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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a strange game in that at its core it is just a shooter but it is a shooter with an atmosphere that you might wish you could find in other shooters as well. Just do not expect any great role play elements in this one.

You play the game as the "Marked One" and the game begins with you being thrown off of a truck filled with corpses. When you wake up you are inside the Zone in an underground spot somewhere. The Zone itself is an unimaginably twisted Chernobyl. Typically, you are suffering from amnesia and your PDA says, "Kill Strelok". You have no clue who Strelok is or why he/she/it deserves killing but heck, you grab your itty bitty little gun and step out of the bunker like room to start looking for Strelok.

This is where you will first notice that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is different. For those who are comfortable with the close confined corridors of Doom III and the linear canals and cliff roads of Half Life 2 it is not possible to convey through mere words the sight that awaits you when you step into the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The game world is larger than you might have thought possible in a shooter.

We are all familiar with the sad story of Chernobyl and the designers of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. have spent several hours there taking thousands of pictures in order to replicate the eeriness of this famous ghost city. This has resulted in the creation of the most realistically creepy game ever released. Another thing that hits is the naturalness of everything you see. At no time does the game give the feeling that a building dropped on a map or a tree was placed just for the heck of it. This is especially good because you are going to spend a long time exploring the game world on foot.

Adding to the eeriness is the aura of disrepair and neglect of 20 years. Everything is rusted, falling apart, and covered in weeds. And everything is accessible. There is no case of seeing a building in the distance but not being able to get into it. Shooters have a tendency to show a lot but most of the time the objects are just props. There will also be some obstacle preventing you from actually going there and checking it. Not so with S.T.A.L.K.E.R., it is literally a "go anywhere" world.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has been in development a long time and this has turned out to be a good thing. The graphics engine churns out a level of detail that would have been impossible to handle by the hardware available some years ago. Even the ones with the capacity to buy top of the line hardware would have been cursing their way through this game. Even today S.T.A.L.K.E.R. demands more than what the average gamer has. If you visit the forums then you will note that the happy S.T.A.L.K.E.R. players are those that have a 3GHz CPU, GeForce 8 series card and around 2 GB of RAM.

The first area where the rendering engine impresses is with its draw distance. The next area is lights and shadows. Everything in the game world casts a proper shadow across other objects. The outdoor areas are terrific to see but your Doom and F.E.A.R. cravings will also be looked after. The scary parts of the game do not take place outdoors. Most of them are in claustrophobic sections where there is no natural light and the dark corridors make good ambush spots and difficult escaping. If you think F.E.A.R. was all the fear you can handle then stay aware from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. because it leaves the fear in F.E.A.R. way behind. This is a whole new level of fear and it is not for the faint hearted.

Ok, enough with how the game looks. There is more to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. than just the graphics engine. The AI is quite complex with more than 1000 other S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s just like you going about their business regardless of what you do, or don't do. The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. world goes on working even if you just load the game and sit back. Day and night cycles change in real time. The day will be clear and sunny then cloudy and dark. There are hundreds of quests waiting for you.

The missions are quite varied given the large world you occupy but in true Doom tradition in the end it comes down to shooting someone/something. There are a wide range of weapons available to you and most of them may be modified with bullet types and scopes. Bullets are well modeled with the inclusion of bullet drop. It does not matter what you are fighting, the weapon physics keep everything real.

You will find the first few fights quite difficult because you will be pitched right into the thick of things with a flimsy weapon and no armor against heavily armored enemies with powerful weapons. Peep out during pauses and aim for the head. The realism continues as there is no learning curve here. You are in the world and you have to face it. No one is going to take it easy on you just because you are new. Things do get easier once you get money to buy heavy weapons and armor. You will be required to collect artifacts created by anomalies in the Zone and trade them for cash. You will be scavenging for med-packs, food, ammo, and armor.

The AI in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is quite good. Even with serious weaponry you will have a good fight on your hands. Thankfully we have a game where enemies don't have radar, infrared, and thermal vision built in. If you are behind a tree then your enemy cannot see you. The entire game world is controlled through what the developers call A-Life System. Rival gangs will fight each other and control of areas in the Zone will change even if you are miles away. The problem here is that the AI is not smart enough to accommodate you, the player. If you kill a clan's enemy then the clan will not treat you as a friend. This might be deliberate but it is a bit odd.

The game has around 7 endings depending on various factors. Though we were promised 30 hours of gameplay it actually takes only 12 hours to finish the game if you rush to the ending.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s multiplayer mode offers deathmatch and team deathmatch though you must keep in mind that this is primarily a single player game. However, multiplayer does get exciting in the dark environs of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Now the bad parts. There is no one big bad factor in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. but there are so many small issues that it might have been a good idea to let it stay in development another year or so. Surround sound does not work properly, there are small bugs, the PDA is unreliable, the side missions are all copies of one another, and on and on and on. These minor points prevent S.T.A.L.K.E.R. from sharing the spotlight with games like Half Life 2 and F.E.A.R.

Conclusion

The game has problems but they are just minor annoyances. The positives of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. far outweigh its negatives. Just do not go for the advertisements that project it as a RPG with some guns thrown in. It is a shooter that will help you break out of the FPS corridors and place you in an open ended world while plunging you into fear.

By Jitender Saan

 

STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl - The Story
On the afternoon of April 12 in 2006, a massive explosion shattered the Chernobyl area. The Zone, as the area got to be known, was characterized by anomalous energy disturbances, rendering even the most advanced form of protective suits worthless to would be rescue teams. Months passed and nothing could be done. The military quarantined the area to prevent unauthorized entry and perhaps even reassure the local populace that the area was under control and confinement. Almost 4 years after the initial event, expeditions can now safely traverse several kilometers deep into the Zone. Among these are the Stalkers, poachers that enter the zone searching for artifacts and anomalous formations that are highly sought after by certain organizations and groups. The player controls a Stalker, venturing into the Zone in order to acquire information, technology and artifacts to sell and possibly put a mysterious puzzle together. Avoiding the dangers within and the military because as a Stalker you are effectively a thief, and the army that has quarantined the area, don't take kindly to trespassers. Within the Zone you will have to detect and avoid the bizarre phenomenon's (anomalies) that plague the area, avoid or eliminate various kinds of mutants and you can even expect competition from other Stalkers.

Features:

  • Gigantic game world of the Zone of 30 square kilometers
  • Free non-linear exploration with vast outdoor and indoor areas
  • Constantly changing world of the Zone and unique life simulation system
  • Unique types of weapons and enemy impact: gravitational weapons, psychotropic weapons, telekinesis, telepathy, taking under control
  • About 30 types of weapons with weapon upgrades - optics or barrel-attached grenade launcher for your rifle to make it a super gun
  • Strong non-linear story line with over 8 completely different endings
  • Original creatures and their abilities: group intellect, telepathy, telekinesis with realistic communication with any sapient character
  • Realistic AI and life simulation of game creatures and characters
  • Trade of weapons, artifacts, equipment and control of vehicles
  • Mind blowing graphics and weather effects powered by X-Ray engine
  • Endless replay-ability owing to unique life simulation system


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