Why I Still Play Stalker

By Jim Rossignol on May 1st, 2008 at 8:53 am.


A couple of months back I went to a dinner party. It was a modest, grown up affair, albeit it with a bout of arm-flailing Wii play dominating the evening. I didn’t know the host all that well and, as we found common ground, we got to discussing his game collection. We sat and picked out titles, as I imagine menfolk might have discussed a shelf full of books or vinyl records in previous decades. One of the games he had on there was Stalker, which he had played through once and not bothered with again. Too gloomy, he said. And there really wasn’t much to it.

Needless to say, my feelings were quite the opposite.

Too gloomy? Only once through? I had played Stalker countless times since that initial run through, and now I put it on in quiet hours, just to soak up the atmosphere. There’s something evocative and slightly alarming about finding fictional worlds that you want to taste repeatedly – I remember watching Bladerunner countless times as a teenager, as if I could capture something of its atmosphere and sentiment in my tiny brain. I knew the story inside out, but I wanted to explore it further and to possess it. I think that’s one of the most compelling things about our favourite videogames: you get to be down there in the celluloid, mucking about in other people’s imaginations. You’re doing, making decisions, and not just passively watching it flickering away on the TV screen. The traces that activity leaves on us are stronger somehow. The taste fades a little more slowly.

Anyway, I desperately wanted to explain what it was that I got from Stalker to my dinner party host, but I felt it was hopeless. I started off on a rant, but changed the subject. I’d seem obsessive, even boring, I knew. Tonight, having hopped into Stalker yet again, I know that I’m putting that grainy Bladerunner cassette on one more time, and I want to have a crack and explaining its appeal. After all, being faithful to our obsessions seems to be what Rock, Paper, Shotgun is all about.

So yes: I regularly drop back into Stalker just to do something in that world. I’ve completed it twice through and seen two of the endings. Now though I tend to wander around in the wide-open mid-section. I’ve seen it all, but it never quite stays the same. I’ve got a selection of saved games in the bar area, with my character at various levels of development. I’ve always got a bunch of larger missions on the go, but the simple “fetch x” or “kill y” missions from the bar give me a decent reason to go out into the wilderness for half an hour here, an hour there.

I start out by buying up ammo from the barman. Then I talk to this lovely fellow (below), who has lost his treasured rifle. Don’t worry, surly drunk, I’ll rescue your gun!

I head off out of the bar, and past the various groups of Stalkers sat telling each other stories and jokes in Russian. A crumbling depot awaits outside.

There are dogs. Evil dogs. I spy them through my binoculars, waiting for me. At this stage in the game I am poorly equipped and dressed in poor-quality stalker gear, but I’ve managed to pick up a formidable modified rifle. It’s one of Stalker’s random treasures – a high end assault rifle that uses the low-end, commonly scavenged ammunition. I kill the dogs at range.

I pass the the duty checkpoint, which acts as a gateway to the main part of the game. In some ways everything before the checkpoint is precursor the main game, but the areas before the checkpoint are also some of the best realised. This is where the game’s eerie atmosphere really comes into its own – with a familiar kind of dereliction littering the landscape. We’ve all seen buildings like these: evidence what is left behind after people are gone, ghosts of the future. I hear a hissing and booming noise where a zone denizen has wandered into a hidden anomaly. Something dead goes tumbling through distant trees.

It’s weird and suddenly I get a glimpse of why people don’t like it. What the fuck is going on? Why did that happen? It’s messy and doesn’t make a lick of sense.

Brilliant.

I hear shouts and then gunfire. I already know that it will be some friendly stalkers skirmishing with bandits. Early in the game I saved the life of a stalker in this area, and now he and his chums are doomed to perpetually fight off raids from the nearby bandits. The trio are far better armed than the bandits, I expect they would win the fight without my help. Nevertheless the bandits are between me and the lost gun. They could kill me at close range, since they’re armed with submachineguns, pistols and sawn-off shotguns. I settle down under cover, with a stretch of open ground in front of me. Again my trusty rifles sees me safe, at range. When the battle barks have died out completely I move in and scavenge.

