Despite some annoying bugs, S.T.A.L.K.E.R easily creeps into the hearts of those who play it.

User Rating: 8 | S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl PC
One of the bugbears that normally prevents me from beating a PC game in atimely and efficient manner is when they're buggy. Whether it be anunreasonable amount of glitches, or just a few broken side questshere and there, bugs can make a game, even one as enjoyable as S.T.A.L.K.E.R, a bit of an exercise in tedium. It's a shame too, because S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is one of the moreenjoyable games to hit the PC platform in a good long time.

The game stars an amnesiac Stalker who is coined "The Marked One"soon after he is rescued. With nothing to his name and not even abasic memory of who he is, he sets off into the recesses of The Zone: the radioactive hell that surrounds the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The story goes along a measured pace, with few scripted cutscenes. For the most part, it'll reveal itself slowly through dialog with NPCs and journals you find on the main quest arc. Despite the sparse narrative, the story is compelling, with just the right mix of history, fiction, politics and X-Files-style conspiracy.

Enemies, weapons, and allies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ensuring that there isn't much in the way of boredom. From picking off rival Stalkers with a high-powered sniper rifle, to clearing out a field of mutated hunch-back creatures with a booming combat shotgun. Of course, the weapons get better the deeper the Marked One goes into the Zone, including a very powerful - and relatively quick-firing for asniper weapon - gauss gun. In order to deal with the enemies, it's necessary to collect armor, which is relatively easy to buy or find. However, continued abuse will degrade armor, making it less effective against attacks until it eventually breaks. This makes it absolutely essential to earn cash, either by completing side quests or by selling items scavenged from dead stalkers and various stashes found throughout the Zone. It's not going to be easy to make a fortune,though, since a strict weight limit will leave players going back andforth between their objective and the traders found in select areasof the Zone.

Of course, enemies aren't the only danger in the Zone. In addition to patches of radiation that would obviously be in the area around the nuclear power plant, oddities in nature, known as anomalies, litter the landscape. Most common are three types:anomalies that will wrap their victim in a powerful tornado, patches of land that will electrocute the player, and spots where the player will be burned by spontaneous geysers of fire. Armor can protect from these anomalies, as can special items called "artifacts" that are found in various spots along the Zone. Finding the right combination of artifacts will boost the Marked One's stats, enabling him to resist impact, burning, or any number of hazards that populate the Zone.

While the game isn't entirely open-ended, but the spots between level loads are large enough to provide plenty to explore in each area, including several large indoor complexes which prove especially dangerous, including the sarcophagus that encases the ruined Reactor 4. While the graphics are somewhat old by today's standards - the game was delayed several years - the tangible atmosphere and the wealth of little details that await those who explore off the beaten path, especially in the ruined city of Pripyat.

Not everything is wonderful in the Zone, however. Despite the exceptionally long development time, and even after several patches, there are many bugs in the game, some that even crash the game, as well as several side quests that are broken, which can leave players confused as to what to do next. Also, while the large Zone is fun to explore, it's not all that fun to walk back and forth, especially as being over the weight limit will make the Marked One's stamina drain far faster when he sprints. Vehicles, which were scrapped late in development, would have been very nice here. Lastly, while this isn't a problem per se, especially anal individuals will notice some inaccuracies in the depiction of the Zone, including the placement of Pripyat just south of the Chernobyl power plant - the real Pripyat is northeast of the plant, and is somewhat larger than the game's depiction.

However, those willing to endure the bugs and open-minded enough to ignore the small inaccuracies, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl provides a fascinating post-apocalyptic romp of the quality not seen since the Fallout series. This is an amazing game, a treat for any gamer, even if there are a few rough spots.