S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl

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Year 2012. Six years passed since the time of the Second catastrophe to have made the April events of 1986 fade.

The game is set in the Chernobyl exclusion zone which turned from a destiny-breaker place into a threat to all mankind. The Zone is reluctant to open up its mysteries and needs to be forced to do it. It is a rare hero who can reach the very heart of the Zone onto find out what danger awaits him there.

A danger which, compared to marauders and enemy groupings, all monsters and anomalies, will seem a mere preparation to the meeting with something more fatal and threatening.

But for now… get ready, hero. Collect artefacts and trade, grope your path and keep an eye on the rear, catch roentgens and fight – only make sure you survive! And then, perhaps, if you are persistent and truly lucky, you will find out why all this had fallen on you.

Source

The Story

Alright, it seems that the above excerpt from their official website doesn’t tell you much.

Basically it involves a 2nd (fictional) Chernobyl meltdown that happened 20 years after the first incident. And how is your character related to the incident? Well that’s what you’re supposed to find out…. Really!

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The game starts off with a cut-scene showing an accident involving a truck transporting dead bodies. The truck crashed and the next day, someone discovered your living body among the scattered dead people. You woke up not remembering anything; your only clue is that you were tasked to kill someone. The rest of the story is up to you to discover.

Gameplay

It’s a superb game; even the introduction was made me curious on what is to be discovered along the way. I just love how the game unfolds itself naturally.

The game is objective-based, you will be given a primary task to accomplish and as you complete those tasks the story unfolds and you move on with more tasks. Besides having your primary tasks, you could get yourself involved in many quests. You get your quests by talking to NPCs (Non-Player Character) and by completing those quests, you will be rewarded with stuff like ammunitions, food, special goods and so on. Besides quests, you could checkout the dead bodies that you come along, they leave clues to stashes that hold good stuff like medication, ammunitions, weapons or even a spanking new armor to help you in surviving the harsh environments.

Speaking of environment, the game renders the scene so beautifully it actually makes you FEEL like you’re there in Ukraine and beside being beautiful, the environment is also realistic – a totally believable and immersive environment! The environment involves time so you’ll experience changes from day to night and back to day again as you play. And yes, the game renders the day and night scenes according. And as if that’s not enough, the game also involves weather, so you get to see leaves being blown by heavy winds and even lightning streaks at the horizon when there’s a storm. Even the NPCs move around the place and they could even pick fights with one another or even engage in animal hunting.

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While being a great game in story and environment, the game can be quite tedious as you have to criss-cross the regions, from one end to another. Some quests requires you to visit other regions and you have to make your way back to the original region or whichever the place the quest requires you to report to. To make things worse, some quests time limit. Fortunately you can always re-initiate the quests should you fail to accomplish them within the stated time limit.

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As travelling on foot was not tedious enough, your character has a carrying-weight limitation. The more he carries, the faster his energy drains, the slower he recovers. The game forces you to micro-manage your inventory as carrying too much goods would render your character immobile. Don’t worry about leaving things behind, the goods you left behind will remain there for good. 🙂 Great huh! So if your inventory is overloaded, you could leave a bunch of items some place and come back for the rest some other time – assuming you’re willing to put up with the travelling that is.

Now, back to the energy issue, your character’s energy also affects movement ability. Get exhausted and your character won’t even move! So let’s say you’re being attacked and you decide to jump around hoping to avoid being clawed, it’ll work for a while but when exhaustion kicks in – you’re SITTING DUCK! You can choose to run but that tires him faster but you’ll eventually face exhaustion. Annoying? Yes. Time consuming? Yes. Realistic? Yes, which makes it quite nice.

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One last thing about travelling annoyance is that the path that you cleared before may not remain cleared. So the next time you come around there could be some hostiles hanging around, this makes the game more interesting as you have to be careful the path you thread.

What about combat? The combat is tough even in Novice mode, some scenes require quite a few reload of your saved games (Yes, save before engaging in any combat!) Your guns vary in accuracy and they also recoil. Shooting targets from afar is tough, close combat is even tougher as your character is not one that could last many bullets. A few well placed shots are enough to take you down.

The AI on the other hand is cranky, one moment they can be pretty good and keep their aim on you like hawk and suddenly they could just stand in a line like dancing Y.M.C.A. 🙂 Look at the screenshot, can you believe I could actually get that close to a hostile group and take a photo of them? It’s a joke really. There was also one scene that all I did was camp at a corner of the house and with the few bullets I managed to have a pile of more than 5 dead soldiers at the entrance of the house. Pretty neat since I killed most of them with headshots.

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Graphics & Sound

The game is graphically stunning. At maximum details, the game brought my graphic card to a crawl but the detail of the environment was beyond words. The game still looks nice even on the lowest possible setting. The game engine renders the scenes beautifully, the light sources affect the texture, color and shadow of each and every object. Trees and terrain when the skies are clear look different from when there’s a storm around.