Soon I retrieve the gun from the rumbling, low tunnel, a dead end detail which seethes with multiple anomalies. I’m fairly used to these traps now and they do me no harm as I fish out the lost rifle. Not a bad piece of kit.

Then I hear another burst of distant yelling and further gunfire. The direction of the sound tells me that it’s not a fight that my friendly stalkers are involved in. There’s something going on beyond the nearby hill. I jog round to see what’s up. It’s a fight going on between some pretty heavily armed neutral stalkers and the bandits. I join in, taking down first a bandit and then – sorry! – one of the stalkers. Normally these chaps would ignore me, only firing on dogs and bandits, but now I’ve crossed that line. Fire on one of their party and they’ll attack. They almost kill me, opening up at close range. I dive behind cover. I reload, go back out and shoot down men of any camo.

It’s disappointing, and strange. There’s less meaning in the deaths of these two videogame phantoms than the death of a fly. Yet, because I’d swatted them due to a simple accident, I felt bad. My mistake had disrupted things.

Yes, there’s something weightier there than many games manage. And Stalker has some of the most excruciating deaths, where NPCs are injured, but not dead. They writhe on the ground in agony. If you have allies they’ll often finish them off with a pistol shot – something I assumed was scripted when I first played the game, but now I’ve come to realise is the natural behaviour of the people of the zone. That the developers felt the need to put that in suggests something about the portrait they were producing. It’s not a nice game. Too gloomy? Maybe. Maybe for him. Maybe for you.

Back in that aftermath of my error: it’s here the game fails me completely. One of the stalkers that I had not meant to harm is still alive, but maimed. Because he was neutral and I attacked him, there’s no option to offer the medkit and save him like I did with my besieged friend across the valley. He is enemy, says the game. You cannot repair this. I contemplate the crippled fellow for a few moments. I pull out the pistol and do what needs to be done. After all, he might have ammuntion. And that’s no use to him now. I think about leaving things there and playing something a bit less grim.

Not for too long though: there’s a twinkle in the vegetation at the bottom of this valley, and it lures me on, away from the grim contemplations. There’s an artefact in there. One of the zone’s weird fruits. Getting closer, I realise it’s one I’ve not seen before. I sprint forward to grab, and step straight into anomaly. Somehow, I survive its dragging, booming gravity effect, and step away injured. Stupid. The artefact is gone. I wander back up the valley, where everything is turning soft pink with the sunset. I have another skirmish with bandits, risking close range combat for the thrill of it. I look at the map and see that there are some “stashes” marked nearby – places where stalkers have left some loot that I can later collect. It’s in a pipe by a derelict crane, according to the description. I can’t find anything.

A bug? Or is the game lying to me? Dumb games. Other games don’t fail me like this. They’ve been properly designed. Properly tested.

Hmm.

I’ll be back.

In just the same way that so many people put on Crackdown or a GTA game just to have a blast, cause anarchy, or explore the world they’ve bought from the shops, so I like to hang about in The Zone, killing nightmare dogs and getting cash together to buy ammunition.

Yes, it’s a fractured experience: I can’t even be said to be developing anything like a character, as I might do playing Oblivion or some other open-ended RPG, but still, it drags me in.

It’s getting dark. I start to head back to the bar, almost by instinct. I am looking to “go home” in this game. No point being out in the rain and dark, I think. And I’ve got to take the gun back to its owner… There’s no need to, of course. I can just quit the game. And I do.

Back in the real world I hold on to that saved game like some kind of quest item.

I’ll need it.

__________________

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127 Comments »

  1. Lukasz says:

    STALKER is great but i’ve never finished it. Bugged quest for Freedom put me off from playing it for half year. Now the game doesn’t want to run properly (My computer needs a format and from various reason I cannot do that. But funny how Ep2 with much better graphic works flawlessly).

