S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Multiplayer Hands-On and Q&A - Factions, AI, and Enemies

We test drive S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s multiplayer modes, and then catch up with some of the designers to learn more about the game's impressive AI.

Survival gameplay and first-person action will blend together in S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, the long-awaited game from THQ and GSC Game World. When it finally ships next month, S.T.A.L.KE.R. will have two halves. There's the ambitious single-player game that will put you in the midst of the exclusion zone that surrounds the infamous Chernobyl nuclear reactor. Then there's the multiplayer game that will let you run-and-gun online with and against other players.

We had a chance to check out the multiplayer beta test going on right now, and the multiplayer is going for a more traditional run-and-gun style of action that shooter fans are familiar with. The three modes in the beta are deathmatch, team deathmatch, and artifact hunt, which is basically a variation of the popular capture-the-flag mode.

The multiplayer levels that we've seen are fairly complex, offering plenty of places to hide and fight from.

The environments in multiplayer are incredibly detailed. The graphics engine isn't as cutting-edge as some seen in newer games, but GSC Game World has managed to turn that into a plus. There's a lot more geometry and objects in each level, and this translates into more interesting battlefields. There are plenty of wide-open spaces, as well as confined areas for close-quarters combat. Another nice touch in multiplayer is the atmospheric effects. During a battle the weather will change from sunny to overcast, at which time lightning bolts will brightly illuminate the darkness, and then the sun will appear again.

You won't have an unlimited amount of weapons and ammunition at your disposal, either, as the multiplayer portion of the game borrows some of the scavenging concepts from the single-player game. There's an economy in multiplayer. You'll start out with a decent amount of cash, which you can use to buy more powerful weapons (you start with just a pistol), body armor, and equipment, such as night-vision goggles and med kits. You earn money for kills, but if you're killed, you'll respawn with none of your gear left, which means that you must dip into your cash reserves. But if you're short of cash, you'll have to either recover a weapon from a fallen player or wait until you earn enough money to outfit again.

Most of the gear in the game looks as if it's taken from the real world. There are many varieties of Kalashnikov assault rifles, as well as some Western arms. There are pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, and yes, sniper rifles. The ballistic model in the game feels right, in that firing a burst from an assault rifle results in a spray of fire, as the recoil affects the accuracy of each successive shot. Meanwhile, the sniper rifle is more than capable of delivering accurate headshots, as we discovered the hard way over and over again. One of the neat aspects of the game is how it seems to model the movement of your legs. Circle strafing, or running sideways in a circle around someone, is almost impossible because any kind of lateral movement slows you down. Meanwhile, backpedaling is also a lot slower than moving forward. It's a little thing, but it adds a realistic touch to the action.

If you don't want to play against other players online, you can dive into the single-player game, though don't expect a lot of mercy there. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s universe, the exclusion zone around Chernobyl has become a hotbed of activity. Strange mutant creatures and much worse inhabit the zone, while stalkers (heavily armed scavengers) roam about battling one another for valuable artifacts. One of the impressive aspects of the game is the detailed behavior modeling and artificial intelligence in the game, and we caught up with AI programmer Dmitry Yasenev and gameplay designer Ruslan Didenko for more details.

GameSpot: Tell us about the five factions in the game and the roles they will play. How will they be more than simply good-or-evil, black-and-white groups that influence players' actions?

It's a dog-eat-dog, mutant-eat-mutant world in the exclusion zone.

Dmitry Yasenev and Ruslan Didenko: The factions are Duty, Monolith, Mercenaries, Freedom, and Bandits. Each faction possesses its own ideology which determines the basic relations among them. For example, the Duty faction consists of ex-military who went into the zone to fight the perils there. They believe it a duty to protect the world from mutant invasion and hence fight against any zone traces. Meanwhile, the Freedom faction consists of anarchists fighting for information about the zone. They openly oppose the military and want to prevent the government from fully controlling the zone. They believe the zone is an ex-military test ground for Third World War weapons and that what happens in the zone must be widely known.

