/DSL/T1+ speeds

As Tested:

  • CPU:   Core 2 Duo E6600
  • RAM:   2GB
  • GPU:   8800GTS 640MB
  • HDD:   2x160GB 8MB SATA2
  • Operating System:   Windows XP

 

  
  
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THE STORYLINE *SPOILERS*

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is an open-ended game featuring over 8 completely different endings! The story is very extensive in details and features with many twists, turns, revelations and surprises. The game presents an alternative reality and takes place in the near future. On April 2006 the Chernobyl zone was once more struck by a second radioactive explosion at the nuclear plant. The disaster took many lives and filled the surroundings of the plant with highly dangerous radioactive radiation. The army decides to seal off the area – called “The Zone” to make the damage as little as possible, contain the situation and prevent the radiation from spreading out and widen the effected area.

It seems that the explosion took place about 1 KM from the nuclear plant and is obviously the result of some tests that had been held there. Despite all the actions taken in order to contain the situation, as time goes by, the area becomes more and more dangerous and grows bigger; threatening villages nearby. Rescue expeditions are sent during 2008 to locate any survivors and remove bodies of those who had less luck. They encounter mutated creatures and abnormal activities and decide to quickly evacuate villages nearby as there is no other choice.

In 2010, the area is considered somewhat safer for people to explore. First expeditions can enter the Zone several kilometres deep without mortal danger. Amateur researchers, marauders and poachers, called stalkers, show up. They move around the Zone searching for various anomalous formations, i.e. artifacts, they would sell to various organizations for profit or research.

A death truck, used to move bodies from within the zone, emerges from the Zone’s direction. The truck is hit by a bolt of lightning, goes up in flames and is thrown off the road. A Stalker, searching for some loot on the bodies, notices one of the bodies is actually showing signs of life. He takes the man out and carries him to a shelter nearby. You come into the picture as “Marked One”, the one assumed dead in the truck.

You wake up and find out you lost any memory and everything you ever experienced is no more. The only thing you do have a blurry message on your PDA: “Kill Strelok”. Slowly, as you make progress in the game, you find out more and more details about who you are, what is the place you’re in, why you’re there and who Strelok is…

 


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GAMEPLAY

The gameplay in S.T.A.L.K.E.R (thank god for “copy paste”) is very innovative. It combines several genres, taking the best out of them and creates a unique experience that we do not encounter often. The ingredients of S.T.A.L.K.E.R’s wonderful gameplay are:

  • Take a lot of FPS elements.
  • Blend in some RPG features, but don’t exaggerate.
  • Put in some creepy atmosphere to support the survival – Horror genre.
  • Mix them all together in a large bowl.
  • Put in the oven for 5 years ;)
  • Have fun!

GSC integrated these genres in an impressive way to create an exciting, appealing, horrifying and addictive gameplay that makes you, as a gamer, wonder why people must sleep for so long. Though the player will not gain points and improve attributes as RPG game tend to be. The RPG elements will be implemented by the storyline and usage/interaction with NPCs in various ways. Travel the Zone, collect artifacts, weapons, reveal anomalous zones, communicate and trade with NPCs etc. Communication is done using a branching conversation tree that will be available in order to interact with characters. That means you get to decide how rough or gentle you want to be with your reactions and in that way affect the reactions and the storyline. This will build up a reputation for your stalker and people will treat you accordingly.

When you get a mission from one of the many sources the game offers you, it will appear on your PDA, which you carry around everywhere. All the info that you need, including global game descriptions, conversations you made, directions, coordinates, map and other useful information are uploaded and conveniently accessible via your PDA.

 


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GAMEPLAY cont.

The Zone

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is an open-ended, non-linear game that puts you in a living universe (“The Zone”) that lives and functions without your intervention, but is highly influenced by your actions and decisions. With that said, I must indicate that many events are still scripted and it is not exactly all up to you, as the developers lead you to believe. The zone, as I mentioned, consists of a 30KM square area. When roaming the wilderness in the zone, you will likely cross some human settlements, deserted complexes, military bases, friendly or unfriendly fellow stalker groups, creepy mutated creatures, underground dungeons and interesting valuable artifacts. You can explore everything, indoors and outdoors as well.

The zone inhabitants are more than 1,000 characters that you can interact with in different levels of depth. The nice thing about them is that they are not just rendered and placed there as background images, they actually have a full life cycle. That means they have a task list to accomplish, they will battle anything that is hostile (besides the player), rest, eat and sleep whenever needed etc.

