S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl GDC 2003 first impressions

GSC Gameworld gives us a peek at its upcoming first-person role-playing game.

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Tucked away at the Nvidia booth at this year's GDC, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost caught our attention with its detailed graphics and unique gameplay concept. GSC Gameworld is developing S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which is a first-person role-playing game that sends players into a 20-square-kilometer zone around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The Chernobyl plant, according to the game's story, experienced a second nuclear catastrophe in the year 2006. Over the years after the accident, the contamination around Chernobyl spread out to wider areas, killing area residents, unleashing strange mutant animals, and alerting authorities to the presence of an anomalous force that creates areas of paranormal danger. Some of the X-Files-like anomalies include gravity concentrations, poisonous fog that eats away at living beings like acid, and a strange rustlike substance that causes bodies to spontaneously combust upon contact. The game is set in the year 2026, and it puts players in the role of a stalker, a thrill-seeking poacher who explores the contaminated zone looking for artifacts to sell to researchers who seek to unlock the mysteries of the zone.

Though many specific gameplay details are still being worked out, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s gameplay is comparable in many ways to that of Morrowind, with an open-ended world to explore and dozens of non-player characters to interact with. GSC Gameworld's ambitious vision for the game involves complex interactions between the player and the game's NPCs, who will all operate in the zone with their own AI and agenda. Since AI-controlled characters act independently of the player's presence without much scripting, GSC Gameworld claims the world around the contaminated zone will be shaped just as much by the actions of NPC stalkers and other characters as they will by the player. The developers are even leaving open the small possibility that the game could be solved by one of the NPC characters. Eight different possible endings are planned, depending on how much of the area the player explores, how many mysteries are unlocked, how many people the player kills, and other factors.

Dozens of competing stalkers will populate the zone, and they will be divided into various factions with different agendas and priorities. Depending on how you interact with the other stalkers, they may choose to help or attack you when you come across them. GSC Gameworld plans on creating a sophisticated AI such that hostile action taken against a stalker from one faction will result in that entire faction aligning against the player. Players will also have to contend with military patrols in the area, including army regulars and elite special forces troops--the government has cordoned off the zone, so all stalkers exploring the area are considered in violation of the law. Other groups that players will interact with include equipment dealers, who sell players weapons, detection devices, and protective clothing, and scientists, who assign quests to players, giving some sense of direction to the gameplay.

The game begins with the player entering the zone as a new stalker, with only a small pistol and a simple Geiger counter. Players can earn money by seeking out artifacts from the zone to sell to the scientists, which will in turn allow them to purchase protective gear, more-sophisticated detection equipment (to avoid dangerous anomalies), more-sophisticated weapons, and even a car. There will be around 30 weapons in the game, each of which can be modified with special accessories like optics. The contaminated zone includes wilderness areas, abandoned villages, derelict research and military facilities, and more. As the player gains more powerful weapons and better protective gear, more areas will be opened for exploration, and more of the mystery behind the anomalies will be uncovered.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. features an advanced graphics engine, in addition to its unique and ambitious gameplay concept. The game is capable of pushing 2 million polygons in a single frame, and as such its character and weapon models are highly detailed, with crisp textures to match. The game's foliage is lush, with believable levels of plant density in forested areas. Even the drivable car featured at the GDC featured a lot of detail, with dents and patches of rust adorning the weathered panels of the car's body.

As of now, there is no publisher for the game, but with its promising concept and attractive graphics, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has plenty to offer. We expect to have more details about the game by E3, and GSC Gameworld expects to complete development within nine months. For more details on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost, check out our previous coverage .

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