The factions have well-protected bases in the zone, where they have their leaders, plenty of guards, equipment, and ammunition. All the factions fight one another, and the player may become involved in this conflict.

Mutants and Zombies

GS: Obviously, players will be able to make enemies by attacking other factions, but how do players join the different factions in the game? Is it possible to increase or decrease your standing with a certain faction, and if so, how?

Radiation does funny things to the human body in S.T.A.L.K.E.R..

DY and RD: There are two levels of relationships when it comes to the player and the factions. The first is the player's relationship with individual of that faction, and the second is the attitude of the entire faction. On the individual level, the player may interact with a certain stalker by communicating, trading, fighting, and so on. If you make a mess of the relations with a single stalker, you will not necessarily become an enemy of his entire faction. To do that you'd need to commit to something much more evil, such as attacking a faction's outpost or killing a number of its members.

GS: What benefits will players get for joining certain factions? For instance, if you join the Duty faction, will you get access to better equipment, or if you join the stalkers, will you get better selling prices for your wares?

DY and RD: The neutral factions will provide the player with random tasks. Cooperating with factions will gain you access to unique weapons and gear, as well as considerable discounts at a faction-friendly dealer.

GS: Tell us about the mutant creatures that players will face in the game. Just how many kinds of different mutant creatures will players encounter?

DY and RD: The game has about a dozen different monster types. Most of these have different subspecies, which have different looks.

GS: Are all the mutant creatures in the game a result of nuclear fallout, or are there some that were perhaps the result of some Chernobyl-era experimentation? What are their motivations? Will they all be hostile?

DY and RD: Monsters are divided into three categories: mutated animals, mutated humans, and creatures that have appeared after some eerie events in the zone.

The key behavior built into monsters is the self-preserving instinct. Monsters act in accordance with their instincts, being guided by this paramount goal of avoiding danger. Hence, the level of aggression of some monsters is fairly low in the game. Unless you go attacking them, they would rather avoid the combat than engage in it. But if monsters feel strong enough to beat the player, they will attack.

GS: Many of the creatures we've seen so far seem like mindless animals, charging at players and trying to bite or claw them. Will all creatures in the game simply be dumb beasts, or will they have different abilities or smarter AI? Give us some examples.

DY and RD: In addition to aggression, monsters can show individual abilities, peculiarities, and tricks. In battle you can observe when monsters get scared and start running away, only to return once their morale is restored. A certain category of monsters in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. were given abnormal abilities--telekinesis, telepathy, invisibility--turning them into very nonstandard opponents. For instance, when fighting an invisible poltergeist, you will first have to cope with boxes, crates, furniture, and whatever other objects it grabs and hurls at your face. Meanwhile, the controller enemy, using his abilities of telepathy and mental control, prefers to act from the distance by inflicting psionic attacks or sending zombies the player's way.

GS: We understand that in certain missions, players will actually be joined by AI characters who will fight by their side. How skilled will teammates be in battle? Will they be hesitant to enter dangerous areas, or will they suffer morale problems and flee battle if they're too badly injured?

Get ready for a trip to the scenic and dangerous Ukrainian countryside next month.

DY and RD: We aimed to approximate the AI's behavior to something real humans would do. As a result, in the company of AI characters you can see them showing caution, choosing cover, firing from behind the cover, and then hiding back to reload. If an AI loses sight of his opponent, he comes out and tries to hunt him, and when finding an injured enemy he will finish him, but not without first uttering something rude in Russian.

Aside from the sheer abilities, the effectiveness of your teammate's actions will hugely depend on his rank and equipment: thus, rookies in the battle are far less effective than veterans. So, watch who you take with you when going into battle. Generally speaking, the behavior of computer stalkers in battle can be described as, "Nobody here wants to die, each one values his own life."

GS: Thank you, guys.

