The Zone calls. Return to Chernobyl.
The Stalker series comes full circle with a return to the blasted zone with a final return to the wastes of irradiated Pripyat.
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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Call of Pripyat
It’s not easy being a Stalker. You get up each morning in your beached oil tanker home, shoot some mutant dogs and then hunt down radioactive trinkets hidden in a spacetime distortion so violent that it’s cleaved a mountain in two [so not the type that peers into windows and makes obscene phonecalls? -Ed]
Well that’s the life that fans of the brilliant Ukranian-based developer GSC Game World have grown to love in the first two STALKER games: Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Sky.
The plot is still as sombre and bleak as ever, with the well meaning, if confusing, intro seqence giving newcomers enough knowledge to follow the bizarre history; while there is plenty of information to be gleaned from quizzing the local Stalkers if you need more.
This third time around the player is cast in the role of Alexander Degtyarev, a one time Stalker who has long since left The Zone to earn his keep as a military man in the real world. Degtyarev’s mission in the blasted wastes of Chernobyl is to seek out the ruins of a handful of downed helicopters and find out exactly what happened.
The game is far closer in style to the original game, a Fallout 3 style romp around the Zone completing missions and odd tasks whilst upgrading your kit across an ever-more dangerous landscape. Gone are the inter-factional battles and near psychic hostile spotting abilities of Clear Sky‘s mercenary come assassin Scar, in favour of a more terrifying one man against the odds survival game.
Interestingly the game has toned down the volume of enemies you encounter and their aggressive tendencies; a welcome fact as death is a frequent visitor to Ukraine in 2012. Get into a fight with a pack of dogs, or the loping gasmask wearing mutants and you might walk away if you shoot well, but armed conflict is a risky business. Picking a bad fight will end in almost certain death as a single headshot will lay you low.
Instead the locals seem to have cheered up a little since Scar and his mates wiped out the factions, and even more so since Strelock remembered what he was up to before his amnesia-inducing truck crash.
Despite the fact that Shadow of Chernobyl came out some years ago, Call of Pripyat is fairly unchanged stylistically from the original. The look is nigh-on identical, even if the world is more detailed and much prettier in a nightmarishly apocalyptic way. It’s still very much a case of wandering into an area, chatting-up a few local hardmen and seeking out some items, or people in return for hard cash, rare equipment or useful information.
What remains is a massive open ended game where you can literally spend hours traversing the hills, ruins and forests of the radioactive Soviet disaster. The biggest location in the game and indeed titular hard-sell is the City of Pripyat itself. It’s quite something to behold, an epic sweeping rendition of the real place, filled with eldritch screams and far off howls. Its here that the story begins to tie itself together and the game really shows off what the makers wanted to do with this third instalment.
It’s not perfect, there are some dodgy bugs, but nothing compared to the earlier games. The gunfights are also painfully difficult and the trade-in prices on guns are still a worse ripoff than a coffee on the Champs Elysee but Call of Pripyat does what it does well and is a fitting conclusion to an epic series.