Retro game review: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

By Brandon Smalley

S.T.A.L.K.E.R Shadow of Chernobyl, an old Ukrainian personal computer shooter, produced by GSC Game World. A mix between an old soviet film “STALKER” and Boris Strugatsy’s book, Roadside picnic, tells the story of a 2006 disaster in Chernobyl, Ukraine where a large otherworldly emission ravaged the 50-kilometer exclusion zone.

The game takes place in 2012 and starts with a cutscene of the player who is an unnamed man with amnesia. The man is driving a truck full of strange corpses who all have a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. tattoo on their forearms. The truck is struck by an anomalous phenomenon or “anomaly” that only occurs in the exclusion zone, causing the truck to explode and for the player to be left for dead.

The player is saved by a man only known as “Savior” and is dragged to a bunker where he is revived by a local trader, Sidorovich. The player wakes up to find only one task on his person display device, “KILL THE STRELOK”. Sidorovich helps the player, who is now known as the marked one because of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. tattoo on his arm. Now, this is where the game truly starts. 

The game’s atmosphere is truly fantastic, and the idea that only the zone is like this, not the world itself, is a spin on the post-apocalyptic genre. What truly makes this game special is the dynamic open world. Non-playable characters are not just there as placeholders for dialogue as they will trade with each other, go on expeditions, eat, sleep, sit around campfires, and tell stories. It’s an amazing way for the player to become immersed in the world, rather than feel like they are the world. 

The exclusion zone itself is quite interesting to navigate at times, such as the anomalous fields that are full of deadly biological and mystical land mines. These biological landmines house treasures that the player should feel so inclined to use. There are also a dozen factions the player can interact with, join, help, or fight. However, a game as great as this has its downsides.

The ending itself is somewhat of a letdown, giving you the most powerful weapons and armors at the end. Or with it telling you to fight, negating the need to explore, and fighting your way to the mystical wish granter that resides in the destroyed ruins of reactor 4. The character models are also out of date and the game is notorious for crashing and glitching out, sometimes breaking the game in the process.

Play the games if you want something akin to metro 2033 or the fallout franchise, but if you are a casual gamer, then this one might be a skip for you.