Reviews// S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)

Vapour(ised) ware realised

Posted 21 Mar 2007 09:30 by
First-person shooters are a little like washing detergent. As with the move from powder to liquid to blocks of powder to sachets of liquid, developers struggle to reinvent the FPS in the hope that it will catch Joe Public's eye with some new feature that is rarely more than the Emperor's (freshly laundered) new clothes.

More than five years ago GSC Game World promise a game with a narrative that immediately piqued the interest of many FPS fans, and a richly detailed, living world populated by characters and creatures each with their own motivations. That was S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Oblivion Lost, or merely S.T.A.L.K.E.R. to its friends. Amazingly, during the lengthy creation of the game GSC has managed hold on to its publishing deal and shake off the dreaded ‘vapourware’ moniker for this post-apocalyptic shooter - and all with only one name change, dropping "Oblivion Lost" for "Shadow of Chernobyl". If you aren't familiar with the game's back-story, I'd have to ask "Where have you been?" or "What are schools teaching these days?" I don't really want to know the answers to those questions, but just so I don't leave you looking a bit daft in the corner, here's a quick catch up:

STALKER circa 2002
STALKER circa 2002
1986 - one of the reactors at the Chernobyl nuclear power station goes “Kaboom!” during a test. In an instant, workers at the Ukrainian plant and citizens in the dormitory town or Prypyat get an Incredible Hulk experience as gamma radiation bursts through the freshly ventilated reactor dome. A huge plume of highly radioactive debris peppers the area. The Soviet government sends in troops and workers to douse the flames and clean up the area; sentencing many to a slow and painful death from radiation poisoning. The Western media salivates over the disaster, with tabloids barely acknowledging the human cost and global ramifications in favour of freshly calved three-headed cows, mutant bugs and all the accoutrements of a post-war nuclear paranoia revival.

STALKER circa 2007
STALKER circa 2007
Of course, none of that came to pass, right? Not, according Stalker's alternate reality, until April 12th, 2006 - almost 20 years to the day since the first disaster - when another explosion shook the area. What had happened? Were the authorities carrying out experiments? It was impossible to say, as the area grew terribly unstable, with anomalous energy disturbances appearing at random, tearing apart any living thing that came too close. It would be another four years before expeditions could reach the Exclusion Zone in relative safety. With the official expeditions came renegade collectors - Stalkers - searching for artefacts yielding unknown power, to be sold to the highest bidder.

It's probably this story that has kept Stalker alive during it's protracted gestation. Tales of real-world mutations resulting from the disaster have equally enchanted and sickened the public, and the game capitalises on this, while serving as a reminder of the events of 1986. In all honesty, it's certainly not a new approach for an FPS; Think Half-Life, but instead of scientist dicking around with trans-dimensional expeditions, this is grounded in something much more tangible.
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