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  S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)

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Join date : 2010-12-27

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PostSubject: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)     S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)  I_icon_minitimeWed Dec 29, 2010 5:12 pm

[SIZE="7"]S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl[/SIZE]

I’m a pretty brave chap. Apart from snails and oddly shaped tropical fruit, there’s not a lot that scares me. It’d be quite the endorsement, then, for me to say that Stalker has the ability to make me assume the foetal position and warm my buttocks with a certain natural substance.

The setting of Stalker (or S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as it’s so awkwardly titled) is the 30 kilometre zone around Chernobyl Power Plant, after another catastrophic accident has beset the facility. You play the Marked One, one of the eponymous stalkers. Conveniently, you wake up in the Zone of Exclusion around Chernobyl Power Plant with no recollection of how you got there, or even of who you are. Fortunately, you don’t appear to have been raped, as you’re still fully clothed. It also seems unlikely that you were mugged, as you still have a PDA. A PDA with a mysterious message on it: Kill Strelok.

And so, after a short conversation with a fat bald man, you begin your first mission. You end up doing favours for this fat man, and then the fat man’s friends, and then their friends, until eventually you find Strelok. Naturally, this is neither quick nor simple to achieve. Between you and your destination stand those mandatory hooded bandits that seem to crop up in every open world game, a highly trained pseudo-military organisation or two, and, of course, some horrific mutants with otherworldly abilities. Not even the wildlife could avoid the effects of irradiation - the Zone’s dogs are now blind, so they smell the testosterone pulsating through your veins. And your terrible body odour as well, probably; I’m yet to chance upon a shower.

 S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)  30e816638ade11b4d29dbe44dfbfc9f8ad612124

To begin with Stalker does little to break from tradition. You start with a pistol which has much more in common with a spud gun than something that you might actually try to kill someone with, before slowly attaining more effective boomsticks by murdering their former owners. You’ll progress up to basic submachine guns, to assault rifles, to sniper rifles and the like. At the same time, you’re edging closer to the zone’s epicentre and all that it may contain.

Stalker is not scary by conventional means. It doesn’t need to use shock tactics, vainly attempting to surprise you by ambushing you with sabre-toothed nasties as you turn a corner. It doesn’t need the ‘look at me I’m very scary’ approach either, whereby it would throw wave after wave of hideous monstrosities towards you and expect their poor dental hygiene and bloodcurdling wails to make you turn tail. You fight relatively small numbers of enemies (compared to most other games at least), but your health bar and ammo stocks are similarly limited. Stalker isn’t what I’d call realistic, but it’s close enough to be terrifyingly engrossing.

Here’s a scenario for you: I’m crouched outside a small military checkpoint. Inside is a bandit, who by now is pretty miffed, and understandably so; I’m sat on his buddy’s corpse. Still, common sense overpowers his desire for vengeance and he stays cooped up inside the building. I circle around a couple of times, hoping to get a few shots off at him through a window. No such luck. Reluctantly, I slowly approach the doorway.

Just as I step inside, the imposing ‘boom’ is heard as the bandit panics and shoots in my general direction. I jump out of my skin, but retain enough composure to give him some lead ribs.

 S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)  17e84e79b24d7af54fcdf8f0fa1194ea6eac6ec1

Stalker never does send you down cramped corridors and jump you as you turn a corner. The mutants are suitably ugly though, and for some (including me, admittedly) they’ll be worth a wide-eyed look of terror. But you never get the impression that the game is trying to scare you. It all seems natural, and that’s what makes it all the scarier.

The zone itself is one of the most wonderfully realised worlds in gaming history. Perhaps ‘wonderfully’ isn’t the right word. It’s a place of horrors best summarised by a line of the back of the game box: “Welcome to Chernobyl. Where man made hell.” You won’t even be able to go to some places until you’ve acquired suits that block out radiation, otherwise your brain would ‘boil’ and you’d be, for lack of a better word, zombified.

There are a few other relatively minor features. The factions are mostly at each others’ throats, most significantly Freedom and Duty. Their philosophical and moral standpoints are left- and right-wing respectively, and as such favouring one faction will draw hostility from the other. Another feature is the statistics screen. I honestly can’t find any really point to it, apart from the fact that going up in the stalker ranks makes you feel pretty awesome. There’s even an arena where you can risk your life to win money.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s just Oblivion with guns!” That’s wrong for several reasons. First, and quite significantly, the combat not only works, but is properly satisfying. Second, the whole ‘demon invasion’ plot of Oblivion never really convinces you that the world actually needs saving. You can largely ignore the Oblivion gates, and let’s be fair, they do look totally badass, so it’s better to leave them be. You can’t avoid the ‘hell on earth’ part of Stalker’s lore, because the entire game world is shaped by the fact that the faeces hit the fan.

 S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl (PC)  618da91d2085c1087f0fa001ef37c8552ab40dda

However, the game is marred with bugs. The factions I mentioned earlier, for example, should allow you to join, but they won’t. They’ll treat you like a member, but your faction affiliation will still be ‘loner’. More importantly, it’s ugly as sin. Not only was this released in 2007, but it also has some hefty system requirements. These bugs and technical issues can be difficult to overlook and that's a shame as in every other way Stalker is a brilliant game.

The reasons to love the zone are innumerable, and thanks to its open-ended nature you’d likely find your own reasons to love Stalker. But do you know what the best part about the game is? You’ll often find stalkers playing guitar around the campfire. Instant +1 to score. Whether you're a fan of shooters, existential horror, or if the title simply intrigues your inner rapist, it's well worth a purchase.

[SIZE="7"]Score: 9/10[/SIZE]

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