I applaud the developers for putting effort into details and making it such an enjoyable experience. As mentioned in the previous section, the game involves weather leaves being blown by heavy winds and lightning streaks at the horizon. In dark scenes, you get to use flash lights and night vision goggles and yes, they were very well done as you can see in the screenshots and these aren’t even at maximum detail setting. The objects light up and cast shadows according to light sources.

Check out the comparison between the minimum, medium and maximum settings in the pictures below.

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The sound was great too, crackling of fire, sound of the rain, the wind, the breeze and the storm, bullets firing and radio chatters. It’s all good.

Online / Network Gaming

The connection to various gaming servers weren’t as friendly as games like Battlefield 2142, Command & Conquer 3, Need For Speed series, Supreme Commander and many others. I tried connecting to a few servers, all I get is the game hanging there. Can’t CTRL + ALT + DEL and can’t ALT + TAB either so forced reboot it is.

LAN gaming was fine though, too bad there doesn’t seem to be any bots available so if you do start a server you’re just going to run around alone and having nothing to shoot at and just admire the details. Take it as a time to revel in the beauty of the game environment.

Critical Issues

Despite being a game with great graphics, great physics engine and great storyline – the game is an absolute failure in quality.

During my course of playing this game, I face countless freezes itself that often requires forced reboot, rarely do I get to CTRL + ALT + DEL and can’t ALT + TAB back to desktop.

I think I’ve done at least 30 forced reboot and it takes around 3 minutes to complete the reboot and load the last saved game, which also I’ve not factored the time lost as I need to re-play the part before the game freeze. How much time wasted you say? How about the time I spent to search for a probably cause or solution? The search was fruitless anyway, it’s when you search the problems that you realize how bad is the quality of the product.

I noted that a diskette symbol appears at the lower right side of the screen each time the freeze occurs and that’s the only clue I have. The manual and the official website has no information on what the symbol meant, searching the Internet didn’t help either. After some observation, I noticed that the symbol only appears as I move my character and new objects appear on screen, so my common sense tells me that it’s loading something, could be textures or objects – whatever it was, it’s not helping me and it shouldn’t be happening this way.

I’ve tried all things that I could think of, varying the graphic details, reverted to original graphic card drivers, reverted everything to stock speed and even to have a clean install of Windows XP with SP2 – it didn’t help. In fact with a clean install of Windows XP it was even worse as I couldn’t even start the game, some how this was solved after I installed Microsoft’s .NET Framework. Nothing in the manual mentioned that I needed that.

Finally I decided to do something that I don’t think I’d be doing – play at lowest possible graphic detail. Strangely enough, from then onwards I could game a whole hour or so without any freeze. Unfortunately that doesn’t solve it completely as I still do come by freezes, only at a far less frequency. So now I’m able to play the game, at lowest possible detail despite my graphic card being more than capable of handling more details.

And as if that was not ridiculous enough, the patches will screw up your saved game. YES! You heard that right! Initially I was playing the default version and made quite some progress in the game, however the problems that occurred prompted me to look into patches. Gladly I downloaded those patches in hope that the problem would go away but instead I ended up with another problem – my saved games immediately became incompatible! Yup, restart it was.

Sure, I could install the default version and continue where I last left it but that wouldn’t be wise as Version 1.0001 patch fixes 68 problems and Version 1.0003 fixes 31 other problems. Given the choice, I deem it wiser to restart than to be left with at least 100 other problems around. Mind you Version 1.0001 patch doesn’t fix only 68 problems as point #68 says “Various other issues.”

Conclusion

Judging by what I love about this game, I’d easily give it a perfect 10. It’s just a pity that in my little over 20 years of gaming experience I’ve never come by a game that fails quality this badly. I’d rather have good product released late. It was so disappointing that I nearly abandoned the game and I wouldn’t hesitate to even give a 0 because of that.

I do understand that not everyone faces the same problem, the game is plagued with bugs. Buy this game at your own risk, if the game runs well with your rig then it’s probably one of the best titles to come by! Despite facing such problems and forced to run at low details, I love this game very much as I think it’s a great game with an engaging storyline and the realistic environment.

Ratings

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PC Specifications Used

Processor : AMD X2 3600+ @ 2.5ghz
RAM : 1GB DDR2 667
Graphic Card : Colorful X1950GT
Monitor : 20″ Dell Ultra-sharp Wide-screen LCD

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39 Comments

  1. Still waiting for the dual core support patch. -_-”
    Btw, playing this game in DX8 mode is just too ridiculous. But the DX9 mode was too heavy to play on my rig. T_T

  2. I get dizzy after a few stage playing using DX8 mode.. haha

  3. the thing I dont like in STALKER is the inventory management.I kept collecting all the same weapon that I don’t use and clogged the all the space.

