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S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat Review
developer: GSC Game World
PIV 2000, 512MB RAM, 128MB video card
|ESRB rating: M
release date: Feb 02, 10 (released)
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That's right, folks, GSC Game World is back with yet another addition to its post-apocalyptic FPS series. In case you forgot, the first game was S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, followed by a stand-alone title Clear Sky, which served as a prequel to the original game. Now PC gamers get a chance to return to the desolate plains of a region best known as the Zone - the 30 km/19 mi exclusion zone around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster. The series offers a fictional tale of what happened after a second nuclear disaster, after which strange and unexplained things started going on in the area. You'll be traversing through terrifying and extremely hazardous areas.
Call of Pripyat begins shortly after Shadow of Chernobyl. The government finally discovered an open path to the Zone center, thus commencing a large-scale military operation called "Fairway." The idea was to take control of the CNPP. Military choppers are sent in to scout the region utilizing a map layout of deadly anomalous fields. The operation quickly turned into one big mess, as the helicopters crash-landed for unknown reasons. Ukraine's Security Service sends one of their agents into the Zone to find out what became of the aircrafts. He must also determine why they crashed. The task will be far from easy, given all the dangers that lie within the Zone, from unpredictable anomalies and armies of bandits and mutants roaming freely, to devastating "emissions" - lethal radiation blowouts from the CNPP.
Get your lousy butt off my desk!
An emission means it's time to get the fuck outta dodge!
Once you're in the Zone, a leisurely, poorly told story starts to unfold. Most of the game boils down to pure exploration and stumbling onto missions and areas of interest, rather then having specific linear progress. Sure, the mission log highlights chief tasks, as you attempt to finish them. If you do so, you'll be treated to extremely brief observations of the main character, followed possibly by a few irrelevant explanations from NPCs. Okay, the developers are trying to maintain a certain type of atmosphere here and keeping things mysterious has always been a trademark of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series. However, players who want a good single-player experience, with a meaningful story and deep characterization, won't find much to involve them in Call of Pripyat. There is a lot to do, but little is explained. Fair enough, most of the characters are either quiet Stalkers with nothing to say or rigid Russian military types that keep to their duties and have little to say about anything. You'll meet a few scientists along the way, but they also fall into the game's library of lifeless characters. As authentic as all of that may be, it's blatant enough this game lacks a more profound story, richer dialogue and generally more attention to the backstory. Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Sky have done a far better job in that sense.
Just so we're clear on this, I don't think the storyline in Call of Pripyat is total bullshit. In fact it sort of does a good job of standing on its own, simultaneously tying reasonably well into the previous two iterations of the franchise. What I do mind is the apparent lack of proper writing, additional explanation and history on Zone and everything in it. No matter how you look at it, you'll always expect characters to say more besides stuff like "nice work, take this for your troubles" or "wow, thanks, here's your reward."
Alrighty, on the gameplay front not much has changed. Certain elements were thrown in to streamline things as you explore the Zone, one of the most useful being hotkeys that allow you to easily access items of your choice. In addition new characters will appear, as well as new enemies such as the Chimera and Burer. While we're on the subject the AI received an obvious overhaul, leading to more convincing enemy behavior patterns (the AI in Clear Sky was close to being a total disaster). This time around, the Zone is a more dangerous place as nightfall ensues. Nighttime means Bloodsuckers, Contolers and other mutants are more aggressive and will attack in greater numbers, while stalkers, bandits and such, seek cover and then return to their normal activities at daybreak.
Although Call of Pripyat is the most technically sound game in the entire series, it still has a number of problems that need to be fixed. The AI still gets stuck in certain places on the map, broken scripts did not allow me to finish one of the side-quests in Pripyat.
One of the things that bothered me the most with this game is that I still had to spend a really long time fiddling around with the visual settings until I finally got a decent framerate. We've tried the game both on modest rigs and on high-end PCs. If you are able to activate the game's much-touted DX11 features, you'll be pleased with the results. Still, this doesn't stop GSC's engine from looking outdated and way behind some of the recent releases.
Nonetheless, the exceptional artwork and a huge meticulously designed open world compensates for the relatively dated graphics engine and some of the technical setbacks. Eerie music and appropriate sound effects help shape the mysterious regions of Zone. So, nice work there. The boys and girls at GSC have talent in that respect. A talent that's certainly hard to find in the industry these days.
The most polished game in the series, a lot of missions, coupled with a variety of gameplay improvements make this worth your time, it stays true to the compelling post-apocalyptic ambience of its predecessors and conveys the horrifying existence in nuclear fallout way better than games like Fallout 3;
At times it feels like the story is non-existent, characters often seem lifeless and uninteresting, a few AI glitches and other technical problems are still present (nothing too get all miffed about though)... Multiplayer? Hardly noticed it.