Review by gravionGR
"S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat delivers readily in spooky atmosphere and survival gameplay."
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
If you're not familiar with the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, I'll give a brief overview before we dive in to the review.
This game centers around a central character(you), and your life and adventures in "The Zone". The Zone is the restricted area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, which is a real place and full of real dangers.
Life as a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is both dangerous, and rewarding. Since there is little law in this zone, most outcasts from society flee to this word within a world to escape justice, or to start life anew.
The Zone is also populated with mercenaries, hired by wealthy individuals who want The Zone's secrets for themselves. Some Stalkers are opportunists, trying to make some quick cash by hunting down rare items with unique properties called artifacts.
So it is in to this world you are thrust. You are Major Degtyarev . A commando from the Russian army, sent in to The Zone to discover what happened to a team of helicopters dispatched to The Zone to investigate. Something happened and all of the helicopters crashed, and now you are the one with the burden to discover why.
Let's start with the graphics. The Stalker games are built using the X -ray engine, which is a little dated by today's standards. But as any fan will tell you, if you use the right mods, the game can still look stunning. This game is no different.
Out of the box, the game has a beautifully eerie and post apocalyptic feel to it. If you have the machine to absolutely crank everything to the max, it looks pretty good. You'll want to use DX10 or DX11 to get the most impressive visuals. No mods are required to have a nice looking game, but there exist a host of them to improve the game even further.
The landscape looks desolate and bleak, in a good way. There's always something interesting to look at, whether it be the excellent sky and weather effects, to abandoned buildings, giant construction machines, or the twisted landscape of an anomaly.
The terrain and weather effects are truly marvelous. From cloudy overcast days, to beautiful sunrises and sunsets, casting sunshafts as you observe their serenity. To terrifying nuclear blowouts known as emissions. The thunder and lightning storms are very foreboding, and at the same time oddly wonderful to watch, being caught out during a night raid in a downpouring lightning storm on the open plain is a very terse and exciting situation.
The mutants in this game are much improved, in both visuals and A.I. They look like creatures you wouldn't want to mess with if you weren't a trained military officer with a mission to accomplish. Terrible dual headed chimeras roam the wastes, ready to maul you to shreds with their incredible celerity. Bloodsuckers cloak and flank you, trying to smash the back of your skull in, and suck your vital lifeblood from your very veins.
Other human characters are impressive, although their mouths do not synch up to their speech very well at all, which is an oversight we can live with, considering the rest of the game.
It boasts a pretty realistic look if you crank it all up, and they definitely have their own charm. The graphics take some getting used to, especially coming off of some more recent games, but do not be discouraged, if you have the hardware for it, this game can most assuredly look very good.
This game plays kind of like a hybrid between FPS and RPG gameplay. There is no level up system, but you roam around a non-linear game environment split up into 3 distinct areas. You can talk to anyone you wish, and some of them will have quests or tasks that they need accomplished. You can accept their quest and off you go. Sometimes you will have control over the outcome, perhaps you will retrieve a box full of goods someone commissioned you for, but instead of sharing the loot with him, maybe you'll keep it all for yourself.
Gunplay is a bit unique in these games, and if you're coming fresh off of arcade style shooters, the slower deliberate pace of this game may catch you off guard. The mechanics are a bit more realistic and physics based than a lot of games. You will need to find or purchase more powerful and accurate guns. Which is another nuance of RPG like progression, as you acquire better weapons you start to feel more powerful.
And as you acquire better weapons, you can also upgrade all of them from technicians found in some places througout The Zone. You can improve things like magazine capacity, allow scopes or silencers to be added, bullet flatness, handling, and fire rate, among other things. Most weapons have branching paths, you can't choose one upgrade if you choose the other, which adds an element of choice and uniqueness to your weapon loadout. The same goes for the armor you find, which can be upgraded with things like nightvision, carrying capacity, or more containers for artifacts, which I'll go over now.
Artifacts are a central focus point on the game, they come from radioactive anomalies, created by emissions from the Chernobyl plant. To obtain their powerful abilities, you must first seek them out, which is a dangerous task in and of itself.
