We return to The Zone in the aftermath of shenanigans at its center. The zone is becoming more unstable — and yet safer in some ways. The military is stepping up their efforts to investigate the zone — although they’re shockingly ignorant of its workings. They begin operation Fairway, their bid to take over Pripyat and the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and investigate the goings on there. They sent four helicopters into the center and they’ve lost all radio contact. You are Major Degtyarev being sent into Pripyat undercover as a Stalker to figure out what went wrong with the operation. You’re underequipped, underinformed, and otherwise unready to handle the rigors of the zone but it wouldn’t be a Stalker Game otherwise.
Sorry Stalkers in the making, I couldn’t find much of note about the development of the game. It was released by GSC Game World, like the other Stalker games and was distributed to the world by a cadre of different publishers. GSC was able to publish it in the CIS but Viva Media and Deep Silver released it in North America and Europe respectively.
It was released on October 2nd, 2009. It’s competition was Demon’s Souls (PS3), Saw: The Video Game (PS3 and XBox 360), and Brutal Legend (PS3 and XBox 360).
If there was a feeling I felt the most in this game it would be confusion. I can think of no other FPS I’ve gotten lost in more. Between unmarked quest objectives, mysterious Zone stuff, and unclear instructions it’s difficult to figure where to go or what to do. It might seem like certain conversations are just they for flavor but many of them hint at tasks and most of those tasks offer no instruction whereas as some topics are just dead ends. ‘Find Barge and Joker’ translates into look it up or get lucky finding some dead bodies. It’s frustrating to have no clues whatsoever. If they mentioned something like, “Barge and Joker went west after the argument” or “They mentioned something about artifact hunting,” then I’d have some direction and feel like I wasn’t just wandering around and hoping for completion.
Like Stalker games before it Call of Pripyat is a horror based first person shooter. Unlike Clear Sky, however, there’s no longer a relationship between primary mechanics and story. There are no territory control mechanics or zone destroying threats this time around, the scales are much smaller and much more personal. The game is very much a sandbox that rewards the player based on how much they put into it. The reward for exploration is usually more powerful weapons or achievements that give the player additional benefits like free ammo or medical restocks in settlements. This game highlights the elements of survival in the zone much more, Degtyarev must keep himself fed and rested or his stamina, and eventually health, will suffer.
The game takes place in Zaton, a large swampy area, Yanov, a former train yard, and Pripyat, an small town. These areas form a sort of new frontier for the zone, these are areas that the player has not visited in either Clear Sky or Shadow of Chernobyl. Though the artifacts, mutants, and anomalies might be similar the politics and atmosphere have changed quite a bit. There’s no more Sidorovich, no more faction wars, and much fewer of the comforts they provided. Getting better gear will take a greater toll on the characters’ wallets or they’ll have to do some hunting. As such you’ll find fewer enemies in Exo-Suits or with incredible gear unlike Clear Sky which had a heavy soldier in nearly every squad.
Praise be to The Zone, the player can now shoot Bloodsuckers while they’re invisible. This might seem small but those bastards have been getting the better of me and wasting my ammunition for too long. They’re cloak is much less obvious to balance but I can throw a grenade and kill the damn things.
The world of Pripyat feels very alive. Squads of Stalkers go to anomalous areas to look for artifacts — and they can find them if the player doesn’t — while bandits will be on the look out for Stalkers to ambush and loot to steal. Mutants, zombies, and monolith leave their lairs and fortified areas looking for supple Stalkers to eat.
The quests in this game offer real choice as how to complete them. It’s no longer a matter of going here and doing this, it’s a matter of guys not knowing what to do and you fill in the blank. You go to pay someone’s debt and the assholes try to charge you interest, what do you do? You find a PDA holding information about someones secret weapons warehouse, who do you sell it to? The choice and consequences are yours.
Anomalous zones are now marked on your map so it’s much easier to find where to go artifact hunting. In addition you can now sleep in settlements so you can explore at night or during the day, whichever is your preference.
Apparently the whole voice acting department died in a fruit punch anomaly between this game and the last and GSC got their replacements from people on the street. The voice quality has dropped off hard since Clear Sky. I think they’ve got 5 voice actors, all told, and 2 of them voice almost everyone and they’re really bad. I don’t know what happened but get ready for some grating voices and painful deliveries.
Back on that whole direction problem I was talking about in Experiences, it would be so much better if they told the player that certain quest objectives are just on certain maps. I needed to get some poison to eliminate a Bloodsucker lair and I found some locked tanks on a jeep holding the stuff. I figure there’s a master key in a military or industrial facility somewhere and I check every factory or barracks I can get my hands on. I ask everyone about the damn things. As it turns out the keys are on other parts of the motercade the tanks were on. There’s no hint or indication where the key is whatsoever.
I don’t know if it’s a glitch, I wouldn’t put it past a Stalker Game — this game’s the most stable of the three but still has issues –, but there’s a mutant called the Burer — remember Mr. Ugly face up there? That’s him — who can knock your gun out of your hands. It’s an interesting mechanic and a little annoying but I think it’s cool. The problem comes when I can’t find the gun afterward. I don’t know if it’s falling through the floor or flying to some part of the room where I just can’t find it. But it means my prized shooter is gone and I’ve gotta reload my last save even if the beast is dead. It’s unfun, unfair, frustrating, and happens to me at least once a playthrough.
The gameplay is much improved and everything feels more thematic overall. There’s a lot of unfair or non-existant signposting that leads to frustration. Quests are sometimes difficult to complete because you won’t know what to do next and there are just too many hidden objectives and goals in the game overall. This game is a guide game. You’ll play it with a strategy guide for WHEN you need it. It’s still fun and it’s still Stalker and it’s interesting to see the ecosystem of the Zone just go. But it still scratches that Stalker itch.