S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat Review for PC

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat Review for PC

Enter the Zone, Again

GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is a mixed-bag of emotions for gamers. On one hand, the atmosphere and setting are, without a doubt, some of the best designed for a first-person shooter. With that said, the series is also notorious for being extremely buggy or and incomplete, requiring modders to step in to fill the holes. With two games already finished, GSC Game World looks to Call of Pripyat to help bring the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series to a successful close.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat screenshot

Call of Pripyat takes place after the events of Shadow of Chernobyl in the surrounding area of Pripyat; the city closest to the disaster area, which is a nice change as both of the first two games took place in roughly the same areas. You play as a member of the military sent into the Zone on a mission to investigate a few military helicopters that crashed there while on a mission. You are given a weapon, basic armor, some food, and then you’re on your own.

The first thing fans of the series will notice is that Call of Pripyat is arguably the most stable of the three. Unfortunately, it still has its quirks. Running the game on Windows 7, I can say that I suffered no crashing issues at all. Instead, I did notice stuttering during loading, particularly when jumping ahead in time to the beginning of a mission.

Visually, the game is pretty much the same as the previous two. Players can expect ravaged, radiation-filled environments crawling with mutants and enemies. Some details, however, were scaled back to increase performance. For example, vegetation details on distant hills don’t appear until you move much closer to them. The downside to this sacrifice is that distant ground is bare, smoothed over, and solid-colored. One of the biggest reasons for the performance tweaks is the larger maps that are featured in Call of Pripyat. The days of the Zone being divided into smaller maps that require loading between them are over. In the end, however, the environments aren’t really anything you haven’t seen already from the first two titles. Although, the city of Pripyat is probably the most interesting of places to scavenge.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat screenshot

Call of Pripyat does run on the same engine as the other titles as well, which is starting to show its age compared to FPS games being released this year. And, along with the engine comes the touchy controls and shooter gameplay. Furthermore, Call of Pripyat seems to have the same AI problems its predecessors had. For example, when attempting to sneak up on enemies during the black of night, they become alerted to your presence despite remaining out of sight and being completely quiet. At one point, while sneaking up on some mercenaries, I shot a mercenary in the back of the head with a silenced assault rifle. Immediately after he died, all of the mercenaries in the building were alerted to my presence and began to move toward my position. Interestingly, this doesn’t seem to occur in every instance, but it can be a frustrating experience when trying to remain stealthy.

Combat aside, the game also has a few new features based on community feedback. For example, a new sleeping feature was added that allows players to skip ahead to certain times of the day. Therefore, if you prefer making an attack attempt at night, but it is midday, you don’t have to wander around wasting time. One problem with this system, however, is that some missions are time sensitive, and if you happen to sleep through one, it will fail, which can be permanent.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat screenshot

Another new feature in Call of Pripyat is GSC’s “A-Life” system, which simulates real-life needs for your character. For example, getting hungry will have negative effects on your character, so having food on you for those longer excursions into the Zone is a crucial habit to learn. Moreover, your character will develop hunger if you sleep for long periods of time, even if you didn’t need food when first going to sleep. The system is a nice addition because it makes the food items worth collecting and using.

The game also features the addition of scripted events, something that wasn’t really in the previous two titles. While the change makes for a more cinematic experience when uncovering the main plot, it doesn’t really take away from the sheer unpredictability of events that can still occur, as there are plenty. So, Call of Pripyat attempts to offer both types of storytelling mechanics and does so fairly well. In a good move, GSC also included a free play mode that allows players to explore the Zone even after they’ve finished the game, providing a more open-world experience and removing the semi-linear style of gameplay that was featured in the end of the first two games.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat screenshot

Aside from the single-player, Call of Pripyat does feature a multiplayer mode. However, very much like Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Sky, the multiplayer feels very rushed and tacked on. The addition of GameSpy provides features such as statistic tracking, which is a nice touch, but it doesn’t make up for the lack of polish and direction. The multiplayer also features the basic FPS gametypes most gamers have seen before, which seems like a disconnect given how the series’ single-player gameplay isn’t simply about two sides killing each other. Why Call of Pripyat features no co-op gameplay at all is also a decent question, as running about the Zone with friends, scavenging abandoned buildings, and raiding mercenary strongholds together would be a fun experience. Essentially, if you are looking for a new FPS multiplayer game to play, Call of Pripyat is not what you’re looking for.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest disadvantages that Call of Pripyat has is its placement in the series. Being the third installment in a series which finds its strength in the lore, gameplay, and immersion, is a difficult place to be. Veterans of the series have already seen and experienced a lot of what the Zone has to offer in its current form, causing them to see Call of Pripyat through “been there done that” glasses. Of course, newcomers to the series will be lost immediately, as the game makes the assumption you know the basics about the Zone already. There is an obvious attempt to deliver an experience that is unlike those of the first two games, but with a less interesting plot than in Shadow of Chernobyl and less action than in Clear Sky, it is difficult to say that Call of Pripyat is successful in delivering said new experience.

Call of Pripyat is a decent conclusion to an extremely underrated series of FPS games. Despite its aging engine, inconsistent AI, and “more of the same” experience, the game is a solid improvement on the first two titles, especially in the technical performance department. By including what fans loved about the first two titles, while simultaneously removing the features that were disliked, GSC managed to deliver something that veterans will appreciate greatly. And, with the help of the already solid modding community, Call of Pripyat has a great deal of gameplay potential yet to be realized.

While it is almost definitely a must-buy for fans of the series, the engaging and dark atmosphere we’ve seen before seems less interesting and less enthralling the third time through. However, newcomers will probably find Call of Pripyat to be a less frustrating and more stable experience, while seeing the Zone’s amazing environments with fresh eyes.

DirectX 11 support is a great addition, but the aging engine can only do so much. 2.5 Control
Frustrating and overly complicated controls can be a bit of an annoyance at times. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music helps establish the dark mood very well, while the sound effects can seem a bit repetitive. English voice over work is extremely poor and cheesy. 4.0 Play Value
Great S.T.A.L.K.E.R., FPS survival gameplay is here again, despite a totally sterile multiplayer. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.

Game Features:

  • Photorealistic Exclusion Zone – Pripyat town, Yanov railway station, Jupiter factory, Kopachi village, and more, recreated by their true-to-life prototypes.
  • New A-Life System – Created using the players’ best-liked elements of the first two games in series.
  • Freeplay Mode – Possibility to continue the game after completion in a freeplay mode.
  • Constantly Changing Environment – Emissions considerably influence the world of the Zone.

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