S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

A beautiful, open ended world to explore. Realistic gunfights. A compelling plot. Very little profanity and mild blood use. Put it together and you have S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Colonel Link - Staff Reviewer

Content at a glance:

<p>Violence: When you shoot an enemy, a little bit of blood spurts out. There are some gross looking mutants and dead bodies. If an enemy gets caught in an anomaly, he will explode in a torrent of blood and body parts.</p> <p>Language: Depending on who you talk to, you will probably hear or see the S word and b****rd a maximum of 15 times each, with a couple of other mild profanities scattered about.</p> <p>Moral Problems: You character loots, kills, and breaks the law by going into the Zone.</p>

New arrivals are encouraged to purchase a biohazard or bullet proof suit. 300 rounds of ammunition are recommended for any journeys that last longer than 4 hours. Medkits and food are an absolute necessity. And don’t forget: shoot anything that isn’t human, especially if it’s shooting back at you.

Welcome to The Zone.

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

Welcome to the end of the world.

Many have probably heard of the Chernobyl disaster, which to this day remains the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. In 1986, one of the reactors at Chernobyl exploded, causing a chain reaction that resulted in highly radioactive fallout being blown into the atmosphere. The fallout reached all the way from Europe to North America, and over 336,000 people were evacuated.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

The premise of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is simple: The reactor blows again in 2006, but this time around, the damage is much worse. The area that was radiated the most is called “The Zone”, which is full of mutants and anomalies. Mutants include blind dogs and boars, which are essentially ugly, aggressive animals. Other mutants are far more powerful, some even extremely intelligent and sinister. Anomalies are small areas of altered physics. There are several different variations, each one having a unique impact upon those who cross its path. They can be potentially deadly, delivering electric shocks, flames, or even gusts of wind that can tear you apart.

You play as a STALKER, dubbed Marked One. In the opening cutscene, you see that your truck crashed when struck by lightning and that you are the only survivor. Unfortunately, the crash gives you amnesia, causing you to go on a quest to discover your identity. Your only clue as to where to start is a cryptic message written on your PDA: Kill Strelok. And while you hunt him down and try to discover clues about your past, you also discover more about to the zone. What you discover is so sinister, that…well, I won’t mention it here, as that would be a spoiler.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an open world First Person Shooter with RPG elements. The FPS aspect is pretty much the same as all of the other games of the genre out there. You will always have your knife and your bolts (for discharging electrical anomalies) with you, but you can also collect a rather large arsenal of pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, grenades, etc. Apart from weapons, you can also collect artifacts. Artifacts are objects created by anomalies that have certain qualities that help, but also hurt, you. For example, one artifact increases your endurance, but also reduces your ability to resist electric shock.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

As you can see, there have already been many RPG elements integrated with the FPS aspect of the game. The RPG aspect of the game is more obvious when it comes to the NPC’s (other STALKERs). You must talk to many of them to get quests and the dialog is a big part of that. Not to mention that you can trade with all of them, which is a great way to restock on ammo and health. NPC’s also have different attitudes towards you. By default, most are set to neutral, but you can change these through your characters actions. You will turn them against you by attacking them, but scratch their back and they’ll scratch yours.

Now, unlike most FPS’s, you can’t carry everything you want. You will start to slow down and fatigue quicker once you go over the 50kg weight limit, so choosing which items you really need is a big part of the game.

When it comes to combat, STALKER is a mixed bag. On one hand, the enemies seem to be too smart and can see you from very far away. I found myself being easily killed by a random enemy with 2 or 3 bullets, but that same enemy seemed to take forever to kill with a machine gun. On the other hand, I could storm a building with about 10 enemies in it, and –with some good quick saving — I could take out every single one of them without taking much damage.

That said, the combat was intense! I can’t name many shooters that feel this visceral. Utilization of cover is essential to survival, your weapons can jam, you have to peek around corners, enemies are very smart, etc. My only problem with the game was that the environments never seem to be affected by what you do. The already crumbling walls don’t show any evidence of being filled with bullets for years. This detracted from my enjoyment of the game (although F.E.A.R spoiled me), but it doesn’t really change the overall feel of the game.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

Now you may be wondering how buying/selling works. Well, I’ll let the initials explain this. “Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber”. As you might have guessed from this, your main source of income is looting. You can loot bodies, chests, closets, enemy hideouts, etc. This will get you items, weapons, ammo, food, and armor (although this can’t be taken from bodies), but no money. You get money by completing missions or selling items, and you can use this money to buy anything you need. I feel that the inability to get money from corpses or hideouts detracts from the believability of the game.

There are three main factions in The Zone: Duty, Freedom, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.S. Duty is a “patriotic” group that believes in keeping order and protecting the world from the zone. Freedom, on the other hand, believes in, well, freedom. They believe that everyone should do what they feel like, or in other words, whatever makes them the most money.
There are other groups in the game, like the mercenaries, monolith, and the military, but they don’t play as big a role as the other groups.

