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

It's the game gamers have been holding their breath for -- but is S.T.A.L.K.E.R. up to scratch?

Let me set this straight before I start ranting. I wanted to love this game. I had been waiting with baited breath for release day for more years than is healthy.

Right. First of all. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. IS a good game. It’s fun, clever and generally enjoyable. It is also broken, frustrating and a tribute to why publishers should NEVER rush developers.

Let’s just have a run-down of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s pros and cons:

The good:

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  • Graphics: It’s no Oblivion, but it’s pretty close. Terrain, character models, day/night cycles, weapon models…all good.
  • Sound: Just brilliant. Everything fits in perfectly with the game world. Characters talk amongst themselves (albeit in Russian), play guitar and mutter to themselves. Weapons sound bang on, environmental effects give a great sense of unease.
  • Storyline: Not bad. Not bad at all. There’s no plot as such. More a collection of missions that make you go into a series of varied locations. That’s fine though. It all adds to the impression that you’re unimportant in the context of the game world. You’re just a man trying to get by.
  • Atmosphere: this might be the first FPS I’ve ever played that has atmosphere. On top of that, it’s just brilliant. Everything around you adds to your feeling of impeding doom or general unease. This is GSC’s triumph.

The bad:

  • BUGS! : Great big, honkin’, house-sized bugs. Bugs that will make you cry. Bugs that will make you throw expensive peripherals at solid objects. Bugs that will make you question why on earth publishers insist on releasing unfinished games. I feel for GSC, I really do. They’ve spent so long polishing this game, only to have THQ snatch it away and put it on the shelves when it just isn’t finished. Guards spawn in the sky, spawn behind you and shoot you in the skull, friendly AI characters are borderline suicidal. While using the map, scrolling the mousewheel up will either zoom in or zoom out, depending on what mood the game is in. If I’m paying money for a game, it should be finished. If I’m playing half a game, I want to pay half as much, thank you.
  • Difficulty: Don’t even contemplate playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on maximum difficulty. You like a challenge? Great, I do too! Like auto-loading every 4 seconds? Nope, thought not. Drop it down to medium… and it’s too easy. You just can’t win.
  • My feet are blistered: That’s because GSC decided that walking is FUN. With that in mind, they removed drivable vehicles from the game after beta testing. Now you have to walk everywhere… and the Chernobyl quarantine zone is a big place. Best get some comfy shoes.

To finish off…. Like I said, this is a good game. You will enjoy playing it. It doesn’t quite live up to its original promises, but what game does? It is also an unpolished game. It is simply unfinished. If you’re intrigued, wait a month, wait for some patches and then buy it.Note: there is now a patch available that fixes many of the game’s bugs. However, in a cunning twist, if you install it, you lose all of your saved games.