S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Single-Player Hands-On - Early Game

After years of delays, this promising first-person survival game is nearing completion, and we get our hands on a work-in-progress version to scout it out.

It's taken a couple of years longer than anticipated to get here, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is finally entering the last phases of completion. This highly ambitious first-person survival game isn't a traditional shooter by any means. You won't be running and gunning through linear levels like you do in so many other games. Instead, you'll be plopped down around the radioactive ruins of the infamous nuclear power plant, and from that point you'll be able to explore a dynamic and living world, complete with its own ecology. With a work-in-progress version of the game in hand, we set about going through the early parts of the single-player game to see just how well S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has come together.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is set in the exclusion zone around the infamous Chernobyl reactor.

In S.T.A.L.K.E.R. you play as the "marked one," a stalker who wakes up with amnesia one day, remembering only that he has a vague mission to find and kill a fellow stalker named Strelok. Stalkers are heavily armed scavengers who wander around the exclusion zone that surrounds the Chernobyl facility. In the game's universe, the radiation from Chernobyl has had a strange effect on the landscape and wildlife within the zone. Strange creatures inhabit the zone, while the radiation turns ordinary items into valuable artifacts. Even worse is that the radiation has also created strange anomalies that distort the fabric of reality. Stalkers search the zone for valuable artifacts while trying to avoid the military forces that patrol the area.

After the obligatory opening cutscene that shows that things are certainly not all right within the zone, you start the game talking to Sidorovich, a merchant who gives you missions and information, and who also trades in equipment. Sidorovich drops some cryptic remarks about your amnesia, but also mentions that you owe him, and the payback means doing some jobs for him. The conversation system in the game is similar to that of role-playing games, as you'll have a variety of responses to choose from, as well as the opportunity to ask questions.

The first mission that you must accomplish for Sidorovich involves recovering a data drive from another stalker named Nimble. To get info on his location, you have to find Wolf, leader of a faction of stalkers in a nearby village. Thankfully, that village is next to Sidorovich's underground lair, but the short walk will give you your first taste of this lush virtual world. It's one full of overgrown fields, empty villages, and the occasional vehicle wreck rusting away to nothing. It's also a world full of all sorts of animal life. In fact, developer GSC Game World promised a dynamic ecology, and from our impressions this certainly seems to be the case. In the distance, we could see dogs chasing packs of strange boar creatures, and in another we saw those boar creatures suddenly flee when an anomaly appeared next to them. These anomalies appear in the form of something warping time and space.

The most dangerous things in the zone, though, are fellow humans. Thankfully, not all of them are on your enemies list. For instance, when we found Wolf, he explained that Nimble has been captured by a rival faction of stalkers, and he needed someone to lead his men in a rescue mission. You can decline and try to do the rescue solo, or you can agree and rendezvous with Wolf's men on the outskirts of the compound where Nimble is being held. We chose the latter, so we trekked over to the rendezvous point where Wolf's men awaited us.

The gameworld feels alive, and you'll see the wildlife behave like real wildlife. In other words, they eat each other.

At this point in the game, all you'll be armed with is a pistol, so that will make for an interesting firefight. There were approximately eight to nine bad guys inside the compound to deal with, and the ensuing firefight felt distinctive from the normal run-and-gun battles, probably because we just had the pistol. Still, we were impressed with the performance of the artificial intelligence. Each enemy stalker (and each has a unique name) did a lot more than just stand and shoot at us. They moved for cover, fell back and found a good defensible position, and more. As each one fell, we searched the body and recovered all sorts of goods, including weapons, ammunition, bandages, health packs, and even food. The inventory system is based on both space and weight, so if you fill up your pack or carry too many heavy objects, you'll have a problem. We recovered all the weapons, ranging from pistols to shotguns, and we also compared the condition of each, since weapons can apparently wear out.

We also located Nimble, hiding next to the fire. You don't really need to rescue him, since you could also recover the data drive off of his corpse, but we kept him alive. That turned out to be a good choice, as Nimble explained that he told his captors of a hidden weapons cache that you can also go after. Nimble can also be a source of missions, we discovered, so it'll probably be a good thing to keep him alive.

