Stalker Shadow of Chernobyl is an FPS taking place in an alternative reality in where a second disaster occurs in the famous Chernobyl nuclear plant. This second disaster has caused serious harm to the natural state of things by creating abominations, rips in reality and most importantly new objects known as Artifacts that grant unnatural benefits to its holder or can be sold for serious profit. The prospect of getting rich quick has brought many people into the disaster zone, simply referred to as The Zone, that is brimming with death and ambition.
You are some nameless man that falls off a truck full of corpses and to your luck are rescued by someone that finds out you are alive. Upon taking you in they notice you are marked with a tattoo and are dubbed the nickname Marked One. Once you awaken you realize that you have no idea who you are and have one simple mission on your PDA, find and kill a man named Strelok. Other than the mysterious background, you will soon find out that you are nothing special and just as likely to end up dead as anyone else.
You can only carry 60 pounds at any one time, you have to handle blood loss when shot and your aim is not super accurate unlike most FPS games. It is much closer to the Simulation sub-genre and contains an open world quite unlike anything to date. From the offset, you are free to go where you please and kill nearly anyone that you encounter if you are feeling psychotic. With how brutal this world is however, just the sight of someone who may not shoot you is akin to Christmas. Especially when it is night time and for the most part can only hear rustling or growling, finding a small band of people to wait the night out with is a very memorable experience.
The number of unforgettable experiences in this game is innumerable and most of them were completely unscripted. This world does not revolve around you and the AI are always doing their own thing. In addition, the human character’s AI is pretty impressive and will give you a run for your money if you cross them. They will not leave cover to come blindly chase you down, will flank you and move around frequently without shooting so they can get the jump on you. It’s intense, fun and the sound of gunfire in the distance is never just background noise. Running blindly in to see what the ruckus is all about is a sure fire way to catch a stray bullet.
Running itself is typically ill-advised as not only will it advise everything nearby of your location but the world is scattered with anomalies, a near invisible tear in space that can have various effects on you, none of them pleasant. What may appear to be just a bit of wind may drag you in and violently tear apart your body, a random jet of fire may stream out of where you step and some can even randomly move around. You do have something similar to a Geiger counter to alert you when you are near any anomaly so if you are running the chances of you reacting fast enough decrease to survive it decrease. Alongside these invisible threats you also have to worry about radiation, your hunger and the time of day.
Point being that this is not the type of game where you can run around aimlessly and no-scope enemies then expect to survive. Since this is a lone adventure and there are no companions to speak of you are always at a disadvantage in a straight fight but on the flip side you can also sneak around more easily. Or so that is the premise, enemies are really adept at spotting you and sound is a factor to take into consideration here so reloading, stepping on into something or opening your inventory will give you away. If you have a flashlight on that will also give away your position obviously but if you manage to get your hands on a set of good night vision goggles you can go in there and pretend to be playing a Slavic version of Splinter Cell.
I wasn’t a big fan of the main quest. Besides being a giant fetch quest all the way through, the later parts rely far too much on fighting a ton of human enemies in enclosed spaces. It shines early on when it focuses on atmosphere, mutants and avoiding anomalies but unfortunately dropped the ball on the later parts. That said it had some amazing moments in it and will remind you that this world is dangerous and wants you dead. The story was surprisingly interesting and features multiple endings depending on how you played and your decisions. Be warned, unless you have a mod installed, the ending is the end and you’ll no longer be able to play afterward.
This title does feature some RPG mechanics such as gun and armor stats but you do not grow any stronger. Your experience as the player is the most important thing and going around shooting mutants is mostly just a waste of ammo as most of the time they carry nothing. Conserving ammo is vital since it does weigh a decent amount and you’ll likely burn through it in no time if you play this like you were Rambo. There are a ton of ammo types designed for different weapons so learning them is also crucial so you won’t go out with a bunch of 5.56x45mm rounds for your AKS-74. Have no idea what that means? Neither did I before playing Stalker.
Buying ammo is expensive and shops don’t contain the types you’ll need for the higher tier weapons such as the Gauss Rifle. You can trade with any neutral character in the game and buy whatever they have on them or sell some of your stuff if they have the cash. If they are your friends, they will give you discounts. As far as I know there are only three ways to gain a friend. One is to patch him with your first aid kit if he is on the floor wounded, another is to join a faction and finally you can just follow him around for some time and fight alongside him. With how often people die in The Zone, it is very hard to keep any friends and may start to second guess if you should help the wounded man in front of you.
There are various different factions in The Zone with the most important ones being Freedom and Duty, both being at war with each other. With the great AI it is pretty exciting to see them go at it and free loot for you regardless of who wins. There is extremely little reason to join one of these factions and the inclusion of being able to is a half-baked idea. You could do all of a faction’s main quests in less than half an hour and actually joining them gives you a gun as well as a uniform. That is your only benefit from joining and the cost is that the entire rival faction will now shoot you on sight. Hardly a worthy payoff for adding yet more people that want to kill you and making their lands harder to navigate around.
Mutants range from blind dogs, invisible man like beasts to a giant headed freak that can drive you insane. None of them are to be taken lately and all can run faster than you making escape that much more difficult. No matter how good your weapons are even the dogs will remain a threat and can easily overwhelm you since they travel in large packs. Not including the dogs, none of the other mutants are all that common making their presence invoke fear until the very end. The entire game is incredibly atmospheric and puts most other horror games to shame. Even standing on a wide open, grassy plane with relatively good sunlight is an intense experience since having your guard up is always a necessity in The Zone.
I’ve never felt more unsafe in a game. The combination of great atmosphere, environments, sound design and gameplay that perfectly complement each other is simply amazing. Your character can carry multiple high-powered weaponry so the fact that I feel more safe in any other actual horror game speaks volumes to how well they pulled off the nearly otherworldly setting. Opening your inventory, checking quests or talking to someone does not freeze time so there is always the risk that something can catch you defenseless. The world is split into different areas that require loading when entering another. There is one rather annoying design decision to exploring the world and that is the hidden stashes.
You can find stuff such as a backpack hidden under the stairway or an out of place chest but unless an NPC told you about it or you found the coordinates from a corpse they will possess nothing in them. That really harms the exploration since going off the beaten path is often pointless due to it and properly “finding” them will include a giant quest marker to its exact position. This is one feature the game would have been better off without. Luckily the Artifacts do not go by these rules and you can find them if you keep your eyes peeled for their usual distinct glow.
Most artifacts contain both a positive and negative effect to them such as giving you 400% more health but bullet and rupture resistance will go down by 10%. Other will continually give off radiation when equipped so you must have another artifact that absorbs radiation. It is interesting to mix and match though only the rarest of the rare are worth keeping. S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is both an action game and horror, FPS & RPG, and fun yet extremely intense. It is so odd that such a mish-mash of ideas have come together so well to create something truly unique. There are no other games quite like this and is one I would suggest anyone up for a challenge to play.