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    dumpster_fox's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)

    [March 6, 2008 06:39:33 AM]

    The story behind Stalker is still rather cryptic at this point in the game, but the main quest line seems to promise answers. So far, the missions have largely involved me meeting with people who have information about where to find a certain person that I need to kill, with said meetings happening under extraordinary circumstances. Ensuring the safe escape of another character whose base was being raided by the military so that he could give me information was exciting and unique, with panicked movement through a base as a war that I had no part in took place around me. This portion really solidified the feeling that the NPCs had their own roles, lives, and agency in the world, and that it certainly did not revolve around me, as is the impression in many other first-person shooters.

    The weapon selection continues to expand, and has actually changed gameplay in significant ways. With the discovery of a scope that can be attached to certain weapons, the combat has changed from spraying from cover to strategic sniping, picking off enemies in as few shots as possible. Whereas before the player was mostly concerned with keeping their ammunition count as high as possible via dispatching human NPCs, the scope necessitates a balance be struck between carrying enough ammunition to be prepared for many firefights and carrying not so much as to weigh you down significantly. Ammunition is one of the heavier things you need to manage inventory-wise, with movement speed and stamina affected directly by how much you are burdened; however, since ammunition is a necessity for surviving, taking small amounts is very risky.

    The environments continue to be of amazing quality and detail. All of the game world areas make logical sense, and the player is given more the impression that the NPCs are utilizing the environment rather than having it built around them. Every aspect of the art design in the game is gritty and run down, and every location and item is intensely lovable as a result. Ironically, the buggy nature of the game itself contributes to this, as its state is almost parallel to the environment it is set in - pieces are hanging off, it's largely utilitarian, but damned if it isn't beautiful in its own way.


    It is honestly difficult to tell whether the people who created this game were brilliant or just incredibly lucky. Every major aspect of the game falls into place and works in tandem with the other elements in a way that feels natural enough that it seems almost unlikely that it was engineered. The fact that the player is given extremely minimal instruction on how to play the game and none on how the core mechanics function make the player feel like they have figured the game out entirely on their own, exploiting certain mechanics and taming others, and the fact that the game can actually get away with what is for all intents and purposes a broken tutorial (which would normally be a cardinal sin in a game) is a testament to how natural it feels for the player to not have this information handed to them. Again, this plays right into the singular feel of the game as a whole, a scrappy, gritty, and stereotypically Russian vibe that is present in every nook and cranny of the game and its mechanics that I have been able to find.

    The fundamental gameplay here, in very much the same way that Diablo is about equipment selection and management, is about inventory management, primarily ammunition. There are many types of ammunition throughout the game, and different guns use different types. However, since you encounter members of factions (who generally use and therefore supply ammunition for different weapons) in different areas, you have to plan out which type of weapon you are going to take in order to maintain an ideal ammunition level in the areas you are going to be in. Choosing to take along an inappropriate weapon can be crippling, as you can end up running out of ammo with no source to replenish it. A weight system for the inventory has a direct effect on your speed and stamina while moving, limiting the player in what the can take along with them. This makes it infeasible to take more than two large weapons, meaning that the player can not simply take along one firearm of each type and simply be set. The weight system ultimately ties immediately back into ammunition management, as ammo is one of the heaviest things that the player can lug around. This means that the player is not able to simply stock up on obscene amounts of ammunition, either. The player is driven to maintain a constant ideal level of ammo on their person at all times, and has to choose the correct equipment and change their tactics accordingly to do so.

    Stalker also strays from normal FPS fare in its level design. The game world consists of nearly twenty expansive, largely open, interconnected areas, ranging from forests filled with wildlife of varying hostility to decrepit train yards watched over by trigger-happy snipers to old factories populated by squatters to underground military and scientific facilities being used for questionable purposes. More impressively, a constant level of detail is maintained between all of these areas, meaning that the game world feels contiguous and like it really does all exist in the same world. I've seen transitions between interior and exterior environments handled poorly in many games, but Stalker has managed to pull it off flawlessly.