  4. Author

    the weight issue. i spend quite a lot of time decide what to drop. 😛 and what to bring along.

  5. hey you play this game at 1680×1050 rite? How was it when playing at that resolution @ maximum setting with your GC?

  6. Author

    1680×1050 = impossible to max setting on my X1950GT @ Pro.

    medium is fine, but when there are more stuff or sound or more action around like cutscenes i lags a bit.

    believe it or not i am forced to play at LOW setting because the game is buggy. the game hangs / crash when i put higher details. 🙁 i’m not happy with the crashes, i save really often.

  7. weirdly enuf, I have no crashes by far. I play on max settings with dynamic lightings all max @ 1440 x 900, my rig could only stand for like half an hour. Then the mouse gets a lil bit choppy and laggy, forced me settled at high settings or something like that; its the second highest settings (i forget what was it but for sure its d one below or shud i say “above” maximum settings).

    “above” – in the layout of the options, maximum is situated down below the list, so one “above” means one level lower than maximum settings.

    Im settled at high settings sometimes with full-dynamic lighting and sumtimes at objects; depending on the room temp. I have tried this couple of times to assure the reliability of this fact and yes it worked as i mentioned. About the crashes could probably bcoz of the driver or else? Some frens with same specs as mine seem not to work as good. The only difference we recognize among us was driver. Some with same driver work flawless as mine, some with newer driver had occasional crash like u mention.

  8. Author

    Derred, I did suspect driver issues but even on a fresh Windows XP, neither catalyst nor omega drivers worked in my case. 🙁 Yes, all latest drivers.

    You’re using the 7900GS aren’t you (based on your siggy somewhere)? according to my observation, the game doesn’t run that well on ATI graphic cards compared to nVidia graphic cards.

    Do you happen to know how your friends’ crashes are like? mine happens (as mentioned in the article) when it’s loading some stuff.

    Regardless of which, the situation me, you and your friends face shows how unstable this game is. 🙁

    oh btw, another thing I suspect is RAM which I’ve not the opportunity to try out yet. I’ll post and update if it additional RAM helps me solve the matter perhaps I’ll also try a lower resolution.

    anyway, check out what others faced here

  9. Most of em already quit by now. They are not patient like you 🙂 By the way, I can tell that most of us that did not face the problem isn’t using the latest driver. I use stock driver while some of frens use like 97.++ or sumthing like that (by the way we are using laptops, so the driver must be different I assume; like some of us use modded .inf files etc). I have tried those but I got other issues with other games, so I am more likely to stick with stock driver till now. So far I have not face any with the current driver that Im using. By the way, there is a cool mod by someone I forget his name; its like [something]32 that surprisingly made an entry in one of those gaming mags. The mod seems to enhance lighting effects but it does not boost framerate according to the mags.

    btw, Im using 7900go gs in SLi. I do believe it might be ATi graphic but like u said, it’s random and some of my frens with same spec also facing almost the same problem.

  10. Author

    hehe. later i’ll give some other nVidia card a try. my 7100GS didn’t work well with it (latest nvidia drivers). my ATi card didn’t work well either, regardless of what latest driver. so 2 things i’m gonna try 1. MORE RAM 2. nVidia card (8500GT at least).

    boost framerates? perhaps you meant did not reduce framerates? 🙂 the game is buggy on my side, i don’t even want to bother with mods yet.

  11. 7100GS isnt that too classic for the game? Nevertheless, I agree with u. Good luck with ur test. I’ll come back with the mod info later on. I’ll try on the mods since I have no problem with the game.

    what I meant was the mod somehow makes the game looks better, but do not boost framerate by any means. I’ll let u know once i get hold of it.

  12. Author

    Alright – just asking, cos most times better graphic = lesser framerates. 🙂

  13. I actually was really careful with my words. I mentioned earlier sumthing about lighting and stuff. Actually it means that there are differences (something bout lighting2 stuff I also dont understand but literally it looks better) which are noticeable if we compare with or without the mod.

    Cant I ask u sumthing, why 7100gs? (i know there will be interesting answer to this). Interestingly enuf other knowledgeable ppl with ur level usually have gotten something like at least 8600gt or 8800gts.

  14. Author

    ok no worries. 🙂 thank you for being patient in clarifying. 😀

    As to why the 7100GS, it’s on the first paragraph of my 7100GS review.

    it’s not a primary gaming card. it’s just for my other rigs. a card that’s cheap BUT much better than onboard graphic systems.

  15. Author

    Damn!! It looks MUCH nicer!!

    Wait I’m getting an 8600GT to try it out. 😛 See if I still crash. I like the game details and storyline so much I’m actually would like to solve this crashing issue.