To aquire an artifact, you must equip your scanner, if there is an artifact nearby, your scanner will beep. Depending on your scanner, the more high-tech it is, the more information it will give you. Some scanners detect artifacts more easily, and only the high-end models will detect the most powerful artifacts.
You'll have to brave intense heat, streams of fire, strong radiation, concentration of dangerous chemicals, and powerful electric discharges, and those are just a few of the dangers. If you survive, you'll be rewarded with an artifact. These are a major source of money, and increase your characters abilities.
Occasionally, there will be a nuclear blowout from the plant. You usually get a slight warning via announcement about an emission being ready to hit. You need to take shelter during an emission, or else risk being fried from radioactive fallout. Emissions are unpredictable, and this can sometimes be a frantic ordeal for survival.
You might be in the middle of a firefight with some mutants and get an emission warning, if you're carrying too much in your pack, you will be torn between finishing off the mutants, or fleeing for cover and risk being mauled to death.
The emissions further add to the atmosphere of this game, and all of the gameplay elements tie in together to create a unique experience not found in many games. Free-roam non-linear gameplay, artifact hunting, mutant hunting, fighting with other humans and zombies, dynamic weather and lighting, weapon and armor upgrading, side quests, and a host of other things make this game stand out from the crowd.
You'll have to manage your food, anti-radiation medicine, and drugs, your munitions such as weapon and ammo, and medical supplies like medkits and bandages. You need to carry what you need for survival, while trying to keep weight low for mobility, and keeping room for scavenged equipment and artifacts, so you can sell it to traders, to earn an income to upgrade and acquire better weaponry and armor.
Sound in the Stalker games has always been a strong suit in my opinion. From Russian speaking NPC's, to the guitars they strum around the campfires, to the distant gunfire of another Stalker struggling against the same dangers you face, to the menacing growl of mutants right around the corner, to the eerie howl of pseudodogs.
Emissions and lightning storms out in the field sound spooky and terrifying. And the safe havens of Yanov and Skadovsk sound warm and inviting.
Guns and gunfire sound powerful and varied. Blowing wind, the beeping of your geiger counter warning you of radiation, anomolies discharging electric energy, or a Burer trying to crush you with psychic energy.
They all blend together to build the unique experience that is traversing The Zone.
Sound is actually another major gameplay element, all of your actions create sound, from walking along dirt, to splashing through water, to reloading your gun. It's all kept track on a sound meter on your HUD, and if you make too much noise, you will alert enemies to your presence if you're trying to be stealthy. Sometimes it's better to walk around that bush, than to go through it and shake the branches for a huge spike in noise.
Overall this game is pretty polished. Throughout my entire playthrough, I did not crash once on a Vista 64bit machine. Bugs are very few but they do exist. Once I encountered a game-breaking glitch, where a certain NPC would not move anymore, and he needed to move to progress the plot. A simple reload of a save to about 10 minutes prior resolved the issue. I also saw a graphical glitch, in which an NPC that was sitting, suddenly started sinking in to the furniture he was sitting on.
These bugs are very few, and considering the amount of time I invested with only seeing a couple of issues, and frequent saving, they caused me very little problem.
The story and campaign wrap up nicely at the end, and you will see how your actions have affected the outcome.
Replayability is high, and there exists already a mod community who wish to further expand and change how you play and enjoy this game. Although I recommend to play through once at least with no mods, if only for the fact that you can appreciate the changes that are good, or notice changes that are bad or don't suit your tastes.
For the price that this game comes brand new, it's hard not to recommend the game, to previous fans that enjoyed Shadow of Chernobyl, or Clear Sky, or to brand new newcomers to the series.
As long as you realize what it is you're getting in to, and approach the game with the right mindset, there is a vast amount of fun to be had with this game, and I have to heartily recommend it to people that sound interested in what this game has to offer.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 03/01/10, Updated 03/01/10
Game Release: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat (US, 02/02/10)
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