Review | S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Format: PC | Genre: FPS | Publisher: Bit Composer | Developer: GSC Game World | Release date: 05/02/10 | RRP: £29.99
Since the world’s biggest nuclear disaster, Pripyat has become a town of legend. Built for the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, its residents had just three hours to gather up their most precious possessions when Reactor 4 exploded on 26 April, 1986. It’s been a ghost town since, but in Stalker’s fiction (there’ll be no inexplicable punctuation here), this was the first of two catastrophes. It was the second that caused the mutations, and spawned the multitude of impossible anomalies and rare artifacts that now litter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.
So when developers GSC Game World decide to make a Stalker game entirely centred around Pripyat, it’s an exciting prospect – even though their previous effort, the somewhat lacklustre Clear Sky, was a largely disappointing and broken experience. It’s a shame, then, that Pripyat itself is easily the least interesting section of this third Stalker title, spoiled by a repetitive mission structure and a lack of memorable characters. Fortunately, its relative tedium is the exception, as what precedes it as an impressive return to form for the Ukranian developer.
This is a marked improvement over Clear Sky. Call of Pripyat takes the best ideas of that game, along with those of the original, and focuses its effort on refining those elements, chucking away the rest. Clear Sky’s factional alignment system is gone: the Zone is now a place where most stalkers are working together to survive. The PDA markers, which allowed you to track the location of various living entities around the game world, have also been plunged into the rubbish bin. It’s a great deal more stable, too, with no serious bugs to be found (and although Stalker still has its glitchy moments – a bandit apparently dancing a merry jig on the spot was my personal favourite – these almost add to the surreality of the place as a whole). It’s refined, streamlined and tightened.
The result, impressively, is a Zone that feels more alive than ever. Stalker’s A-Life system, which populates the world with realistic AI, has been enormously foregrounded. Any considerable walk through the wilderness now gives way to the most extraordinary sights. Mutants travel in large packs, surrounding rabid dogs, breaking their necks then fighting over which one of them will get the first bite. Stalkers wander around in the dead of night, flashlights and guns held out in front of them. Ask them what they’re doing and they’ll tell you they’re hunting mutants. Follow them and you’ll discover they actually are – that wasn’t just a preset line of script to create the illusion of activity. Leave camp after an emission – huge waves of radiation that blast out from Chernobyl, killing all exposed human life and dropping more mutants and artifacts into the world – and your first sight is a tragic one: bodies piled up outside the door, the remains of men who didn’t quite make it to cover in time.
The revised level structure works splendidly. Instead of a series of smaller levels designed to give the impression of openness, Call of Pripyat really is open. There are only three regions this time, but each sprawls miles across, and everywhere within them is accessible as soon as you arrive. The game drops you into its starting region, Zaton, with just two weeks’ worth of supplies and an order to investigate a series of military helicopter crashes. From there, you’ll head to Jupiter – a huge processing plant and the surrounding railway network – and finally to Pripyat itself, a sea of murky grey buildings, populated by zombies and militia. Zaton’s the most intriguing of the three, with bizarre landmarks scattered across its surface, and huge, shipwrecked icebreakers acting as makeshift camps for groups of stalkers.
Pages: 1 2