    The artificial intelligence in Stalker is also of note. Human NPCs in the world use the environment astonishingly well, taking cover in bushes and behind trees and debris in exterior environments and using cover just as competently inside of structures. Their AI permits them to perform nearly every action the player can take, save a few odd omissions that, as I understand it, were removed to avoid breaking the game. They are capable of moving between areas in the game just as the player is, for example, which certainly has an impact when you recognize a character you remember from earlier in the game in later places. The human NPCs also have a complex faction system, where their reaction towards you depends on your interaction with members of certain factions, with the player given the chance to aid in a serious change in the factional topology of the game world. The creature AI is not to be underestimated either, with creatures assaulting you effectively in packs but fleeing when alone, and battles for food between different types of animals in the game world. The player is also given the option of driving attacking creatures away without having to kill them (and thus saving precious ammunition), as a few well placed shots will send certain types fleeing towards the hills.

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is an excellent game in an unusual position. While it is somewhat marred by the fact that it is incomplete in places and buggy in many others, it is also very much enhanced by the fact. The state that the game is in works astonishingly well with the themes and feel of the game. Stalker is an absolute gem if you can tolerate the slightly dysfunctional state that it is in, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
    read comments (1) read comments - add a comment Add comment
    [March 5, 2008 11:41:49 PM]

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a first-person shooter blended with a healthy dose of traditional role playing game elements, such as inventory management, small-scale objective based gameplay, and complex interactions with non-player characters. The gameplay ends up heavily focused on ammunition and inventory management, with the player challenged to avoid taking so much as to weigh them down significantly but enough so to be prepared for a majority of challenges ahead. The game is set in a alternate-reality version of Chernobyl and its surrounding areas, and the expansive environment plays a very important role in the game, both in terms of narration, combat, and movement. Players in the game are set upon a main mission-line which pushes them through the game world, supplemented with side-missions that the player can complete at their own choosing. Missions usually require killing certain NPCs, retrieving certain items, or defending certain areas from assaults.


    The gameplay of Stalker follows a precedent set by the very beginning of the game. The rough translations from Russian to English (and complete lack of translations in some non-vital areas), the way the other characters immediately treat you as a means to their own ends, and even the starting tutorial (in which at one point the person explaining the player's PDA cuts the tutorial short, commenting that "it's all very simple, I'm sure you can figure it out") all contribute to a feeling that the game is neither going to hold your hand nor limit you in many ways. The game thus far has maintained this feel, with the interactions with the NPCs open and free, and the player allowed to approach missions in a variety of manners.

    The game is intensely atmospheric, with the player being drawn into the game world easily. The grittiness of every aspect of the game helps facilitate this, with a constant film grain effect over the player's view, excellent use of color tone and temperature, solid sound effects, and every object in the world being in extreme states of disrepair and decay. A constant level of detail is maintained both in interior and exterior environments, something that is not usually seen in games that span both areas and which helps contribute to the believability of the world.

    Stalker starts by throwing the player right into the wilderness, literally handing them a pistol and telling them to go clear out a camp of bandits. The combat involves a good amount of bullet spamming at this point, with all of the starting weapons very inaccurate. The human AI is competent and at times lethal, with NPCs using cover in an effective manner, flanking the player, working as a team, and generally being much more intelligent than you would expect at first. The monster AI shows no lack of depth, either, with fighting between creatures over territory and food, weaving movement when assaulting the player, and startlingly effective pack behavior that genuinely puts you in danger.

    The game is fun and has moved quickly so far, and promises to expand a great amount. I look forward to exploring more complex AI interactions and seeing the path the combat takes as the game progresses.
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    dumpster_fox's S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 4 March, 2008

    GameLog closed on: Wednesday 12 March, 2008

    dumpster_fox's opinion and rating for this game

    An absolute gem of a game, provided you can get past the bugs.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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    More GameLogs
    other GameLogs for this Game
    1 : S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) by davidTaylor (rating: 5)
    2 : S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC) by dkirschner (rating: 3)


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