    I’m definitely going to try out this mod, and the mini-map looks much nicer too.

  16. Told chu.. I think the v1.0004 will come with it. Thats what the rumors said tho. As to clarify what I been talking, it doesnt do anything with framerate, but definitely enhance the shaders and lightings. Result? Better-looking; we all know fps isnt everything rite?

  17. Author

    yeah. i got it on your earlier reply. 🙂 like i said i was thinking nicer graphic probably meant reduced framerates. glad to see it doesn’t affect any.

    i read about the new patch coming but i’m not gonna patch unless the saved games aren’t going to be screwed.

  18. Ok lets dont get things confuse. We are talking about the patch patch rite? like v1.0004 and v1.1 rite? yeah me too if it affects my saved games I wont be doing that either. But if u talking about the mod, it doesnt affect anything except making ur STALKER looks better than ever.

  19. how much did u get the framerate if set to Ultra mode for graphics?

  20. Author

    ultra? is there an ultra mode? nah. i think you meant everything at max – it was totally unplayable at my 1680×1050 setting.

    IMO any of the high settings should be done on 8800 series or similar cards onwards.

  21. Mine is not bad on high settings but gets mouse lag in like half an hour of max settings. Everything for sure in SLi.

    goldfries,

    have u tried the mod? I’ve tried it, man it looks awesome. Give it a try, u wont lose anything for sure. Just uninstall it if u dont like it.

  22. Yes, there is a hidden mode, ultra setting for the game. By tweaking the file settings ofcourse. I forgot how to do it. Google will helps i guess.

    =)

  23. Author

    Yay after I switched to 8600GT graphic card – it worked well!! I even played maximum settings and it didn’t hang……… but the moment I went to a scene with many tries, people, monsters and action or just plenty of objects & textures – wahhh it lagged like 0.5fps sometimes. 😛 damn.

  24. Playing with a 8800 GTS here at 1920X1200. Pretty damn good at Max settings. 🙂

  25. Author

    Wahhh tempting man! 🙂 I feel like getting an HD 2900XT but I’m not sure if it would be stable.

  26. Should be good right? The HD2900XT. I just got my GTS as well, and I didn’t take the HD2900XT because my room’s quite warm and the power consumption is quite high. ATI driver support is better though.

  27. Author

    Yup. i run in air-cond room so it should be fine. Just that I need to mind my PSU if I were to get those higher end cards.


  28. I’m honestly surprised that you scored this lower than the craptastic Lost Planet. Tastes differ of course, but I’d expected something as innovative as STALKER to deserve more praise. I’d love to see more shooter / RPG hybrids in the same vein.

  29. Author

    It’s a damn buggy game in the first place, having 8/10 is pretty good already. Did you notice that this is the only review that has “Critical Issues” section?

    In fact, you should see how others rated it. 🙂

    Lost Planet – I awarded it high score, simply because it’s really rare to come by such nice action game. The game worked flawlessly and I have family members keep bugging me on when I’m going to play it as they were engaged with the story and all. The value is there (yes, many rated Lost Planet as crappy anyway)

    Again, i rate the games based on overall package – enjoyment included. STALKER was fun but the ending was a disappointment and it’s a long and tedious game.

    Having said all that (my longest comment / reply so far i think) – I gave STALKER and 8/10 simply because I find it a great game, just that it was spoiled by the lack of quality in the development.

  30. Anyway, you make feel like replaying STALKER again and writing about why it’s so great on my own blog. For what it’s worth, I frequent the quartertothree.com forums, which is notable for having an interesting mix of game industry people as members, and in their best games of 2007 list, STALKER was tied in 2nd place in the PC category with WOW: Burning Crusade. They voted Portal as no. 1, with Bioshock coming in as a very close 3rd. (http://www.quartertothree.com/game-talk/showthread.php?t=41287)

    It’s just one point of reference amongst many, of course, but I like to defend the things I like. 😉

  31. Author

    Hehe, sure. np.

    I liked STALKER for being different in many ways, like the inventory, using of artifacts, guns that it’s damn hard to come by bullets that you want and all. Adds to the fun.

    I’ve no disagreements with you that it’s a great game. I mean really, despite having “Critical Issues” it still comes out with 8/10. 😀

    I just finished it recently and was a little disappointed at the ending was just like that. It can get a little dull when you have to travel long distance just to do a little bit of things, have to manage weight and all but it does add value to the game itself.


  32. system hang? that is strange… never heard my cousin encounter the problem b4… but gonna borrow his copy to test 🙂

  33. Really cool blog. I found it on yahoo. I am looking forward to read more posts.

    Can anybody tell me what´s the best hotel in Paris for my honey moon? I going to married next month..

    Thank you


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