S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
There are always those games that you’re able to keep revisiting. Even if you’ve beaten it several times, you find new ways in which it can surprise or entertain you. And depending on the platform, there’s even the chance that mods have been developed for the game to enhance (or even alter entirely) the experience.
It’s in that spirit that I’d like to take this moment to return to one of my personal favorites, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.
Released in 2009 for the PC, Call of Pripyat takes place after the events of the two previous entries in the franchise, Shadow of Chernobyl (the original) and Clear Skies (the prequel). The protagonist, Major Alexander Degtyarev, is sent by government forces to investigate five helicopter crashes in the Zone, a fictional version of the now-abandoned city of Pripyat and its surrounding area.
You see, in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, a second Chernobyl disaster occurs which causes mutations and supernatural phenomena to occur, referred to as “anomalies” within the game. The area is quarantined off and called the “Exclusion Zone”, colloquially known as “the Zone”. The Zone is dangerous. It is desolate. It is terrifying. And it’s probably one of the best settings for a game I’ve ever encountered.
So that’s where I left my gigantic planet-cutting saw.
Seriously, if there’s only one thing that these games (and Call of Pripyat, specifically) do right, it’s their ability to immerse you in the world of the Zone. There’s hardly any background music, and when there is music, it’s ambient, hollow, and haunting. You really believe you’re in a treacherous place, and that you must pay attention to your surroundings. You quickly discover even at lower difficulties exactly how unforgiving the game can be for careless players.
Enemies that the player can encounter range from roaming packs of wild dogs to bandits trying to kill you for your gear to horrible abominations that have mutated from god knows what into nightmarish creatures that want nothing more than for you to have to quit playing the game out of fear.
“This mask is too tight. Please help me get it off.”
There are few safe havens in the world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and there’s typically very little business to which you’ll have to attend while there, so most of your gameplay time is spent peeing yourself in the horrible outside area.
The game features a pretty detailed FPS system, involving gun maintenance, modification, ammo type selection, fire modes, and corner-peeking. You have to attend to basic human needs like hunger and fatigue, requiring you to eat food and rest from time to time. There’s also a function for radiation poisoning, as if that wasn’t obvious in a post-disaster Chernobyl setting. If the player is injured, additional health may be lost as a result of bleeding, which is why it’s important to have bandages. The more I talk about this stuff, the more you start to realize that it’s a game that inspired a lot of other games like it. DayZ, for example, uses a LOT of the mechanics from S.T.A.L.K.E.R. It really inspired a lot in the survival-horror-shooter genre.
Since its release, a number of mods have been made for the game to truly enhance the experience players get from it. Mods that help enrich the atmosphere, that make the game substantially more challenging, that improve the lighting and graphics, and so on. It really gets elevated to entirely new gaming experience after you play it once, then play it again with all those shiny mods on top of it.
Most of the game’s flaws stem from its AI, which suffer from occasional clunky/unpredictable/unresponsive behavior, which is particularly annoying when you want to protect AI allies who can help but run out in front of enemy gunfire. On higher difficulties, enemies seem almost omniscient, which makes for very challenging gameplay. But, again, there are mods out there for the game that enhance/repair some of the more irritating AI functions.
So, If you’re looking for a gameplay experience that will challenge you physically and mentally, that will engulf you in its ambience and make you sweat when you’re not sure what to expect, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat is the game for you.
I give this game an A-.