The most unique aspect of STALKER is its open world. The game world is enormous, detailed, and beautiful in a sad sort of way. The first environment is made up of rolling hills and trees, whereas the “Garbage” is a radioactive wasteland. Other areas include lakes, swamps, abandoned cities, etc. All of these areas are chock full of detail, with nothing out of place. That said, the amount of detail that the game has to render will often cause the framerate to choke on any machine that doesn’t have some of the latest hardware.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

Unfortunately, the vastness of the areas also contributes to the worst aspect of the game: Travel. NPC’s will often give you missions halfway across the map, and you’ll have to get to that area (on foot, very slowly), complete the mission, and return before the time limit expires or you lose the reward. Not to mention that each time you go through an area, enemies will have respawned by the dozens, so it takes a LONG time to get from one place to another. Couldn’t they have sacrificed some realism and added in portals? A car or two? A flying horse? A mutant fly? ANYTHING?!!!

Although I’ve raved about the graphics and landscapes, the most immersive part of the game for me was the sound. The music, ambient noise, weapons sounds, etc, are all extremely well done and make you feel like you’re really in the middle of the action. Although most of the voice acting is in Russian, it's solidly done and adds to the realism.

Offensive Content:

Language: Most of the game is in Russian, and english is only spoken in choice NPC moments. Depending on who you talk to, you online casino will probably hear or see the S word and b****rd a maximum of 15 times each, with a couple of other mild profanities scattered about. That’s actually not bad considering it’s a 40 hour game.

Sexual Content: None. Nada. Zip

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

Violence: Two of the cutscenes show some charred and bloody faces. When you shoot an enemy, a little bit of blood spurts out. Enemies can be mortally wounded instead of killed, in which case they will lie on the ground, bleeding to death (very little actual blood is shown). Some of the mutants are quite gross, with hunchbacks, tentacles, half-bloated bodies, etc. Later on in the game you find a lot of heads impaled on stakes, but as far as I could tell, they weren’t human. The bloodiest thing in the game involves anomalies. If you manage to lead an enemy into a whirlwind one, after it kills him, he will be sucked into the “vortex” and explode in a torrent of blood and bone. This is however, a very rare event. I never saw it happen during my playtime, and only found out through youtube videos.

Spiritual Content: The Zone is a very “magical” and oftentimes evil place. Some attribute all the strange things that happen to a type of spiritual force (although it’s not true).

*SPOILERS AHEAD* The Wish Granter is the only real “spiritual” being, as there is no scientific reason given for it’s existence. However, even if it isn’t spiritual, it does have supernatural powers that it uses for evil (it does horrible things to the people who tell it their wish). However, this could be taken as a form of punishment for the evil that these people wish for (to rule the world, for humanity to be punished, etc). In one of the endings, the Wish Granter shows some mercy and gives a person with a good wish a “happy”-ish ending (literally blinds them to the horrors of the world).
*END SPOILERS*

As mentioned before, the game is very much about choices. The option to be a very evil person is there and it is often times tempting, as there aren’t many consequences for doing wrong. However, you can also choose to play the game as a very good person who risks his life for others, even though you don’t always get rewards for this, and this will leave you feeling more satisfied.

Positive Elements: Many of the STALKERs have a sense of loyalty to the group and there is oftentimes a spirit of camaraderie. You can help out STALKERs who are being attacked by enemies and they will thank you, which feels nice. The “bad” endings of the game shows the consequences of lust for power and greed, even if the consequences are a bit harsh. The “good” endings are also satisfying and provide some good closure.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl

Other Negative Elements: “Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber”. Need I say more? Lawlessness is the way of life for a STALKER, and thievery and murder are everyday things. Some of the missions you receive involve killing neutral STALKERS who have done nothing to you and sometimes just know too much. But, if you like, you can abandon these missions as they are not obligatory.

You are breaking the law by going into The Zone and you must kill the soldiers sent in to stop you. Of course, the soldiers are technically your enemies and later on they will shoot you on sight. It could be considered self defense to kill them, but, the soldiers are only doing their job and what they think is right. Looting dead bodies could be offensive to some. There are also zombies in the Zone, but these are merely STALKERS who’s brains have been messed with by the radiation and they aren’t any more bloody than the living.

Vodka cures radiation, but if you drink too much the screen will get wobbly and you won’t be able to aim accurately. I don’t think that this is bad, as it sort of shows the consequences of getting drunk.

On the technical side of things, the un-patched version of STALKER is chock full of bugs that make certain missions impossible to complete, and although updating to version 1.0003 solved all of my problems, this might not be true for everyone.

Conclusion:

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is a fresh and original shooter that will give you hours and hours of fun, despite some technical and gameplay issues. It’s rated M for a reason, but I can recommend it to anyone 15 and up.

*Much thanks to DS-181-5 and Fremen_Warrior66 for helping me edit the review*

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.

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