They say be careful of what you wish for, and that seems to be a running theme of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. This game held a lot of promise, and the developers at GSC did their best, so don’t be surprised if you feel it doesn’t measure up.
They set out to make a bleak and desolate landscape, but desolate is boring, so they made the bad guys respawn. Consequently, I’ve seen more people in the world's most radioactive zone than here in the Irish country side! To solve this dilemma, GSC congregated these masses in smaller areas, giving the impression of desolation.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s inhabitants are supposed to be a scavenger society, but every man and his dog packs a weapon and ammo. Since there's a solution for everything, GSC fixed this problem by limiting how much weight the player can carry. This is plausible, but highly annoying! However, if there was some way of carrying more weight (hint: Google- Realism Mod 0.9.1.1) then you would find yourself in a very lucrative position.
Even without cheating, you still find yourself with a sizable bank account. But, again, to combat this, GSC limits the amount of trading you can do, as money is weightless. There are only a few people you can really trade with as well, so that means the weight you carry in the game becomes a serious issue, as distance between traders is vast. Eventually you pick up only the things you need, or replacing damaged weapons. In the first half of the game this is great, but near the end, it becomes annoying. Many others have found this fact annoying too, because nearly all the user created mods for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. increase your weight capacity.
Having said all this, at best, these are all only minor points, as S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a good game, believable (in its context!) and scary on many levels. Apart from all the wild animals, bandits, monsters and humans you’ll be fighting against, mostly humans, there is the eerie feeling of The Zone: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s virtual world is a recreation of the actual city of Chernobyl, Russia, site of the worst nuclear meltdown in history.
GSC went to painstaking lengths to recreate the emotional realism that can be hard to get across in games. Granted some of the anomalies aren’t really there, I don’t think. Plus I am sure they used a liberal brush in certain areas. But as you walk through certain areas, you can pretty much guarantee that’s how it looks.
Your character, simply called “Marked One”, is an amnesiac who is given a rather cryptic message: “Kill Strelok." It takes mission after mission to find this guy, with no prizes for knowing where to look in advance, as his location is fairly obvious. The game's other big storyline involves the Wish Granter. This magical device is the heart of the Chernobyl reactor and able to grant one wish to the first person who reaches it.
However, it is the game's exploration and story subplots that will keep you interested. The subplots consist of finding something and bringing it back, killing this person/group, help defend such and such, etc. But the most important thing is that all these scenarios can have many different outcomes.
This is the game's “dynamic” gameplay; where things are often surprising, and most of the times annoying. “Dynamic” gameplay is when one change can affect the objective's outcome. At times, it can even mess up the storyline too. These are some of my experiences.
1) When I walked through the desolate regions, I would get a request for help. A camp was under attack by a group of bandits, so I agreed to help. 30 seconds later, I get a message saying that I had failed. I hadn’t even reached the camp by that time. The reason why? Well the good non-playing characters had all gotten themselves killed. Not that I minded, but one of them was critical to that particular plot. Moments like this left me wandering aimlessly with no method of story progression.
2) Once, when I was asked to kill a Stalker, I got to the target but changed my mind. I was almost ready to turn back and fail the mission. But when I noticed some zombies close by, I decided to do something else. I made as much noise as I could, finally attracting their attention. In came the zombies and killed the stalker and his group of friends, completing the task for me. (And if you must know, I do sleep better at night, like a baby.)
3) Near the end, I realized I hadn’t completed the “Kill Strelok” missions, so I hunted around for this person I was supposed to meet up with, but could not find him. Finally after searching everywhere, and looking to the Internet for help, there were no answers at all. I guess the story had moved on and that I was no longer allowed to go back!
These possibilities are good some times, at others a curse. The real problem with “dynamic” gameplay, more often than not, is when the game's AI lets it down. I still cringe when I think about the missions where you have to help an NPC go from point A to B: each time, I had to shoot the AI and complete the mission myself or leave them standing around, resulting in a failed mission.
But the most annoying bug is the AI detection distance, where they determine if you are friend or foe, and react. If he is equipped with a sniper rifle, they shoot you, forcing an unnerving reload that makes you feel like “What the hell just happened!?” I am not talking the distance of an accurate sniper rifle shot; I am talking about the distance of Superman throwing the bullet at you.
Even though these bugs are annoying the game is still very playable. But if you can’t stand them, and I would not blame you, you can always turn to the mods. The bugs are probably why this game is modded so heavily, and why there is already a patch released, which is not a good sign, as this game is still fairly new. It might be worth looking into several mods, but be warned, because if you use too many, some may write over others.
The ending is a small let down, but it ultimately reveals things to you. But it should be noted, this is also your fault, as there are multiple endings, and the one you get is based on how you played the game. The ending I got was revealing, and I suddenly understood what had happened to my character in the first place. It was the wish he made.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a great game, but I wish GSC had delayed this title and gone through the bugs more thoroughly. This could have been a classic!