With the data drive intact, we had to hike it back to Sidorovich to collect our reward. The world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is vast, and this tiny corner of the game still required us to hike about half a kilometer through the terrain. A scary moment occurred when we heard the blades of a helicopter approaching. We ran for cover and watched as a heavily armed gunship soared over the area before flying away.

We managed to get back to Sidorovich without encountering anything else, and this of course led to another mission. This new quest was a lot riskier, involving longer travel through the zone, and it was a good explanation of how the game's radiation system works. If you're exposed to too much radiation you'll need to treat it, through either taking expensive antiradiation medicine or by downing much more-affordable vodka. After selling our war booty to Sidorovich, we opted for some vodka and hiked back out to the wilderness for more adventures.

The visuals remain sharp and impressive, especially considering the vast size of the world.

This initial taste of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is enticing, mainly because it appears that GSC Game World has delivered on many of the ambitious features that were promised years ago. There's almost a palpable sense that you're not quite playing a game, but rather exploring an incredibly dynamic and dangerous world. We're excited at the prospect of adventuring and living in this world. It also doesn't hurt that the visuals have remained impressive. There was concern that the many delays would result in the game looking dated when it arrived--keep in mind that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was supposed to be one of the first games to use DirectX 9, and now it will arrive after Microsoft releases DirectX 10. Still, the graphical detail is comparable to games such as Half-Life 2. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is scheduled to ship this March.

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161 comments
N8XcruC8N
N8XcruC8N

I've got my pre-order. How about you? I did NOT have faith in this game considering the Duke Nukem-esque delays. But with the previews from multiple sites, I was once again hooked. What hooked me is the fact that they kept the graphics up to date, and it is the first RPG/Shooter ever. It better not be the last. I just have a bad feeling that with a first time engine and so much delays, it wont run as well as it could. We'll see.

dileepvr
dileepvr

I have great respect for these guys, spending years primarily on AI alone. But i have to express distaste to one of the animal models (the fat one with tiny pointed legs). Doesn't look like a natural design, like the brain bug of starship troopers, or that thing in HL:opposing force. A very un-darwinian way for a creature to evolve... although it might be intentional (it is a mutant), but still, it seems to be thriving instead of heading towards extinction. I really wish they change the model (too late i guess, but at least in a mod). I just loved the Antlion Guard for it's desing, and how well it tied in with it's behavior!!

jimthegreight
jimthegreight

my spidy senses are tingling at the thought of playing this game, i can't wait !

Fredde001
Fredde001

Lol i actualy ordered this game : "2004-03-16 08:52:16" and then i was hoping for a "quick delivery"

londo2001
londo2001

When do we find out who has been successful with the beta keys?

zeus_gb
zeus_gb

Can't wait to get my hands on this!

cevic
cevic

I definitely will buy it, can't wait to play.

BGOATDoughnut
BGOATDoughnut

I remember playing a old old OLD Alpha leak of this game. All it had was multiplayer, and no servers. But still, that 5 minutes of play time was enough to get me to pre-order it. All I can say now is... FINALLY. Can't wait.

vufor
vufor

Oh, Long waited is not a word........I am glad that at last we had hands on this game hope this will not disapoint us, and I pretty sure about that. It past long time since HL2 came through (full game), and we have not got anything valuable play with since that I reckon. I think Stalker will fill the gap and makes us happy. Let see!

barlienb
barlienb

This is going to be great, I am sure of it. I actually have a magazine with an atricle on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. from 2004! It was aloong side of The Sims 2! :D Well all is forgiven an I can't wait!

ziko04
ziko04

Finally, after all does years of delaying it's here.Just hope it's for sure.Can't wait.

luke_717
luke_717

Uau! This is going to be good.

gils0n
gils0n

Sounds awesome. I'm soo psyched about this game. Am I seeing things, or does the BB link up top say 39.99?

pidow
pidow

I can not wait to play!.

