Friday, April 13, 2007

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow Of Chernobyl for the PC was developed by GSC Game World and published by THQ.

After much wait and tons of speculation and hype, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has finally hit the market. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was originally slated to be released a year or two ago, but do to the nature of the game the developers ran into difficulty. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was made with the intent of fusing the FPS and RPG genres into one game. So whats the big deal? Its been done before with Deus Ex and the Morrorwind Series (minus the guns). The difference? A-Life (I'll get into that later). STALKER is a great game that does a terrific job of combining and FPS with and RPG. At times it may have its flaws, but at its heart it is an excellent game that could help change the FPS genre.

  • I don't want to get much into the story in STALKER, but basically you are "The Marked One". A truck that you're riding in wrecks and you wind up in an area called "The Zone". The Zone is around an old nuclear plant that fell out. You suffer from memory loss due to the crash, and the only thing you know is that you were sent to kill someone. In hopes to find out more about yourself you continue this mission, but to do so you have to do things for others to make money and earn their trust/respect. While this sounds simple enough... well its not. The story is a bit hard to follow. When you talk to people, much of the speech has to be read due to a lack of voice acting. This approach, while effective, can be rather dull. Sometimes I just don't feel like reading paragraphs of text, especially not when things are happening around me. This one time i met some guy to find out more about the person I was supposed to kill, but when i started talking to him, a pack of wild dogs attacked, so I didn't get to read the info. When we fended the attack off I went to talk to him again, only to find that was a one time thing... so wtf do i do now?
  • Pros: The story is interesting, though definitely not the game's strong point. The RPG type of story is a welcome change to the normal FPS type (Aliens are attacking... save earth). Its also nice that, even though there was a main mission, the story wasn't really linear. There are many side quests to partake in, and the map is free roaming (if you can survive). The game is also long for a FPS. I'm guessing its well over 10 hours of gameplay. There are also 14 different endings (I believe), which is kinda cool if you think about it.
  • Cons: The lack of voice acting was a bit annoying at times, though definitely forgivable.

User Interface/Environment:
  • First I'm going to start with the user interface, the main menu and load screen to be exact. Now, these two things usually are pretty unimportant, but the ones in STALKER are definitely worth a mention. The main menu is surprisingly impressive. A lot of games are either content with just having a basic menu with no "flair" (if you will) or being overly complicated. STALKER's menu however is just right. It's simple, yet interesting. It's hard to make it sound exciting, but take my word for it. The load screen is also visually pleasing. This is important, because when you're waiting for something to load, you're pretty much wasting time, so the least developers can do is make it somewhat pleasing. The in game user interface (i.e. inventory) is what you would expect from a RPG. You have a slots to put your armor and weapons, and you have a weight limit, which affects your stamina. This system works well. Unlike most FPS's you can't carry every weapon you come across, because if you do, you'll be walking the whole game, which sucks if you have a pack of 10 wild dogs chasing you. You'll need to decide what kind of weapons you want to use and what ammo these weapons take. There are also other pickups that are available in the inventory such as med kits, bandages, food, vodka ^_^. The are you are in is called "The Zone". The zone is one massive world, that is pretty much free to roam if you choose. The zone is separated in sections which when crossed initiate a loading screen. While this isn't ideal, its understandable.

  • Pros: Large free roaming world with a good variety of scenery. Anything from lightly forested to industrial. Changing time of day (It gets dark at night). Weather patterns. Intuitive inventory system. Beautiful menus and a nice load screen.
  • Cons: The only con is sometimes the inventory can be buggy, but only kinda. If you right click on an item it brings up a menu that allows you to do something with an object (i.e. use it or drop it). Sometimes, however you have to do this more than once to get a response.