    I’m sad :(

    • greasy says:

      Download stalker complete mod -> free play mode, live that fun again.

      Also, the movie its based on is amazing.

  2. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    “If I want anything from Clear Sky, it’s more space and freedom.”

    Well, Clear Sky looks like it will provide just that, and if it lives up to its predecessor I can’t see any other game competing with it for my affections this year.

    Am replaying the original right now, weirdly enough (just got to the Red Forest), and I know what you mean about just wanting to explore and “live” it. Even once you’ve “finished” an area in terms of the main story line, that area still teems with life. It’s been a while since i’ve done X16 at Yantar, for instance, but on a brief pop back to Wild Territory to have a poke around and see if there were any good artefacts lying around, I found it buzzing. Bandits fighting off Bloodsuckers, whilst a heavily armed Duty squad was clearing through the whole area trying to “pacify” it. I love how unscripted the whole thing is, and Clear Sky looks like it will triple this element! I CAN’T WAIT.

  3. Ian says:

    I’m going to get back to STALKER as I never got far into it. I understand there’s patches which tidy it up now so I’ll do that and get back to it because even from limited play it’s one of my favourite game worlds. So desolate, every building you look at could be teeming with life (animals, bandits, stalkers) or morosely empty and you just HAVE to know.

    One of my favourite moments was very early. I saw some people in the distance as I was running through the countryside. Upon further inspection they were bandits. Three of them. I left well alone and took the long way around. I was walking along the side of a road bridge further on and stopped. Gunfire. I went up to a tunnel going under the bridge and saw some stalkers who, it turned out, were fighting the exact same bandits who I’d left alone. Naturally I got involved, but it just struck me how different it might all have been if I’d tried to take them on alone.

  4. Pavel says:

    Yahoo ! Its nice to see someone else who enjoyed Stalker as much as I did! First time I finished it with static lightning, it was great experience.Then I played it after upgrade, so now with fully dynamic, and it was even better…this game has simply the BEST atmosphere ever put in the videogame.Clear Sky can’t come soon enough!

  5. arqueturus says:

    I’m still trying with this Jim. I play it for a bit and get a little further but then I get distracted by something else and go to that.

    I can see glimmers of what you mention but I haven’t reached the part where the factional stuff kicks in so have yet to experience full flavoured Stalker.

    I’ll try again soon.

  6. Jim Rossignol says:

    It’s probably worth stressing that the factional stuff is woefully underdeveloped. To GSC’s credit they seem to have realised this for Clear Sky and are capitalising on it.

  7. arqueturus says:

    *sighs*

    Maybe it won’t get any better then. Still I need to play it for a bit longer to find out.

  8. Muzman says:

    Nice piece. I’m the same. I’ve got a save where I’ve come back to the Bar from Prypyat (before the point of no return) and I just branched a whole lot of saves off there as I wander around and just do whatever. I became basically a professional Zone trapper, collecting every monster part I know is worth something and then cashing it in for the various missions or with the scientists. I did this for what must have been game-weeks. I was fabulously rich and had to ask “why am I doing this?” a few times, but then some weird thing you’ve never seen before happens or you say “Well the village bloodsuckers are probably back by now” and get back on the hunt. It’s quite remarkable.

    Actually there is a reference to women in the game: one of the jokes told around the campfire goes something like “A Stalker reaches a crossroads with a sign post. The left direction says ‘beware anomalies and radiation’, straight ahead reads ‘monsters and a few artifacts’, the right direction sign reads ‘Inns, Women and comforts’.
    The stalker thinks for a while and then heads straight ahead. He mutters to himself “better the devil you know I suppose. I wonder what ‘Inns, Women and comforts’ is? I’ll have to ask barkeep.”

    It was cool to find that out. I had wondered if the whole stoic masculinity of the game was just a product of not understanding what was being said most of the time, but no it’s in there.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    Factional stuff is still one of the best aspects of the game, despite being underdeveloped.