GFofgaming
GFofgaming

I am interested in this game not because of the looks, but because of the gameplay as its non-traditional FPS, pretty much like upcoming Bioshock. Also the setting is interesting. Elder-Scribe or whatever ur ****** name is, guys like u dont give small time developers a chance. For that only, I will give this game an 8 atleast.

ip007
ip007

I can't say this game looks bad, not bad at all. But I need a closer look when it comes out to decide that. From the screenshots the game looks really good, not as good as Crysis but at least as good as Half-Life 2 - maybe even better.. And it's also a big plus when the game looks good and plays good, the missions sound interesting and just exploring the "zone" is cool.

jknight5422
jknight5422

The game took so long to make, they might as well put it on the 360 as well. That's where the shooters are.

HellsKing
HellsKing

Alright, I don't feel like reading this essay...just tell me this...are Aliens taking over the planet? or has the world gone mad over the years and humanoid creatures are up and about and you gotta killem all?

1LowSDime
1LowSDime

I completely forgot about this game. After reading the updated review, I can't wait for it to come out. It's very rare to come across a game that offers a large playing field. Only other one I've messed with was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but that didn't hold my attention for long. From the looks of this game, it should really deliver. While the graphics may not be that cutting edge, it still is in development so it's quite possible that they might work on the graphics by the time it comes out, in preparation for DirectX 10. I'm wondering what kind of weapons you can acquire in this game, along with how long it'll take to complete the game. I'm sure GameSpot will provide more as it gets closer. I can't wait.

nappan
nappan

I think that delays in the production of this game may actually pay off (HL2 style). Everything I'm seeing points to a developer choice to make this a gameplay masterpeice with very good graphics, instead of a graphical masterpiece with acceptable gameplay. If that's true, I applaud the move, and eagerly await this game.

owman
owman

_ShadowStalker_, you look like a smart one guy. Sorry for my english. Just that fanboys make me mad. Sorry for that too. And I know one language very well, but it isn't english.

_ShadowStalker_
_ShadowStalker_

Damn, Owman, I hope your other 5 languages are better than your 6th (English) b/c I can't make sense of a word you’re saying. Tis better to be able to speak one language very well, and sound articulate than speak 6 and sound like a complete idiot. (Try using spell check) Anyways. I've been keeping up with this game and it's progress for a few years now and eagerly waiting in anticipation for its release. Yes, the gfx might not be up to par with today’s top notch game, but I feel the immense zone and computer AI will more than make up for the 50$ one would spend on this game. I usually don't buy games on their release dates, just get them later when the prices come down but I will most definitely grab this game as soon as it comes out. I feel it will be well worth the wait.

HellsKing
HellsKing

I like the way the play stlye looks. It seems like it'll actually involve tactics and real skill to survive instead of runnem and gunnem like that Unreal Tournament crap. Graphics look like they need to be updated...looks like CS:S graphics...and instead of making Ai have random abilitys they need to start making random map generators...that way when playing multiplayer it's always somthing new instead of the same ****...thas all.

guldlox
guldlox

still looks interesting.

Elder_Scribe
Elder_Scribe

THQ is involved with this project. Developer is GSC Gameworld. One unknown developer working with one of the worst publishers in gaming. It's going to suck. :end message:

owman
owman

flamingworks, how many languages do u know? I'm know 6, english isn't my mother language. If u think, when stalker come out it will be gr8 game, so idiot is you, think about that. Ok, buy stalker, I dont care. It will be sux, I can say that righ now, but you can say that only when u pay 50-60$. That's the reason, why I'm a smart guy, and you idiotic fanboy.

Humorguy_basic
Humorguy_basic

Amongst all the other 'large world' PC games, this is high up there - of course, in PC gaming, we seldom get 'large world' games any more! What we get is led by the nose, cookie cutter, corridor FPS's and RTS's. IN PC gaming we are lucky if we get 2 'free-form, large world' anything - shooter or RPG! When it comes to deeper open world RPG's, we are lucky to get one every 3 years! And to get an open-world free-form RPG that isn't fantasy, you have to go wait 5 years or so!!! PS Flamingworks, you need to have a little more empathy for people that have English as their second language. Do you think you could speak this guy's language in forum's in his country?!

