Thursday 24 January, 2008
My experience in the second gameplay session was slightly less positive. Earlier in the game the weaponry was pretty much just pistols and double-barreled shotguns, as the game progressed the weapons got better and the enemies got stronger armor. The problem is the enemies seem like they can take much, much more damage than before. The reason this is an issue is that the weapons don’t seem to be increasing in power at nearly the same rate as the enemies are gaining health, for example at one point I ran up to a soldier and emptied about three-quarters of a clip into him at point blank range before he died. Now this specific example seems to be the exception rather than the rule since most enemies die quicker than that, but the enemies can still take a lot more damage then they could previously. Now obviously to the game needs to get more difficult as the game progresses, but I just don’t really like the way the enemies are getting harder. This change in the gameplay isn’t a huge deal when I’m just exploring by myself, but it made the escort mission I had to complete rather frustrating. Despite this complaint, the things I liked so much in the first gameplay session are still very much present so I’m still very much enjoying the game, just not quite as much as before.
I think that the most innovative/unique feature of STALKER is the level design and atmosphere as documented in the first entry. The gunplay is generally well executed, but the realistic(-ish) weapon dynamics can be frustrating for players (like myself) who are used to more standard first person shooter gun physics since the firearms are much less accurate than I’m used to. The lack of accuracy can make the early game a little bit frustrating since the player starts out only having access to pistols, shotguns and submachine guns, all of which are fairly inaccurate. But the player will eventually learn how to deal with the inaccuracy of the weapons so it’s hardly a deal breaker.
I really liked the world that the team behind STALKER created, but I wish it was more continuous. As it stands now the world is broken up into different areas and the player has to wait through a load screen when moving from one area to another, which can be rather annoying. Another issue with STALKER is that cash becomes pointless after awhile because the player gets so much money for completing the various missions and so they quickly end up with more money than goods worth buying. Given that pretty much everyone else in the world is just barely scraping by, it seems odd that the player-character is absolutely rolling in dough.
I generally lean towards the school of thought that one of the main appeals of the first person perspective in games is the feeling of really being in the world, and that cutscenes that leave this perspective are to generally be avoided in most situations. STALKER features two types of cutscenes that could be looked at as leaving the first person perspective. The first one is various visions the player has at various points in the game. I didn’t really take any issue with these scenes since they’re visions and as such they take place in my characters head and so they don’t kill the sense of immersion (the voice sync is a little off though). The second kind of cutscene is when the player encounters one of the large scale battles that take place in the game. When the player encounters one of these battles the camera flies over the area to give the player an idea of what’s going on where. I think that this type of cutscene was a bad idea because I generally found this cutscenes distracting and annoying (especially since they couldn’t be skipped). I can appreciate that the developers wanted to let the player know what was going on up ahead but I think that given the player has a map and a radar, they can figure out what’s going on and so it’s really not worth the loss of immersion.
One last gripe about STALKER is that there are no women at all in the entire game. This doesn’t meaningfully affect the gameplay in any way, but it seems like a very weird choice to make on the part of the developers.