S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl
Recommended. Enebias' Seal of Approval!
That's all you need to hear. Stop wasting time, go buy it now!
Jokes aside: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is probably the best post-apocalyptic game I have ever played. In this post, I will birefly explain the reasons behind my statement.
First of all: what kind of game is SoC?
Good question: I would define it as a free-roaming FPS with deep RPG and survival horror elements.
You take the role of the "Marked One", a mysterious man who seems to be coming from the center of the Chernobyl Zone of Exclusion, found by a scout in a truck wreckage, close to death and deprived of his memories, with only two words registered on his PDA: "Kill Strelok".
Problem is, you have no idea of who that guy is, where to find him and, most of all, what are the reasons behind that message. You objectives are clear: search for that individual, and you will probably remember who you are... doing so will not be so simple, though.
Your search is obstacled by the Zone itself, a place dangerous like no other, where mutants roam free and "homo homini lupus" is an euphemism.
Imo, the atmosphere of the setting has no equals, aided by an unforgiving and very realistic gameplay: every detail is studied to be as believable as a fictional world could ever be, and the crafting effort made by the developers grants to each player a memorable experience.
This is no Fallout 3: the game is not based on a progressive cheat-unlock,as there are no level ups, no perks, no assisted aiming systems and no progressively increasing parameters – only you, your equipment and your personal skills.
This is one of the aspects of the game I appreciated the most: the sense of progression does not come from unlocking power-ups, but from your own self awareness. In the beginning you will feel like a rookie, struggling to survive with just a few pathetic second-hand weapons and a leather jacket, constantly chased by bandits, monsters, hunger, radiations and anomalies; each time you survive a challenge, though, you start to better handle the weapons, knowing their drawbacks and learning what is the best way to use them; you learn the tactics of your enemies and modify yours in response (notice how the rookies will just go berserk, while the military will cleverly use covers while trying to ambush, flank and outsmart you); you map the area, knowing which places are safe and which are not, this time exploiting radiations and anomalies to * your * advantage; in paractice, you become an expert like a real survivor would. The sense of achievement in that is immense, and way greater than any skill distribution screen. Know that this aspect will never abandon you, challenging you through all the way from the Cordon (the area where other reckless Stalkers like you illegally trespeass from the military guarded stations) to the notorious power plant itself. You begin like a castaway, but you will end with the same skills as veteran SPETSNAZ... if you don't die first, that is.
The sense of dread is constant: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. never uses jump-scares, relying instead in evoking a sense of danger similar to the one I felt in System Shock 2. Each time you leave a safe settlement, you know you are alone and that everyone (and everything) is out hunting, too. Life in the Zone is a brutal run to the last resource, with the hope of surviving against all odds.
If that is still not enough, know that the main quest chain is excellent: whenever you take a glimpse of the real situation, more and more questions arise, forcing your curiosity to dig deeper and deeper.
You know that in doing so you will see things that would be better left unseen and discover terrible secrets that will condemn you to be forever marked and pursued, yet you cannot stop: once you are consciuos of what is happening, you can never turn back.
I admit some moments have been geniunely scary, wisely put toghether by masterful writers, facing you with the unexpected and letting you distinctly feel a silent, heavy pressure.
Before concluding, let me talk a bit more about the gameplay.
Note: I modded the game with the Zone Reclamation Project patch. It fixes a significant amount of bugs and adds a few minor tweaks. Personally, I selected just three: a different order in the title menu (putting "last save" first, replacing the "new game" option), a portable bedroll (used only once to start a mission at night) and the possibility to repair items from two NPCs (rarely used, and it costed exorbitant amounts of rubles).
You have the possibility to use just three weapons at each time: your knife (deadly, but useless in a firefight), a pistol and a main weapon of your choice (among SMG, shotgun, assault rifle, machine gun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher). Each of them has its own peculiarities, no one being useless, and you can tap their full potential only when you personally learn how to use them properly, like you would do with real ones. My only complaint is that, despite the strong realism in each weapon... when looking through a scope the aim is perfectly steady. A bit contradictory.
Taking a few bullets (and with few I mean 2-5) will kill you, so you have to rely on medkits and bandages to stop the bleeding and close the wounds. Later, when armour types start to become varied and you enemies use military-grade equipment, you need to study your position, aim precisely for the weak spotsand change the type of ammo based on your needs (armour piercing round are a bless).
Also, you need to be supplied with food and you should make a clever use of artifacts, mutated objects that can grant you advantage in every situation, if correctly deployed.
The limited carrying capacity of 50kg and the effect of the weight on the fatigue bar are your real enemies, making you slower and forcing you to stop altoghether for exaustion, sometimes in the middle of the battle. While you will find plenty of gear, this limitation will strenghten the need to rely on what you can find, trying to maintain a light backpack at all times.
The faction system is also compelling and believable: each one has its own different morals and goals, and every action has a consequence, changing the balance of powers in the Zone. Thankfully, there is no stupid karma system, but only a straightforward reputation one: mind you own business, and the factions will remain neutral; help them, and you'll make friends; be an idiot or join their enemies and they will be forever hostile. Period.
Personally, I preferred to remain a loner, working for everyone until the missions didn't involve hostilities towards other groups: that way, I was renowed as friendly and reliable with all the non.compulsorily hostile ones.
I could talk about this game for hours, but I will be merciful and stop here: try it yoursleves and be immersed in the pelasure of discovery! :P
Seriously: you cannot go wrong with this purchase. 5 Stars, undobtedly!
I particualrly recommend it to those who enjoyed the new Fallouts: this game is similar (actually, the "innovative" titles from Bethesda resemble this one), only much, much better made.
Note 2: I experienced serious problem of stuttering around fires. The framerate counter still displayed a constant 60, yet each time a fire was on sight they seemed to drop way below 30.
I solved using this settings on my nVidia card
- Maximum pre-rendered frames: 1
- Multi display/mixed gpu acceleration: Single display performance mode .
- Threaded optimization: OFF
- Triple buffering: ON
- Vertical sync: Adaptive