Vokr
Vokr

Half-Live 2 was created about 5 years, and it is good game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. takes same time, so what is wrong? Nothing, because S.T.A.L.K.E.R. will be good game too.

flamingworks
flamingworks

Owman u wanna try learning some english before you post in the future? You are also completly wrong about this game, as it will be at least a refreshing change from the run and gun shooters. Its delays are only a sign that they are really trying to get the best experiance out of the game possible, as the earlier versions of this had laughable AI that some game companies would put out anyway and hope it sells *cough* EA *cough*. S.T.A.L.K.E.R should be great fun and challenging experiance, dont let idiots like owman sway ur decision to buy this.

owman
owman

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

owman
owman

Hye, moderator. This is not my opinion - this game Will be sux. Do u know why? Try to think. That **** who try to create that game, just make nice screenshots and videos. Where da f**k is game? They say I't comming up in 2002 or 2003. What is now? 2007? ya. so what that mean? that mean the grafic is totaly old, they try to create really Artificial Intelligence but something go wrong, and they create just simple scrip game, just like ohter games. NOTHING special. So, try to think, game of 2003 come out in 2007? Do u think this game will be rulle? I'm post here - THIS GAME WILL BE SUX. so it will.

tsb247
tsb247

I can't wait!!!!

Doolum
Doolum

That stuff is impressive man.

buffer34
buffer34

This sounds pretty good...

rammsteinkgb
rammsteinkgb

Looks very impressive I just hope that it will come out on time. For those who concerned about system reqs here they are: Minimum PC System Requirements PC Processor Type Intel® Pentium® 4 processor or equivalent PC Processor Speed 2.4GHz PC Operating System Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista PC System Memory 512MB RAM PC Hard Drive Space 4GB PC Video 64MB DirectX 8.0b-compatible video card PC Sound Card Sound card PC Modem 56.6 Kbps PC Additional Requirements Internet service required to access online features Cost would be $39.99

tehmamushka
tehmamushka

interesting, very very interesting...

Col_Kilgore
Col_Kilgore

Can't wait for this game. Oh, and I did see videos where you were driving a vehicle. It was like some little crappy car, but it looked fun. Been waiting for this game since it was announced. Yeah, I am old.

ldonyo
ldonyo

I've been keeping tabs on this one for a couple of years now. It has always been a promising title, but it is nice to get some validation of that after all this time.

Vorlin
Vorlin

I'm glad they're spending the time to get things as right as possible. I don't know if anyone here was looking forward to Soldner, but I know I was and it was trying to do one thing really good: a totally destructive environment. While that worked out pretty good, the AI sucked, and there were a host of other problems. That said, I hope S.T.A.L.K.E.R. holds true to what these guys are saying...I know I've been waiting for this game and tracking it for years!

kaziechameleon
kaziechameleon

so i had GRAW for the 360, i found it to be a pretty misserable game aside from the online vs. modes. the coop had horrible AI, the single player had possibly worse AI, the game is still a pixle hunter with red outlines. the level design is horrible generally speaking with one or two fantastic levels. then i got the pc version because i like the demo and it was only 20 bucks, while it is a better game i found a host of issues with it. laggy controls, and a verry buggy multi player. ultimately i wish i hadn't gotten either and could have gotten two good pc games like this upcoming stalker. i love the engine and know how the games controls will feel. i love the originality, it's as if someone siad, hey fallout in a FPS set now. yeah looks cool. i really like the promise of this game.

M3KI
M3KI

I can't wait for the release :)

dennis8
dennis8

ive been waiting for this game for a very long time... hopefully it won't be a letdown...

ShadowScorp
ShadowScorp

I reckon this is going to be a very nice game indeed. It almost feels as if they took the same gameplay techniques as The Elder Scrolls, but used high-tech world blended with the Fallout series. Definately a recipe for success. Cannot wait, this will be one of the hits for 2007 for sure! (And added to my collection of course)

Jaywhun
Jaywhun

I hope the AI is indeed as great, hopely even better than that of F.E.A.R. Damn I loved that game for its AI. This game sounds very promising, certainly gonna get it, if it turns out wel.