I first saw S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at an event THQ put on at E3 about 5 years ago. Subsequently, due to the ambitious nature of the game, it was delayed a couple of years. Finally I managed to get hold of it but it needed such a whopping PC to play it on it made mine stutter more than Gareth Gates during an interview. Well, now I’ve got a computer to rival Skynet and so for the first time I’ve been able to play it so let me tell you what I thought.
If you don’t know Stalker tells the story of a bunch of geezers exploring the area around Chernobyl after it went boom in the 80s. Because there’s lots of radiation floating about, the land has anomalies scattered about which do you damage and lots of mutant dogs, pigs and other thingies which all look like they’ve been in the microwave. What made the game ambitious was its open sandbox gameplay. You can choose who to talk to, which missions to do and how to do them. Or you can just go and sit on a hill and have a picnic – although don’t expect it to be very romantic.
Playing STALKER now, it’s smooth thanks to my PC but graphically rather poor when it comes to buildings, people and animals. However, the countryside looks good and can be rather calming if you live in the city and long for some fresh air. The game is also incredibly atmospheric. Running across the hills as thunder rolls in, seeing animals hunt in packs and gearing gunfire in the distance from other NPCs is a unique experience and unllike anything else you’d encounter in an FPS. It’s almost like playing an RPG as you find items and new gear to make you a leaner, meaner bounty hunter, although you’re not going to get much story and conversation from the Russian NPCs floating about.
As well as outdoor locations there are also more traditional indoor locations where STALKER plays like a more traditional FPS and vehicles you can jump in to get you round The Zone a bit quicker. The game culminates in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station itself where all the weirdness is coming from in the first place.
If your PC’s powerful enough and you haven’t tried it yourself yet then I recommend hunting it down and trying it out if you fancy something a bit different. Although it’s buggy in places and not perfect by any means, it’s certainly a step in the right direction and if there’s ever a sequel, I can see it being a whole lot better. There is an expansion pack on its way and we should also see some improvements there too. STALKER gets a good 8 out of 10.