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78 comments
forkshop
forkshop

the visuals are regular, but i dont know nothing about the AI

Erilis
Erilis

They say the roof of the real building housing reactor 4 is very weak and could be destroyed by strong winds or a small earthquake. If that happens another cloud of radiation will escape. I heard they were going to build another structure around it to house it in case the roof gives way, but they haven't even started construction I don't think. It's a major concern for people living around Europe and Russia and etc... But thankfully nothing like what's in this game will ever come to be, lol.

zeus_gb
zeus_gb

"It's ironic that the real area around chernoby is actually quite nice, with trees, flowers, grass and wildlife." It hides a deadly fact though! Everything around the reactor has been affected by the radiation. Anyway, i'm really looking forward to seeing how impressive the AI really is.

BGOATDoughnut
BGOATDoughnut

In it's BETA form, it runs great on my AMD Sempron with 1 gig of ram and a 6800 GS/XT, and keep in mind, it hasn't been optimized. Thankfully.

SagevMansaw
SagevMansaw

The game seems really cool because of the text, unfortunately I have a ten year old computer so I can't watch the videos. I think the subject of Chernobyl is a scary thought on its own, turn that into a game with updated Ai and you got a thriller baby! sounds good.

vuvussi
vuvussi

I think im gonna buy this game but the game im really looking forward to is Half-life 2 episode 2

Eclipse83Lives
Eclipse83Lives

This game is sick eye candy. Me and some others have been talking about this "in the real world lol" Will it be that good thow? I'm not sure yet? And what will we need to run it? Really when you think of it? This is the irony that media has gave us. We may have to spend 800 to 1,200 or more to play this one game. And we wont here a word about to much. But if we sped 600 to play a great home system game. With great graphics"at least at that level of gaming." Cash is a major story??? Kinda ironic. If it plays anywhere near what it looks like. Should be pretty decent.

kriptonzz
kriptonzz

It's ironic that the real area around chernoby is actually quite nice, with trees, flowers, grass and wildlife.

pdo4545
pdo4545

the cover of this game scares me, lol.

fritigoerd
fritigoerd

Woa!!!!!! Its like oblivion but with guns , smart enemies and such ...... my kind of game

lezrus2004
lezrus2004

anyone played stalker build 2939?

Erilis
Erilis

MGilbert11, so far they're only putting it out on PC. I if the game does reasonably well they may put out on some consoles. I think it's awesome what they're trying to do, and it seems like they've been working REALLY hard on it. It reminds me a lot of "Boiling Point: Road to Hell" in terms of realism, but I hope it does better than BP did; I think it will. Stalker also reminds me of "Gothic 3" in terms of environments and AI but, naturally, the rest is a bit different. Something worries me though: There's a point in games where too much freedom and realism makes the game too complicated for players to enjoy (I felt this way about BP). Games need rules and restrictions or else they wouldn't be fun (think about board games). They also need at least a main goal. It seems like even with all the freedom of movement Stalker will play well in terms of where the player is supposed to go and what he's supposed to do, but I'm worried about the realisim taking away from the fun factor. I'm just hoping they'll be able to balance it out. I think they will though; the fact that they took away the ability to operate vehicles and the need to watch fuel and vehicle damage, and the need to sleep, gives me hope, as I suspect they removed these features to make the game less complicated. It seems like they're doing a lot of the right things to make the game fun.

MGilbert11
MGilbert11

Does anyone know if they will be releasing xbox 360 or ps3?? this game would be awesome on one of those consoles.

Quadrifoglio
Quadrifoglio

360wishlist, what does that have to with the subject at hand?

hogster9369
hogster9369

looks awesome im totally like buying it !!

datniccah187
datniccah187

Game is impressing me more buy the week. I'm actually starting to think i might have to just break down and buy this one.

The_AI
The_AI

Yay S.T.A.L.K.E.R.! (Man that's a pain to type!!)

GameFreak501
GameFreak501

That's a pretty old article (2004). I don't know whether it is still true, but many things were dropped between then and now. It's quite possible that they scratched that idea.

polak123456
polak123456

Ok. Back to the question I had before. I found this article on h**p://www.gamershell.com/news/16974.html . Here is a part of it. THQ Inc. today announced it is working with AMD to create an optimised version of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl for the AMD Athlon64 processor architecture. "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is expected to leverage the strengths of AMD64 technology to provide an immersive gaming experience with a larger playable world, more detailed surroundings, better AI, and more people per map".

vuvussi
vuvussi

The game looks kind of cool but the thing that bugs me out that the graphics is a pretty ugly even Half-life 2 that came out like 3 years ago has better graphics but you know graphics isn't all that matters so i think i shall buy it.