  • STALKER was slated to come out a few years back, and it shows a bit in the graphics. There is nothing really revolutionary about them. They're probably on par with the graphics in Half-Life 2, maybe slightly less pretty. Don't get me wrong, they're by no means ugly. They just lack that extra polish. Due to the fact that I can't play the game with dynamic lighting (curse my aging rig) I can't accurately comment on how good the graphics can be with lighting effects, but I have everything else maxed, so it can't that big of a difference. The amount of viewable scenery is amazing. Unlike a lot of FPS you can see much more than just down a corridor or across a room. This has to take away from the detail of everything due to a lack of horsepower in many computers (such an mine). Character models and geometry are smooth and their animations are decent. There aren't many decals. When you shoot something you might get some smoke and MAYBE a mark, but rarely. I'm not sure if there is blood splatter, because I haven't done much close quarter fighting yet, but I don't think there is. Body parts don't come off either : ( which isn't present in a lot of games, but would have been a nice addition (I guess this was due to software limitations). Hopefully with the coming of DX10 we'll see this become more common.
  • Pros: Excellent view distance. Decent models and texturing.
  • Cons: Few decals. Graphics overall are a bit dated. No blood or body parts.

Everything Else:
  • The system requirements for this game baffled me at first. When i read them I was like... So can I play this or not. The minimum requirements were like Pentium 4 2 ghz or AMD Equivalent with a Radeon 9600 and 512 Mb of ram. The recommended, however was a Core 2 Duo 6400 with a Radeon x1850 and 1 Gig of ram. This is a pretty big difference. I'm not sure why the recommended requirements are so high, but with my Athlon xp 3200 1.5 gigs of ram and 7600gs I can play with all setting maxed except the lighting (I have to use static lighting or my frame rate drops like whoa) at 1240 x 1080 res. and i get a pretty solid 60 frames/second. So if you have an older system and are wondering whether you can run this game, and if so will it look like ass.. don't worry. Most likely you'll be able to run it nicely with a decent visual experience.
  • The AI in this game is one of the main features. STALKER has what they call A-life. Unlike many RPGs and FPS games where an NPC's actions are scripted, STALKER features NPC's that do their own thing. They have basic routines programmed, but they don't wait for you to act. If you sat still and did nothing, the world around you would change. For example... One mission I received was to help ward off a bandit attack on an outpost. Not a problem. I left to continue with my primary mission, only to come back a little later to find everyone in the camp dead (there were like 4 of them). This can be somewhat frustrating at times, however, because once you clear an area out, it can soon become occupied by enemies again. When you're running low on health after a tough firefight it would be nice to have somewhere to go to re-evaluate your inventory and take a breather and figure out where you have to go next. It would also be nice to have time to loot bodies, but with enemies always on the move, it can be difficult. I guess this is just part of the realism of the game, which definitely isn't a bad thing.
  • The sounds in STALKER are decent. The guns sound good and the environmental effects are nice. The sounds also help let you know where things (be they friend or foe) are. You can hear wild dogs barking in the distance, letting you know to watch out, you can hear footsteps and speech. All of this will help you get a one up on your prey (or assailants). The NPC's however also use sound to find you, so watch the amount of noise you make. Another nice touch is the random speech between other stalkers. A few times when stalkers were sitting around a barrel fire one pulled out a guitar and started playing. This definitely wasn't necessary, but it added a deeper sense of realism and immersion.
  • S.T.A.L.L.E.R. is difficult. The weapon accuracy in this game are fairly realistic. This means if you're shooting at someone a good ways away with an automatic rifle (set to semi auto of course), the chances of you actually hitting them are VERY slim. This combined with the number of enemies the game throws at you makes it hard to get through some areas. I'm at this one part where I have to get into a base with over 12 enemies outside (I don't know how many are inside), and no matter what I do I get raped. This can be both positive and negative. On one hand it forces you to refine your skills and increases your sense of accomplishment, but on the other it makes you want to break things.
  • Pros: Excellent A.I. and A-Life. Good use of sounds, which can be creepy as hell at times (especially underground). Difficulty adds a sense of accomplishment to winning.
  • Cons: Confusing system requirements. Can be a bit hard, which can cause aggression towards keyboards and monitors (its always the monitor's fault).

