Kelly Flock, executive vice president of worldwide publishing, uttered the words that many thought they would never hear at THQ's Gamers' Day in San Francisco today. "S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has been released to manufacturing," he said. And to prove it, THQ and developer GSC Game World had the first-person survival action game on hand for us to see and play.
Set in an alternate universe where the exclusion zone around the Chernobyl nuclear reactor has become a hotbed of mutant and supernatural activity, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl promises a huge, virtual world to explore, with a dynamic ecology of its own. The game spent much longer in development than anticipated, though, as GSC worked to implement many of the game's ambitious features.
We played multiplayer deathmatch at the event and saw a cool new level called "Desolated Village." As its name suggests, this takes place in a pretty run-down place, full of ramshackle structures falling apart. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. does a fantastic job of capturing the sense that you're exploring an abandoned world. However, the level also impressed us with the sheer amount of complexity and depth to it. Part of the village is on a cliff, providing elevated firing positions. However, numerous stairwells and tunnels offer plenty of ways up and down the cliff, so someone can't dig in atop the cliff and dominate the map. There are simply too many ways to get up and around them.
The ballistics modeling in multiplayer feels authentic, with just the right amount of recoil for each weapon. Shooting from the hip or while on the run isn't recommended because it's generally inaccurate. It's far better to stop or slow down, raise the rifle so you can line up a shot with the iron sights, and fire tight, controlled bursts. This increases the chances of you hitting, as well as nailing an instant-kill headshot.
One thing that we didn't mention in our earlier multiplayer preview is the escalating rank structure in multiplayer. When you start a match, you begin at the lowest rank, which means that you only have a certain number of weapons and pieces of equipment available to you for purchase. Getting kills or accomplishing tasks in team games, such as capturing an important artifact and returning it to base, earns you points. Gain enough points, and you're promoted to the next level, which makes more powerful firearms and equipment available to you for purchase. It sounds like a rich-gets-richer type of situation, but it's offset by the fact that this higher-level gear is more expensive. Plus, you can still die as quickly as before and someone can pick up your gear and use it against you next time you spawn.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. looks good, and we can't wait to check out the final version of the game ourselves. You won't have to wait much longer, either, as the game is scheduled to ship later this month.