360wishlist
360wishlist

ok seriously gamespot really loves putting us niccas down, ive gotten suspended and reduced score warnings so many times for saying things that werent even offensive.

AnimeFreak9865
AnimeFreak9865

Seriously gonna try and get my hands on it, if my PC can take it

cjcr_alexandru
cjcr_alexandru

If I won't be able to play Crysis, I will get this. Or I might get this anyway...

pwnr
pwnr

I hope that it doesn't cost too much.

muscrat_01
muscrat_01

\/ yea I hope your right. I dont want it to flop :?

firebreathing
firebreathing

all these magazines and what not have been playing on a pre release (aka BETA) build so of course there will be bugs. I'm not expecting the game to be perfect (there will be bugs no matter what), but I'm going to wait till the game is actually out to pass judgement. When you take into account what the game is doing (HDR lighting/shadowing, realisitc ballistics, AI that isn't dumb as hell, the draw distance and so forth) of course it's going to be taxing on your system. If you don't want all the pretty bells and whistles then you must make sacrifices. All these people say PC gaming is "too expensive", but they failt to realize that it's an investment that you must keep yourself educated on because it is rapidly changing. Regardless this looks like a cool game. It'll be even cooler if we can get a good modding community going.

owman
owman

looking strange, administration deleting every my post about stalker, even if there is nothing bad about that game.

esrra
esrra

great at last the awsome game is coming out. i wonder how advance we will feel the AI. yep i recognise what is going to be a classic and this game will make a LANDMARK on what all FPS "NEED" in AI. i cant wait for fallout 3 and this game.

TintedChimes
TintedChimes

creepy, I want to be a dog that throws acid in this game, looks awesome by the way

muscrat_01
muscrat_01

Even though im looking foward to this i hate to say: Apparantly its fairly buggy, a RAM whore and a tad broken here and there. Thats what my fav PC mag said after their 3 hour play test - though they had plenty of good things to say too..

MidgetMookie
MidgetMookie

This needs to come out already. Polak, that's probably not true, if it is, they'll be on the same disc.

polak123456
polak123456

I heard long time ago that they were making two different versions of the game. One was for the 64 bit processors and one for 32 bit processors. Is that still true?? If so what will be the difference?

EyeNixon
EyeNixon

I remember when this game looked absolutely amazing, now it just looks average, both in concept and graphics.

IamSliM
IamSliM

bleh. really just more of the same thing. doesnt get me excited.

Spectre-63
Spectre-63

What happened to the Cooperative MP mode? One of the things I'd looked forward to most was being able to go thru the campaign with a friend.

Tomdogg
Tomdogg

It's about time that this game came out.

The1stFishBone
The1stFishBone

Game looks great and it 40 bucks not 50. I'm still disappointed they dropped vehicle's from the game.

GameFreak501
GameFreak501

This game is going to be amazing if it lives up to what they say. Open-ended exploration of the 30km 'Zone' filled with mutants, stalkers, and various factions all with superb AI is a dream game to me.

Soilworker1234
Soilworker1234

To be honest this game doesnt look that good.....its the same idea for a game that we have seen over the years and just doesnt look good at all

racerx737
racerx737

This game sounds like it's shaping up to be really awesome, I wonder if it'll come out eventually on the 360?

pawno
pawno

This game can't come soon enought. Single-player looks like where its at - intriging story, open world, smart A.I. and one of the most atmospheric games I've ever seen. Still multi-player looks like its worth a shot based on this preview. Bring it on!

Terrorantula
Terrorantula

Why bother posting then? Anyways can't wait.

owman
owman

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Alucard7321
Alucard7321

GS running the game on their inferior PCs as usual.