S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl PC DVD-ROM
Published by: THQ
Developed by: GSC Game World
Release Date: Out Now
There have been a few FPS games that have seemingly taken forever to be released. Half-Life 2 was delayed for around a year and Duke Nukem Forever has reportedly been in development since 1997 and still shows no sign of being released. By comparison then (at least when compared to Duke Nukem Forever) the delays that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has had certainly aren't that bad and if the delays mean we're going to get a polished game upon release then the wait is definitely worth it. Oddly enough, despite its delays, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. doesn't feel polished. Make no mistake it's a good game but certain elements could definitely have done with improving before it was released.
As the title suggests, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is set in the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in the latter half of the twentieth century. The game is set in 2012 and as well as the real life disaster that took place in 1986 there was a fictitious, second nuclear disaster that occurred in 2006. It's this second disaster that really provides the setting for the game as in the disaster's wake the zone around Chernobyl began to attract all kinds of unsavoury people who were convinced that there was prosperity to be found in the obliterated land. These people were known as Stalkers and in the game you'll play as a Stalker who is simply known as Marked One because he's suffering from amnesia and can't remember who he is.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl aims to be different from other FPS games in that it provides an open-ended experience that you can play any way you want to. Of course there is a story here with Marked One needing to find out who he is as well finding out what exactly is going on in the zone around Chernobyl and to some extent the goings on are quite disturbing with various kinds of mutated enemies awaiting you. There's a main plot thread to the game but there's also plenty of optional tasks for you to take if you wish. The action doesn't just centre on the nuclear power plant. There are quite a lot of locations to explore and the attention to detail in creating a believable environment is impressive.
There are many other Stalkers in the game, most are part of factions, and your relationships with these Stalkers is quite important as it determines the level of co-operation you'll get from them. Make an enemy of a faction and you're going to make life tough for yourself. It's worth pointing out that the game has multiple endings that will definitely encourage you to play through multiple times, which again is impressive. Another pleasing aspect of the game is the enemy AI which is definitely satisfactory and will provide you with a stiff challenge when playing on the higher difficulty levels.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl does come with its fair share of disappointments. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that the game is fairly deaf gamer unfriendly (which we'll come to in a moment). Out of the box there are some bugs with certain quests in the game and there are some stability problems. Most of these are present only when running the game on Windows Vista. This might seem a harsh criticism when you consider that the game doesn't officially support the new Microsoft operating system but given the amount of time that beta and release candidate versions of Vista have been available to the general public, it's disappointing that GSC didn't take the time to make sure the game ran well on the OS. Performance is noticeably much more sluggish under Vista too, when compared with running the game under Windows XP.
If you've followed the development of the game you'll remember how the early screenshots looked very impressive. Of course that was several years ago now and things have moved on quite a bit. As a result the game doesn't look quite so impressive and it's fair to say that there are quite a few titles in the genre that look better. That said though, there is some very impressive lighting techniques that have been used in the game and these certainly add to the game's already compelling atmosphere (particularly when using the flashlight in the game's many dark locations). It's rather surprising that the game performs quite poorly, even when running on a decent PC at the modest resolution of 1024x768. You'll struggle to maintain a decent frame rate unless you're prepared to do away with the dynamic lighting and turn down the graphical details on anything less than a cutting edge PC. Load times are a major pain in the backside on a PC with 1GB or RAM and I suspect that 1.5-2GB of RAM is necessary to cut down on these load times.
Deaf gamers are getting a raw deal with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl. The game doesn't offer the option to enable subtitles and quite a lot of the dialogue, some of which is very important, is not subtitled. Right from the beginning it's clear that deaf gamers are going to have some major problems. There are no captions in the game. The opening cutscene (and subsequent cutscenes) are not subtitled. Quite a few important tutorial messages aren't subtitled (such as the one that explains how to use your PDA). In the game, as we've already mentioned, your relationships with other stalkers is quite an important aspect and there are certain situations where you'll miss out on opportunities to interact with other stalkers because of a lack of subtitles. An early example of this is when you come across two stalkers who are apparently dead. However, only one of the men is actually dead and the other is calling for you to get the medical supplies from the dead stalker to pass them to him so that he can heal himself sufficiently to be able to walk. Deaf gamers will be completely unaware of these situations. What's particularly irritating about the omissions in the game is that the developers went to the trouble to include both noise and visibility indicators that show you how much noise you are making as well as how well covered you are from the enemies' line of sight. Direct conversations where you get to make dialogue choices are shown in text too. There are even some tutorial messages that are shown in text, which makes the absence of some tutorial messages all the more frustrating. The game manual is quite well written and rather useful. It would be great if the developers could fully subtitle the game through the use of updates but unfortunately, as it stands, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is going to prove very frustrating for deaf gamers.
Let's make no mistake about it, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is certainly an FPS that is quite special in terms of its originality and the atmosphere it provides. Unfortunately the release version is a little buggy and there are a few stability issues that will need to be fixed through updates (particularly if you're using Windows Vista although to be fair it's not an officially supported operating system). Deaf gamers are going to have a hard time with the game too and this is immensely disappointing especially when you consider it's one of the most atmospheric FPS games we've played since Half-Life 2.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl will be an excellent game once it's fully patched up. However, unless those patches manage to subtitle all the important dialogue in the game then it's definitely a game that deaf gamers should avoid.