S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: In the Zone

I’ve been playing S.T.A.L.KE.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl these past few days. Having been playing first-person shooters for the last 12 years or so, it’s hard to get me excited about any of the new titles that come out lately. It’s not that I don’t have fun playing them—I usually do—but they all stick to the same tried and true cliches. Some throw in a handful of RPG elements to spice things up, but that’s not exactly new or exciting anymore. Really, aside from Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One, I can’t think of a single FPS that’s really wowed me these past few years. Except for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

Now, let’s get one thing straight. This game is buggy. It’s buggy, it’s rough around the edges, it’s hard, it’s confusing, and it can be quite frustrating at times. But even with those shortcomings, the game is completely unique and I just can’t stop playing it. Calling it a first-person shooter is really a misnomer. Sure, it’s played from a first-person perspective and you usually shoot things, but at its heart, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a survival horror game. The goal isn’t to save the planet, to defeat an all-powerful foe, or to achieve some unsurmountable task—your true goal is to make it out of the Zone alive. And despite generally not being particularly frightening, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. establishes a sophisticated, uneasy atmosphere that can occasionally, just at the right time, scare you out of your wits.

Let’s say you go off on a mission at dawn, out to retrieve plans for an unnamed device. The sun is peeking through the dense cloud cover, and the game feels like a post-apocalyptic version of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. You find your way down into a seemingly abandoned underground installation. There, the oppressive atmosphere feels right out a Silent Hill game. Delve deeper yet, and shooting your way among hideous, mutated creatures in near-pitch blackness with nought but your flashlight to find your way might make you think you’re playing a creepier version of Doom 3. Escape out into a derelict train yard with only half a magazine left for your AK-47. It’s now late in the afternoon, and you’re playing Half-Life 2.

What the game lacks in spit and polish, it more than makes up for with its atmosphere alone. Its gameplay combines some of the best elements of a number of previous titles, but it manages to stay completely unique in its own way. Everything just feels, well, real. Sound effects, from wind to rustling leaves to the clacking sounds of AK-47s is spot-on. AI enemies don’t mindlessly throw themselves at you: they take cover, attempt to surround you, and even retreat if things get too hot. If you shoot at an enemy with a silenced weapon from a hiding spot a few meters away, he’ll yell and fire randomly in the air. If you’re being chased by a pack of mutated dogs, killing a couple of them or even firing your gun will scare them off. Unlike most first-person shooters out there, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. doesn’t always count on extensive suspension of disbelief to make players feel immersed.

The game’s graphics are a treat, too. Its graphics engine sports all the latest goodies, including dynamic lighting and shading both in- and outdoors, parallax mapping, night and day cycles, fully modeled vegetation, and all kinds of fancy effects. It also makes the most discreet—and realistic—use of high-dynamic range lighting with dynamic exposure adjustments I’ve seen in a game yet. As one would expect, the game doesn’t always run all that well, and some areas are definitely a little on the choppy side on my main system. It is generally smooth enough, though, and the graphics quality really adds to the realism and atmosphere.

Of course, as much as I may love it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a bittersweet experience. Parts of it border on perfection, while others feel broken and can destroy the immersion completely. The game isn’t very well translated into English, and really, it probably needs a couple of extra patches before one can play it without running into any snags. Still, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is special in that, despite the brokenness and lack of polish, it remains unique and makes me want to keep playing—even though I’ve already completed it once. Really, if I could only buy one game this spring, I would still buy this one. It’s just too unique to pass up.

Comments closed
    • skullz
    • 12 years ago

    Still playing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. since its release. Nice update to fix some bug issues. Hopefully they plan to release a big update or an expansion soon.

    • Vrock
    • 12 years ago

    I was initially frustrated with this game, especially with the completely ineffective weapons you start off with….but after sticking it out and getting some better weapons, the game is much more enjoyable. Once or twice I have jumped straight out of my chair in suprise. The atmosphere is great and the AI isn’t half bad, either. It’s easily the best FPS I’ve played in a while.

    The dynamic lighting is a pig on my 7800GT, though. Turning it off makes this game run nice and smooth.

    • moshpit
    • 12 years ago

    And alongside Faiakes most excellent mod, you can ease up the difficulty with some nice X46 battlearmor to absorb some of those incoming rounds with 😀

    §[< http://stalker.filefront.com/file/X46_Advanced_Battlearmor;77983<]§ Nice to see ya here, Faiakes. Always cool to see my fellow Stalkerfiles modders on the hardware sites.

