Survival games may be one of the biggest genres right now with an ever growing list and no end in sight. It's easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated by all of these mediocre choices. But what you may not know is that one of the greatest games of the genre came out over a decade ago.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a game that I have been wanting to try for awhile but because of time restraints and a general misunderstanding of the series, it hadn't happened. Now that I have finally given it the time it deserves, I can tell you that I have found a new game series to add to my favorites list.
The Stalker series has gathered quite a cult following over the years with continued mod support and hopes for the series to make a comeback. There is a good chance that these dreams will come true with the announcement by Sergiy Grygorovych, owner of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. development company, GSC Game World, that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 will be coming. This was announced back in May of 2018 and it would seem we still have a bit of a wait on our hands with the latest release date being as far out at 2021 at the time of this writing.
But I think the main question on your mind is whether or not you should take the time out of your busy gaming schedule to play this game, especially with the great Metro franchise having such a similar feel and atmosphere. I hope to help you come to a decision by the end of this review.
A glimpse into the past
It seems that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has been the source of inspiration for many games, not least of which being the previously mentioned Metro series.
Getting to see where some of my favorite games came from is always an eye-opening experience. Both to see where they have improved or where they have fallen short.
The weight of survival
What reminded me most of other games in this genre were the survival aspects. How am I going to manage my backpack space and weight. How many bandages and first aid kits should I carry? How much ammo am I going to need? What guns do I take?
I am always worried about getting myself into a position where I may need something, so I end up taking way too much of everything.
I also tend to be a little bit of a loot hoarder, so if I can make money from selling stuff, I load it up and deal with over encumbrance.
You cannot do this in S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.
You will find yourself in the middle of trying to loot a body, wondering what you can sacrifice in your pack because you have taken on to much and now you literally cannot move, then you get killed because you’re standing outside of cover and you’re looking through your inventory.
I found that the artifacts really helped me to get over this obsession of loot hoarding. They are also an important aspect of the game that I feel really sets it apart from other games of its like.
Artifacts are items found around "anomalies" throughout the world that when attached to your characters belt within your inventory, basically give you buffs and debuffs on your characters stats.
For example, you may have an artifact equipped that reduces the effects of radiation but it also gives you a higher risk of bleeding when you take damage, so you will need to equip an artifact that reduces bleeding. I found it quite fun to juggle what artifacts were worth the trouble and which ones were just good for some money.
The artifacts will range in cost and rarity, some not being much help and being quite deadly to keep a hold of, while others are quite good to keep for yourself and can really help you progress through the game.
Even the least of these artifacts will sell for a good amount of cash and don't weigh much, so there is no need to keep 15 pistols and 3 sets of armor to make some good money at the end of a task.
Kill or be killed
The world is pretty brutal, and most everything wants to kill you. Bandits, the military, anomalies, mutants - they all want you dead and they each have their own special way of doing it.
The combat was a lot of fun but it could be frustrating at times. It seemed some of my bullets practically disappeared once leaving the barrel and others acted as if they had a mind of their own and would land so wildly off target I would spend half a magazine just to make a single hit, these tended to be some longer ranged shots though.
The enemies seemed to be bound by the same rules as me so I was able to find peace with these frustrations rather quickly.
Every time I defeated an enemy, whether it was a bandit or a horrifying mutant, it felt like a small victory. Even successfully avoiding conflict felt like an accomplishment in itself. I was in a constant feeling of survival mode so every step towards my goal felt surprisingly satisfying.
The story is not what you’re coming here for, I suppose. There could be quite a lot lost in translation since English was not this game’s primary language. There is nothing wrong with this of course. If they weren't at least speaking with an accent it would just seem weird. I really quite enjoyed hearing the Russian language throughout and it really helped build the authentic feeling atmosphere.
Sure the story isn't amazing, but the world that they have built is really quite amazing, especially for the time!
The dark atmosphere is built by your surroundings. The rundown buildings, the sounds of the starving dogs or monsters, the sounds of distant gunfire and the the violence all around tend to build a better story than writing alone could do.
Is it worth your time?
Yes! I really enjoyed my time in the dark and cruel world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. The combat was hard but rewarding making it quite a lot of fun. I love a good survival game, and this has become one of my favorites to date. It holds up pretty well in most areas. The visuals can be a little lacking at times, but the game came out in 2007 after all and I felt it held up fairly well.
You should be able to get through the main story in a little over 20 hours, but there are quite a lot of side missions that I never touched that will add another 10 or more.
If you love survival horror games, and haven't played this yet, you just have to give it a try!
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
Developer: GSC Game World
Publisher: GSC Game World, THQ
Release Date: March 20, 2007
Genre: First person shooter survival horror