An epic trip into a disturbing wasteland
Bleak, shocking, terrifying, empty, compelling, tough. These are just a few words I scribbled down after my first couple of hours with the latest instalment of the STALKER franchise, and I feel they sum up my experience perfectly.
STALKER: Call of Pripyat (for those not in the know) is the third part of GSC Gameworld īs collection of FPS tales about the wasteland zones surrounding the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986. The fallout of the explosion and subsequent radiation of the district has lead to the creation a contained society, inhabited by fortune hunters, mutants, warring factions and all manner of crazy things. In CoP, the government has decided to reclaim the area, and you have been sent in to discover the fate of an advance party of helicopters. Alone.
Firstly, I have to say that CoP really doesn’t look all that great. The first game was no stunner, and although there have been a few tweaks to the engine (including DX11 support), we are still dealing with 4 year old tech, and it really shows. Models are blocky, textures are sometimes low-res, and the effects to try to hide the rough edges donīt really succeed. The sound is also quite hit-and-miss, with great sound effects and ambience ruined by bad voiceover work.
The great news, however, is that all of the previous games bugs are gone. My entire 20 hours were glitch and bug free, and due to the lower tech demands, the entire game ran unbelievably smoothly.
CoP is extremely unforgiving, especially to new players. I am a fan of both prequels, and I found myself dying in a variety of silly ways early on in the game, as I slowly worked out the unspoken rules of this alien world. Very little help is given from the get-go, as you are dropped into an open area with poor armour, and nearly useless weaponry, and left to get on with it. The in-game economy is tough too, as most money you earn will be used to replenish all the supplies your burned through to achieve your objectives. I can’t help but feel this will frighten off a lot of gamers, and can fully understand why this game is a PC exclusive.
This is the defining survival experience on PC, and really drops many of the pretensions at “survival”
But I believe it is truly worth sticking with. As you creep through the initial areas, performing quests given to you by the other inhabitants of the realm, slowly the realisation dawns as to how incredible this world actually is. Life goes on with or without your interaction, and you quickly learn what you can handle. Every fight is a direct life or death confrontation, as even a pair of rabid dogs can take you down if you aren’t prepared, and you learn to stay on your toes at all times.
And this is the series great secret: few games suck you in to this degree. After a couple of hours, I couldn’t put the mouse down. The visuals quickly become a secondary concern, as the atmosphere took full control. Coffee went cold and dinners were missed as I explored unmarked caves, just to see what was inside. I sided with factions, and hired mercenaries to help me explore tough areas. I even hunted down rare artefacts to exchange for more powerful weaponry and armour. And all the while, a larger story was building that I was an integral part of.
Few games offer the genuine fear that each fight could be your last, and in CoPīs case, this only serves to make every side quest, every solo trek all the more memorable. You really feel that you earn every last item you claim, and place incredible worth in simple things that you fought so hard for.
This is the game for anyone who considers themselves an FPS veteran. CoP really delivers the fully realised world we are so often promised, yet so rarely obtain in today’s softer-core gaming realms. Newcomers will be put off by the difficulty and lack of help, but I can only implore everyone to stick at it, and you will not be able to stop playing. And donīt let the bad voicework and rough looks put you off from what really is a deep and immersive experience.
Chernobyl is a really harrowing place, and the experience is only heightened by the skill with which GSC Gameworld have pieced together such a stark world. This is the defining survival experience on PC, and really drops many of the pretensions at “survival” so many titles fail to achieve. My parting advice to everyone is: save often, donīt waste your bullets or money, and prepare for an epic journey in a truly unknown world.
The Bad: Graphics really aren’t great; difficulty will put off many; no real in game tutorials