THQ S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

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THQ  S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl

Pros

  • Effectively eerie atmosphere, interesting storyline, believable A.I.

Cons

  • Requires a patch to run on Vista, slow loading times.

Bottom Line

S.T.A.L.K.E.R is both an enthralling and scary experience set in a uniquely eerie landscape. However, the game is shipped with bugs and it requires a lot of in-game reading which can take the fun out of gameplay.

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With the word 'stalker' tattooed on your forearm, a PDA that says 'Kill Strelok' and nothing else on your person, you awaken in a radioactive wasteland unable to remember a thing. Set in the mutated heart of Chernobyl in the Ukraine, your mission is to find out who you are and what's happening in the Zone. It's not an easy mission, fraught with all kinds of lethal dangers -- and that's just from the toxic environment. When savage beasts and viscous anomalies enter the fray, you'll wish you'd stayed in your bunker.

Meltdown

The storyline in S.T.A.L.K.E.R has been left purposely vague due to your character's amnesia. You'll need to constantly refer to your PDA and talk to inhabitants to know what's going on. Characters rarely speak English and if they do, it's with a heavy accent, while the subtitles have a broken English quality which only adds to the experience of being lost in another country. Whether you find this frustrating or not will depend on how much you like movies like Memento -- nothing is what it seems and it will be ages before you get a handle on the plot.

As the game progresses, you can choose to collect the precious artefacts that dot the landscape, find out what's going on in the Zone and get your memory back, or simply wander through Chernobyl and admire the desecrated land left by the nuclear destruction.

For an action title, there is a lot of in-game reading to be done in S.T.A.L.K.E.R, which proves to be a bit of a problem. At times, the large paragraphs of text cannot be read to completion, either due to disappearing too quickly or a sudden burst of unfriendly fire redirecting your attention.

The artificial intelligence (A.I) is very good, with team members and enemies alike moving and dodging bullets, taking cover and firing over barriers -- even the animals know when to attack to their advantage and when to flee if they can't win.

Packing Your Bags

A lot of game time, like the popular RPG Oblivion, is spent rummaging through dead bodies for food, weapons and equipment. (One clever aspect of the game is that you must choose wisely what goes in your inventory as once it weighs over 50kg you will tire easily.)

Food must be consumed whenever a symbol showing a fork and plate appears above your status, otherwise your health will decrease, leading to death. The same applies to radioactivity, where you will die if you don't have the correct clothing, medication or er, vodka (because apparently, vodka protects from radioactive poisoning).

Unfortunately, there are many bugs in S.T.A.L.K.E.R., both minor and major, and the game won't run on Windows Vista out of the box. Although there is a patch available to remedy these bugs, it will wipe your existing saved games during installation -- which we learned to our furious chagrin after completing half the game. It's therefore highly recommended that you install the patch before playing.

Loading times between saved games and levels can take from 15 seconds to one minute depending on your computer specifications. We would advise that your computer exceed the recommended minimum system requirements; otherwise you may come across many graphic and sound problems.

Visually, the game looks somewhat dated, a result, no doubt, of its extended development time. However, the battered, post-apocalyptic landscape is well depicted, and the impact of the disaster's effect is really hammered home. Helping this along are some excellent sound effects that dramatically ratchet up the tension in several places, particularly when it comes to several underground levels.

In the end, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an immense treat that offers fresh and innovative gameplay experiences. If we had to level one complaint against the title, it's the fact that it's missing that little bit of extra polish that gamers have come to expect. This issue aside, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has done an excellent job creating its own niche in the genre.

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