  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is definitely unlike any FPS I've played before. The RPG elements of the game are an excellent addition, which helps break the common linearity in most FPS games to date. At times S.T.A.L.K.E.R. can be somewhat aggravating, whether it be from too many enemies to take on at once, to sloppy inventory control. These aggravations, however are few and somewhat far between. The games A-Life really shines and increases your immersion into the game. The graphics can be a bit dated, but that was to be expected. Overall S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is worth buying, especially if you like RPGs.
  • And for the rating:
    • Overall (not and average): 8.5
      • Not the best game I've ever played, but definitely up there.
    • Graphics: 7
      • Definitely not the best. Not bad, but it looks like its a couple years old. Pretty cut scenes, however
    • Sound: 9
      • Sounds was decent and useful.
    • Gameplay: 10
      • Awesome concept. Great A-Life and A.I. controls were tight and the environment (with weather effects and night/day cycle) was superb.
    • Replayability: 9
      • 14 different ending based on choices you make in game. Would be a 10, but the game itself is so long it might discourage playing it more than 2 or 3 times.
Buy/Rent/Trash: Buy it. If you can wait, wait for the price to drop a bit, but definitely pick this one up.


Anonymous said...

Good review but, no offence mate, why are you attempting to review a game making comments like "the graphics are a bit dated" when you're using a machine that can't even handle HDR lighting? The difference it makes to the graphics is enormous.

Fetuscollector6 said...

yeah my pc is dated unfortunately

but i did see it on my friends x1950xt and I stick by my statement... they're not amazing. I'm not complaining... just FEAR looks much better.

Also thanks for reading the blog and ur comment is appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Nice review, made me want to buy the game.

However in the sentence "A lot of games are either content with just having a basic menu with no "flare" (if you will) or being overly complicated." you probably meant "flair", not "flare".

Fetuscollector6 said...

Thanks for the catch. It will be corrected shortly.

Also the game is def. worth picking up.

Anonymous said...

No wonder PC gaming is dying! A game with the latest greatest graphics gets huge review scores (all things being equal) and yet because of hardware demands sells very few copies as it will not run adequately on 99% of PC's. However it will be left with dozens of useless 95% reviews!

Then you take a game like STALKER, that has great graphics (only in PC gaming can we have a statement like 'dated but beautiful graphics' and have people take that statement seriously when it is illogical!), but just not cutting edge, meaning it will run on many more PC's and therefore help expand the gaming market, and reviewers score it down because of those 'dated but beautiful' graphics! Also they drone on about bugs when they don't even have an update reviewing system to re-review the score. So we end up with games like STALKER that will forever be seen as a 7.0/8.0 game when with the three patches and mods this game is easily now a 90%+ game! If it had the latest greatest graphics, I could not have bought it and this reviewer could not have reviewed it, and tell me how is that a good thing. It is surely a good thing that we get classic games like STALKER that DO run on average PC's to keep gamers involved with PC gaming!

I truly despair of PC gaming. We let to many great games die and we spend too much time promoting game that nobody can buy because their PC isn't powerful enough. The reviewers included!

Anonymous said...

From the guns coming up as you approach until they see you you are, to the rain lessening under trees and the AI of dogs, creatures and NPC's and the gameworld sublime beauty and scariness, this is the best FPS/RPG released in the last 5 years. Period. And I hate the game media for destroying PC gaming with it's incessant 'graphics need to be better' statements? Why do you think PC gaming is shrinking?! It's because not all of us can keep on upgrading! How anyone can say an illogical statement like 'dated but beautiful' with regards any game I do not know, but that's what they say about STALKER! I couldn't buy Bioshock as my PC won;t run it, it runs STALKER beautifully. SO what game is my 96% game and what is my 0% game. Quite obviously how can I give a score to a game I cannot buy? And how can a PC games market survive when a game like STALKER gets downscored for 'dated' graphics when in fact they are so obviously beautiful?!