Reactions will be realistic meaning, if the player attacks and kills one of the guards, the rest will go to seek hiding, radio their headquarters, and won’t stand still, or what’s worse, run out towards the player. Same thing goes for the creatures that can be found wandering around the place. They will go hunting for food, attack stalkers nearby, eat and do whatever they would do, even if you are not there. This creates an amazing, unpredictable gameplay experience. You cannot expect things to look the same as you left them – things change! Think about the added replayability value you get from such a living world…

 


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Choose Your Faction

You can interact with the characters in the zone in various ways. The stalkers, for example, are divided into factions. The factions that are relevant to the player are Duty and Freedom since they are the ones you can choose to join and work with. Duty is at war with Freedom as they see the situation differently and have opposing philosophies about The Zone, and how to deal with it. Duty believes the zone must be contained and no one from the outside should get in while Freedom believes that anybody who wishes to enter the zone should be able to do it with no resistance. You can choose a side in this debate or you can just stay neutral and complete tasks from both factions.

Aside from those two factions, there are loners, which are stalkers that work alone or in small groups but are not associated with any other faction. Monolith is another faction of stalkers that believes they must protect “the Monolith”. Besides the stalkers, there are mercenaries, bandits and Russian military forces that roam the place. The military, which is spread around in order to contain the situation and prevent mutated creatures from getting out of the zone, will always attack you and other stalkers.

As you can understand, the place is pretty big. At some point, I began to miss the option to jump into one of the cars, trucks, or whatever lies around which has wheels attached and just advance faster towards my destination. You can run, but that just doesn’t cut it, it takes too long to get to a certain point on the map, might get frustrating at times. Also, running requires stamina and the stamina bar is exhausted pretty fast, especially is you carry a lot of stuff on you.

 


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Weapons and Battle

A little about the weaponry you will come across the zone. The game offers you About 30 types of weapons with weapon upgrades. Each weapon has its properties, bonuses, upgrades and abilities, and you may choose the one that supplies you with your favorite experience, as long as you can find ammo to go with it. Ammo is not easily found or bought, so be a little careful not to spend it carelessly. Among the weapons you will find you knife, guns, shot guns, assault rifles, grenades and so forth.

The game uses realistic bullet physics. If you ever played a tactical shooter, you probably know what it means. Firing from mid or long ranges is highly inaccurate when not using the iron sights attached to the weapon. To hit from a distance, use the right button to aim through the sights and only then fire at your target. Also, bullets do heavy damage and you might find yourself dead after 2-3 accurate shots.

Another interesting addition to the battle is the bleeding factor. When you’re getting hit by a gun shot, you’ll bleed at a certain rate, depending on the severity of the hit. You will keep losing health until you bandage the wound so you might want to keep some bandages with you in your backpack…

 


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GAMEPLAY cont.

Artifacts and Anomalies

As a stalker you’ll dig and search the zone in order to find artifacts and sell them to underground dealers and scientists in research camps on the Zone border. With money, you will be able to purchase equipment, weapons and protective suits allowing you to reach previously inaccessible areas.

Anomalies are the side effect of the radiation in the zone and occur randomly throughout the game world. You will recognize them by heat ripples, concentrated miniature lightning bolts, air fluctuations, glowing green jelly and such. These are highly dangerous places to come across and you can easily become heavily injured, if not die, when stepping into one. Such anomalies usually last about a week in game world time. Once they disappear, they leave behind an artifact for you to collect and use.

Artifacts can be worn to improve your stalker’s abilities. Since they are the product of ‘anomalies’, they contain certain powers within them. Some artifacts can make your health regenerate faster, suppress the feeling of hunger or thirst, improve your stamina, provide some resistance to lightning, create a protective field minimizing fire arms damage inflicted by your enemies and so on. Keep in mind that using such artifacts may cause the radiation around you to rise in different levels, depending on the artifact and its features. You can drink some Vodka or use anti-radiation kits to reduce those side effects.

 


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Atmosphere’s Electric

Let me describe a scene for you to get the feeling of what I am talking about. Picture yourself roaming around in the wilderness in the dark, bleeding and moaning after a battle against some creepy creatures, which you can swear, were human before. You’re desperately trying to get some shelter and heal your wounds. Soldiers shout in the distance and fire at a group of mutated boars. The scent of death is in the air while it suddenly starts raining. Lightning lights the black skies, drawing beautiful yet horrifying shades of trees and structures on the ground under your feet. You check your PDA and find out you’re near a friendly stalkers’ camp, you’re safe, at least for now!