      • Faiakes
      • 12 years ago

      Aloha fellow STALKER Moshpit

      Hey, you gave to have the hardware to be able to reboot quickkly enough from all those failed mod attempts!

    • Faiakes
    • 13 years ago

    y[http://stalker.filefront.com/file/Faiakes_Mod;78009<]§]*

    • MarkedMike
    • 13 years ago

    Please, stop whining that this game makes you think and plan.
    The reason this game cannot be classified as a straight FPS is simple: it does not follow the standard format of 1) Clear an area of enemies, 2)Collect goodies, and 3)Never return.
    Here’s a few responses to the complaints I’ve seen:
    -Best thing you can do: save often. If you have the time to play for 2 hours straight, then you have the time to hit the quicksave button.
    -If you watch your HUD, it will tell you how many other stalkers/soldiers are in the area. A brilliant idea would be to not rummage around the dead bodies until you have eliminated the opposition.
    -Food is never a problem. Every other guy you take out has a snack on him, don’t wait for the food icon to pop up and eat every once in a while.
    -Radiation is easy to deal with as well, find a damn artifact that disperses it (Fireball, Urchin, Thorn), listen for the geiger-counter noise, and carry some antiradiation meds. (Save the scientist in the train yard for an eco-suit!)
    -Weight isn’t an issue either. Find a lock box and stash what you don’t need. Do you need to carry 4 rifles, 50 medkits and 1000 rounds? I usually pick one next to a trader since I know I will be back. You only really need to carry an assault rifle with a scope. All other weapons can come in handy on occasion but are usually dead weight.
    -Also, try switching from full auto to semi-auto with your rifle. The added accuracy and conservation of ammo is much better than low accuracy and an empty clip.
    -As mentioned before, go find some artifacts. Just exploring usually nets you extra ammo and supplies, and if there are anamolies nearby then there are artifacts, which you can at the very least sell for some cash to buy weapons/ammo/medkits. The scientists at Yantar pay the most.
    Maybe I should write a guide, but with a little planning and extra effort (GASP!) this game is not that hard and pretty rewarding to play.

      • Faiakes
      • 12 years ago

      Some very sensible advice there, I concur.

    • skullz
    • 13 years ago

    I would have to agree. I played it now since its release on the 20th of March, and i really had a tough time trying to find a copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R in my home town, but managed to snag one. It really needs a little fine tuning, but i think after that, it will be smooth sailing from that point. If you have not purchased this game yet, I would highly recommend it.

    • clone
    • 13 years ago

    I was so excited when this game came out I made the mistake of assuming/hoping it would have a full co-op campaign mirroring the single player.

    it doesen’t have this and while the game is unique I just don’t care about it.

    it’s not a reaction per-se but I’m not sure I’ll be buying anymore games until someone figures out how incredibly fun and value adding co-op campaigns really are.

    Stalker is unique to many or some depending but to me it’s just another FPS that missed a chance at being amazing.

    if any patch for the game could be released I believe one implementing a single player co-op campaign for 2-4 ppl would be incredible.

      • jroyv
      • 13 years ago

      I thought the original concept of this game was as a co-op game… I am there with you. I have so little time to play computer games these days that when I do it is usually when I get together with a group of friends. I wish there was a site geared specifically to finding and reviewing good co-op games.

        • Pettytheft
        • 13 years ago

        Buy an Xbox.

    • FubbHead
    • 13 years ago

    The only bad thing I can say about this game (even though the bugs can be an annoyance, I’ll let them pass) is that I’d much rather have it in 3rd person (Resident Evil:ish, but more action oriented obviously).

    But oh well…

    • DASQ
    • 13 years ago

    … Survival horror?

    You’re kidding me right? Survival definitely. Horror? Where? S.T.A.L.K.E.R in it’s entirety has as much ‘horror’ as about an hour of any Resident Evil game. Or half an hour of Clock Tower (if anyone actually played those games). By ‘not particularly frightening’ I assume you mean not at all.

    It IS a shooter. A post-apocalyptic styled shooter. Does the whole ‘first person shooter’ concept just seem too vague? Does the lack of any viewpoint other than first person somehow add credibility to it NOT being a first person shooter? And how do you possibly compare Stalker to Oblivion?

