S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat: review

  • Format: PC
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: bitComposer Games
  • Developer: GSC Gameworld
  • Players: 1 (single-player) 2-12 (multi-player)
  • Site: http://cop.stalker-game.com/

The third game in the successful pervert simulation series is finally here… wait no… that was probably just a dream. Ahem, anyway Stalker: Call of Pripyat is the latest in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series which see us thrust into the nightmarish ‘Zone’. The Zone is the area surrounding the nuclear plant in Chernobyl, which was devastated and evacuated following nuclear disaster in 1986. In the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. the zone has become home to all kinds of strange artefacts and scientific anomalies, attracting opportunistic scavengers and scientists to the area in droves. These scavengers are known as the titular Stalkers and in previous games, you were cast amongst their ranks and sent out to discover the secrets of the Zone. For Call of Pripyat, instead you’ll be playing as Alexander Degtyarev, a Ukrainian Secret Service agent whose goal is to find out what went wrong with a failed military operation, sent in to destroy the zone. Going undercover as a Stalker you’re tasked with discovering the fate of those sent before you and braving the multitude of horrors that await within.

A bit of night-time banditry doesn't go amiss

The previous entry in the series (Clear Skies) took the series away from its story-led, exploration heavy roots and instead tried to engage the player in factional warfare, as different groups attempted to vie for control of the Zone. Sadly Clear Skies was a bit of a mess, with the human AI and change of the series’ emphasis proving to be a turn-off to fans and critics alike. Call of Pripyat happily returns us to the series’ core ideals as we find ourselves plonked down into a vast wasteland, with only basic supplies to help us navigate its treacherous panoramas. The new areas (of which there are three to explore) dwarf the size of the maps from the previous games. Each of them are home to anomalies, where valuable and useful artefacts can be found for those willing to brave the physics bending traps that lie in wait. As well as anomalies, you can find underground laboratories, gigantic fissures in the earth that lead to newly made subterranean systems as well as outposts where you can converse and trade with your fellow Stalkers. Unfortunately you may find yourself trying to avoid conversation with your contemporaries, as their dialogue has been roughly translated into 90’s American fratboy speech. For those of you who care about immersion and atmosphere this can be a problem. Hauling yourself out from a brutal wasteland, raggedly pursued by a pack of mutants as the skies open up and a storm begins, the last thing you want to hear is ‘Howdy doody!’ Minor gripe aside, the brooding atmosphere and brilliantly designed mutants (including all new, evil psychic dwarves) perform admirably at immersing the player in this impressive yet oppressively bleak game world.

Not everyone you meet is happy to see you, or sane.

The structure of the game will largely be familiar to players of the 2007 original Shadow of Chernobyl. The player can follow story missions, take on side missions or go artefact hunting for extra cash or powerful items to aid them in their quest. A great deal of freedom is allowed in taking part in these side quests and many players will want to revel in taking in the sights and sounds of the Zone. Indeed the very first of the story quests is to find four helicopter crash sites, scattered across the initial map; this encourages exploration and investigation of any landmarks you may come across in your travels. A major improvement from the original is the depth and variety of the side quests. In the 2007 game, often missions would simply be fetch and carry quests to find an old gun, or explore a stash. This time around they can involve poisoning a lair of deadly bloodsuckers, investigating disappearances or performing dangerous tasks for scientists attempting to glean data from the anomalies scattered across the area. The story missions too show more ambition, with large set-pieces and even a section where you have to put together your own squad, recruiting from the assortment of hard-cases and oddballs that populate the ‘Zone’. Although sadly you can’t tame your own pseudo-dog pet.

Graphically the game makes use of an upgraded version of the X-Ray engine introduced to us in the original. Modified to support DirectX 11, the engine is still capable of producing some excellent dynamic lightning and weather effects, helping to contribute to the overall feelings of desolation and decay in the Zone, but in other areas it feels slightly dated. The enviromental textures aren’t the best, but it’s gunplay and combat where the engine’s age shows most. We’ve now had three years of tightly refined FPS games since the first S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Yet it has barely evolved at all in terms of how the guns feel, or how combat plays out. In a genre where regenerating health, cover systems and destructible environments are breathing new life, Call of Pripyat is a bit of a throwback. That’s not to say the combat is poor or without its merits – fighting the mutants or poltergeists can still be a terrifying experience as you try and gauge their strengths and weaknesses, adapting your strategy moment to moment.

Artefact hunting is both lucrative and extremely dangerous

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat is another welcome entry in an intriguing series and fans of the original should purchase it immediately and without hesitation. The Zone still feels like a bold and unique creation, that elevates the game above other less ambitious shooter RPG hybrids, and there are few games capable of getting under your skin in the same way. But at the same time, after three attempts, we can’t help but wish GSC Gameworld would provide us with a full-on sequel, rather than progressively refine and recreate the original. Call of Pripyat is essentially more of the same – bigger, broader and bolder. Whilst that’s no bad thing, we’d like to see the series taken to the next level.


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Written by Michael J

Michael is a self proclaimed PC gaming fanatic and is equally at home with all genres, bar platformers and puzzle games. Except Bejeweled, he's awesome at that. Seriously, he is totally like second on his Facebook Bejeweled leaderboard. And they said he'd never amount to anything...

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