Yeah, the atmosphere is really where this game really excels. You can almost feel like you’re really inside the world, and believe me, it is not a pleasant place to visit. There are some really creepy moments I experienced while playing and the various monsters that you will encounter will really make you look behind your back and jump out your chair in certain situations (if you turn the lights off and let yourself sink into the game). A weather system is integrated into various parts of the landscape and allows a variety of weather effects, such as sunshine, storms and showers.

Multiplayer

Well, the game does feature a multiplayer mode but it lacks inspiration, is quite dull and fails to deliver the same unique experience that the single player mode supplies. It has the standard death-match mode, team death-match and artifact hunt which is more or less like capture the flag mode. When you kill your enemies, you get money for your actions. Then, you may use it to purchase various weapons, ammo and other equipment. Nothing more to add actually about the multiplayer as it is pretty straight forward.

GRAPHICS & SOUND

As I stated before, it took this title about 5 years to get released. In spite of that fact, the game looks at least as good as any other title released in 2007. Well, I am not talking about Crysis, but what I am saying is that S.T.A.L.K.E.R looks really good. The environments are mysterious and interesting to explore. The place is huge, yet every part of it is completely different, which is a great achievement.

The anomalies warps look perfect, wilderness is varied and everything moves and acts according to the wind direction and weather. Speaking about weather, those are the best effects in the game. Sunny days, Lightning storms (especially at night), rain, all of those are just remarkable and add so much to the excellent atmosphere of this game. Looking up above and watching the stunning sky that GSC created amazed me, it actually looks real! The guns and other weaponry look absolutely great and are highly detailed. The flashlight effect is pretty cool and looks great in the dark as well. There are some characters and creatures’ models that are not detailed enough but most of them really look great.

The audio is not neglected either and is a huge factor in completing the atmosphere experienced in the game. The characters around are speaking Russian to each other. I didn’t really understand anything but it sure gave me a nice and authentic feeling. Don’t worry, when speaking to you, they’ll suddenly move to English, but keep their accent, which is cool and funny but hard to understand sometimes if not reading the text. Bullets’ ricochets, explosions and battle sounds really great. Weather sounds of wind, rain and storms are perfect as well. Another great extra is the sound of guitars when a tired stalker grabs one and sits by the fire along with his buddies and a nice bottle of vodka.

 


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Nothing is Perfect

Here are the issues I found in S.T.A.L.K.E.R:

  • Limited mobility options. This is a big issue in the game for me. I wish transportation was available to make it easier to travel from point to point in the huge area
  • In certain points, you’ll get a loading screen and wait a while for the new part of the map you just entered. Hurts the flow of the game, too bad.
  • The game tries to be realistic and adds a weight limitation to your character. That will drain your stamina in seconds while running, and given you can’t use any means of transportation, you’ll find yourself walking long distances in big portions of the game. Frustrating!!!
  • The quick save function works, but I couldn’t load them afterwards. Also, the quick load didn’t work for me at all!
  • If you have Vista installed, you’ll encounter countless bugs and I recommend you to use it on XP until patches will be released to solve those issues.
  • Transfer from one area of the Zone to another can only be accomplished at certain specific passageways
  • The game has a few graphical bugs, not something horrible but still not pleasant to witness.
  • Crashes to desktop sometimes!!!

Conclusion

I must say the game has its problems and some are really nasty. This fact prevents the game from reaching the heights I felt it could reach and thus, failed to use its potential to the fullest. Multiplayer brings nothing new and that’s too bad as well.

All in all, S.T.A.L.K.E.R is an innovative, appealing and refreshing action / RPG title that took me by surprise in a few aspects. It blends a few genres, and although such a mix-up can turn out pretty badly, GSC Game World made wise decisions and did an impressive job, creating a very unique and versatile game. It brings constantly changing world of the Zone and unique life simulation system. Also, it supplies perfect atmosphere to backup a deep and mysterious story line. All that is wrapped up with an impressive graphical package with a few of the most beautiful landscapes I ever witnessed in a video game.

If you liked what you read, rest assured, as I am positive you will fall in love with this game as soon as the main screen is loaded. On the other hand, if you didn’t like what you read, try reading it again, as I’d hate to see you skip this one…

 

How S.T.A.L.K.E.R Scores

  • Graphics:   9
  • Sound:  8
  • GamePlay:  8.5
  • Pleasure:  8
  • Interface:  8

 

Final Score: 8.5 out of 10

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