    Might as well call Doom II a puzzle game.

      • toxent
      • 13 years ago

      y[

    • nstuff
    • 13 years ago

    Am I missing something regarding saving? In Oblivion, there were auto-saves throughout the game and you had the option of setting a manual save when you wanted. In STALKER, i just lost about 2 hours worth of gameplay assuming there would be some form of auto-save. I guess i now need to make sure i save every few minutes?

      • Cyril
      • 13 years ago

      The game auto-saves every time you load a new area. Otherwise you can just quick save.

    • herothezero
    • 13 years ago

    q[

    • indeego
    • 13 years ago

    I just started playing fear a few weeks ago and I thought given the reviews it would be fun. God is it dull. I keep trudging through it though, 10 minutes at a time before I decide I’ve had enough, in the hopes the ninjas later on will bring some variety.

    I can’t stand unreliability in games. I will avoid this game like the plague until it’s patched and stays patched for a yearg{<.<}g

    • herothezero
    • 13 years ago

    q[<'d complete a area and want to move to the next but then I'd get stalled having to deal with weight, radiation, hunger, health and inventory.<]q The realism is what makes it cool and different from all the other formulaic shooters out there. I'm only a few hours into it, but I'm loving it so far, bugs and all. I'm having some texture flashing issues (Nvidia card under Vista) but other than the oddly dubbed audio on occasion, I've not run into any showstoppers yet. The feel is just great. I'm glad this was worth the wait.

    • toxent
    • 13 years ago

    Cyril, i must say, that i agree with you totally.

    I have been playing this game exclusively (even at the expense of CS:S and BF2, and CnC3 which i just got as well) since i got it. Just walking around in the game can send a shiver down my spine sometimes (in the right places).

    It’s nice to see that someone else is enjoying it as much as i am.

    • gratuitous
    • 13 years ago
      • Flying Fox
      • 13 years ago

      q[

        • Cyril
        • 13 years ago

        y[

          • gratuitous
          • 13 years ago
            • Cyril
            • 13 years ago

            q[

            • danny e.
            • 13 years ago

            smoking pot is bad for you.

            • morphine
            • 13 years ago

            I wonder what kind of report, then, would NOT be bought by a company. Maybe only the ones that take something and only say bad things about it?

            And then you, in costumary fashion, deleted your post. That was perfectly childish. Hey, how about this angle? I hereby claim that you’re a shill from [insert hardware site here] paid to come here, pick a post, and trash-talk it. There, sound better? Oh wait, it sounds retarded. Pot, kettle, black.

            • Flying Fox
            • 13 years ago

            Damn, I missed all the fun. Good thing Cyril saved it. 🙂

      • flip-mode
      • 13 years ago

      Deleting posts = lame cowardice. Get a pair. I’m embarrassed for you.

        • willyolio
        • 13 years ago

        is there a single post this guy has made that he hasn’t deleted?

          • Flying Fox
          • 13 years ago

          There are still some in the forums. However I’m afraid if they are pointed out they would be edited out as well. So sheeesssh… =)

      • Jigar
      • 13 years ago

      o[< What the F$$k is your problem you moron <]o

    • Pettytheft
    • 13 years ago

    For the first couple of hours of STALKER I was in love with the game. I was completely drawn in by the atmosphere. The game can definitely be creepy at times. As I progressed some things started to annoy me. It wasn’t even the bugs, I would wrap up a firefight and as I’m going through the bodies scraping for ammo I would get attacked by respawns. The inventory system can be a pain. Picking up rifles just to unload them for ammo gets tedious. Then there is the weight issues. Not only do I have to manually scrape for ammo I have to drop stuff from my inventory repeatedly so I dont get overloaded. Then there are times when I feel like I’m playing CS. Sometimes a guy is right in front of me and I practically unload a clip into him and he doesn’t drop.

    Ultimately it’s not enough of a RPG for me to forgive those elements in a FPS. The inventory just screwed with the pacing of the game for me. I’d complete a area and want to move to the next but then I’d get stalled having to deal with weight, radiation, hunger, health and inventory. I’m sure someone else will mod this to make it more enjoyable for people like myself. I’ll be skipping it until this happens.

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