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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl: Life is Irradiated

Company: THQ

After a few years of wondering just what was going on with the game, I finally got a chance to spend extensive, hands-on time with the oft-delayed, long-awaited FPS S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl.

In April 1986, Reactor 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Russia exploded, resulting in one of the worst nuclear reactor disasters in history. The effects of the explosion were felt as far as Sweden and the fire was so intense that it took nearly two weeks to put them all out. Even today the area is shut off, and it could take almost hundreds of years before the radiation expires.

The game takes place in a fictionalized version of the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. You play as the “Marked One”, one of many scavengers living in the post-nuclear disaster area. You are also a bounty hunter, which is the only memory you still have.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. combines elements of a role-playing game with the action of a FPS, making for a unique experience. The game’s feel is reminiscent of Oblivion, but with a faster pace, due mostly to the presence of firearms rather than swords and arrows.

Missions take place within the radioactive wastes of Chernobyl and completing tasks. Some involve hunting people down, while others have you collecting and trading radioactive items. The environment is huge, giving the game its Oblivion feel. While you are free to roam around, you are mostly guided around, following mission threads. Still the sense of scale is great and offers plenty of ways to deal with situations.

The most obvious is that you can approach situations differently. You can try the direct approach, or use your surroundings and try to get a jump on opponents. In some cases, you’ll even be approached by other stalkers who you can choose to join.

Seeing as how the entire game takes place in an area that has been flooded with radiation, you can expect to see several mutations – many of which are out to get you. Pockets of radiation are also scattered around the game world. These hot spots are deadly, and best avoided if you can, otherwise they can lead to your death.

In addition to meeting the Zone’s mutated inhabitants, you’ll also meet several other people who have come to the area for their own reasons. Many are looking for the same artifacts you are seeking, while others are there for the adventure or to find answers. As you go about your business in the Zone, they will go about theirs thanks to a revolutionary new A.I. system known as A-Life. This system gives all of the game’s inhabitants, even its mutated ones, their own life and infuse more “life” into the game. People aren’t simply waiting around for you to come stomping into their area; instead they are going about their business and are as dedicated to their goals as you are to yours.

Visually, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is impressive, at least for a title that is a few years past its original ship date. Although it probably won’t push your system to its limits, it still looks great. Environments are presented in all of their irradiated, hollow glory. Skies are gray, colors are dull and give off a great sense of being in a harsh wasteland.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl has been a long time coming, but the wait will be over very, very soon. Although only an early version, there is already lots to like about the game and it should prove to be one of the better FPSs to grace the PC this year.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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