A game with many promises that falls short in nuclear proportions
The PC has always had great games surface on it without anyone really expecting it. Don’t get me wrong, they have also had game titles totally devastate the market of PC games. However, over the past several months, it seems that developers of PC games have made no mistakes.
Constantly re-imagining the capabilities of the PC game, developers continuously remind us why PC games sometimes have a stronger support system than consoled games. THQ in association with GSC Game World bring a new take on the FPS genre and experiments a little to bring us S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. It has taken a while to finally deliver this title to gamers, but after all is said and done there is only one question to ask. Was it worth the wait?
The game takes advantage of exploring a what if scenario. A second nuclear disaster has occurred at Chernobyl, and shortly thereafter, significant strange changes have begun. The story begins as you watch your soon to be controlled character fall off the back of a death truck just on the outskirts of The Zone. The Zone is comprised of the surrounding areas of Chernobyl, which the developer GSC knows too well, sitting on the outskirts of Chernobyl itself, that have been coated in radiation since the 1986 nuclear explosion. Your character is known only as the Marked One throughout the game and is a S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which is an illegal explorer or artifact gatherer in the Zone. You eventually meet an NPC named Sidorovich, who assists you in starting your missions and the game. There are self-contained zones that make up The Zone itself, including Cordon, the ghost town of Pripyat, and even the Chernobyl power plant, which is your ultimate goal.
Since your goals are designed for exploration and the gathering of artifacts, that is mostly what the main purpose of the missions are. GSC went that extra step to try to include the player’s needs to explore open areas of the game. Doing this strays away from the traditional FPS and is one of the ways the RPG is incorporated into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. Unfortunately, this falls flat. Most of the missions take place either underground or in buildings; the side quests are where you will really get to explore the open areas. The reason that this is a misfortune is that the side quests are not all that rewarding. Aside from the few, truly valuable artifacts you can find on the side quests, you are mostly rewarded with money or ammunition. Since you are never lacking in the money or ammo department in the main storyline of the game, the side quests become irrelevant early on. Add that to the fact that most of the time the side quests are simplistic in nature: destroy one target, obliterate a camp, or find one object, it becomes a little mundane.
Of course, much like the rare item side quests, there are a few A.I. combat missions that are entertaining, but again these happen very rarely. Equally entertaining, albeit diverting, is the online gameplay where you will find traditional gameplay modes that will offer hours of enjoyable experiences. This will appeal to some, but might actually become a little lax and boring for those that desire to complete the story first.
Another element of the RPG that was added is the gaining of experience and better weapons. This starts very early in the game, however, not in the traditional sense. Instead of leveling your character in experience, some of the weapons you find offer a +1 or better variation to your character. This too falls flat early in the main story of the game. Eventually in the game, you will encounter a zone called the Bar, which is fighting arena. Here you will be able to join one of two factions, The Duty or Freedom factions. The Duty is a military faction where it is about expending as many bullet shells as you can into your opponents. The Freedom, of course, is about achieving the levels of freedom as permitted in The Zone. Again, these missions only divert your attentions from the main story. Please note that if you do decide to join the Freedom faction, do not do any of the Duty missions: doing so negates your future involvement with the Freedom faction. The fact that the game doesn’t inform you of this is yet another downfall to the title – I had to find out the hard way.
The A.I. in the game is actually one of the games redeeming qualities, controlling nearly 1,000 other S.T.A.L.K.E.R.s and creatures individually. In order to experience the true beauty behind the A.I., you will have to travel back through zones you have previously been through, which most of the side quests require you to do. The reason I say this is because the first time around you might be too busy drudging through the mission in order to stop and take it all in. If you do take a moment to observe the pack of enemies you will encounter, you will see them dragging off or devouring the bodies of felled individuals. In the distance, you will hear the erupting gunfire of two enemy factions discovering one another. The real joy of watching the A.I. comes when a pack of dog like creatures attack you and you unload your weapon on them, only to watch the surviving ones limp and whimper away from your massive weapon- truly entertaining.