  10. Freelancepolice says:

    Still yet to pick this up, shamefully!

  11. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    The campfire conversations are probably amongst the best reasons to take up Russian. Or Ukrainian, I dunno which it is.

  12. Okami says:

    And it’s here the game fails me completely.

    Relations to NPCs are the point where most games fail me, especially open world ones like Gothic or Stalker. It’s all very binary, either they hate you and you have to kill them or not. Sometimes you’ve got hostile, neutral and friendly, but that’s about it.

    Games that are completely scripted, and linear, like Half Life or most Bioware RPGs (yea, they’re linear. They may have a few branches in their storyline, but they’re still linear) don’t have this problem. They’re like theme park rides, you just hop in, hang on and enjoy the ride. Everything get’s served to you on a plate and you don’t question it.

    It’s like the uncanny valley of AI. There are moments when you’re really surprised by the behavior of the NPCs, when it all really sucks you in and you allmost believe you’re dealing with humans. And then the illusion get’s shattered and you realize it’s all just a game.

  13. garry says:

    Come in! Don’t stand there!
    Come in! Don’t stand there!

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    I like to think of him as the friendliest doorman in the world.

  15. Gurrah says:

    I was always hoping for Jagged Alliance-esque features like crafting barrel extensions or more responsive triggers. I mean the modified weapons are already in the game, why not give the player the ability to mod his own? Here’s hoping it’ll happen in Clear Sky.

  16. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    The guy in Yantar is far more annoying.

    Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello. Hello? Hello.

    The worst thing is the scientist’s bunker thing isn’t soundproof or anything, so even on the far side of the swamp investigating that crashed helicopter you can still hear him faintly in the distance..

    Hello? Hello.

  17. Cargo Cult says:

    I’m already seeing STALKER influences in this ‘ere new MINERVA map I’m working on. Perhaps a little to do with another, real-life ‘zone’ a friend and I explored recently – namely the shipyards in Gdansk, Poland. We didn’t see any mutants wandering around, but some of the architecture was amusingly similar…

  18. tom says:

    I wanted to love stalker as much as i love the book/film. But my graphics card didnt love it and i still havent got around to upgrading. When a game based on atmosphere looks like a progamers quake stripdown it loses the impact for me. It will be the first game to grace any new hardware i get though!

  19. Crispy says:

    ‘Underdeveloped’? I heard that it was cut because they were taking too long with the game.

    Anyway, what’s funny about your story is that same gun you have to retrieve for the barman -in my game- was showing on the map as inside the wall of a building and completely unreachable. This is what keeps me from re-playing Stalker, fear of one of the greater-spotted bugs included with the release completely ruining my experience. I will say that Stalker did reel me in incredibly, and when games do that I tend not to perform any manual saves at all and just ride on the edge of my seat the whole way, because getting into the frame of mind where you think you need to ‘save’ every 5 minutes breaks the immersion. So, it’s a pity that Stalker had me hitting some horrible progress-blocking bugs that forced me to restart a number of times, losing usually hours of progress at a time.

    It’s one game I can rely on to give me a good experience when I return to play all the mods that have been released for it. Anyone got any hot tips for Stalker mods?

  20. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    For a completely different, but bloody amazing experience, you have to download and play the “Nuclear Snow” mod (do a google).

    If you aren’t feeling that drastic, most people recommend the “realistic weather” mod, and I like the “no time limits on quests” mod so that I don’t have to run back and forth across the map deserpately but can instead take my time.

    There’s one in development called “AMK” mod which looks to be the most insanely ambitious mod ever, including blowouts, sleeping and new AI whereby the Stalkers chat to each other (and you) using IMs and actually go around picking up artefacts and hoarding them etc. But yeah, insanely ambitious.

  21. cHeal says:

    “Come in! Don’t stand there!
    Come in! Don’t stand there!”

    he he yeah that’s tremendously annoying.

    Stalker is my favourite story driven game ever, for me it was the most significant progression in the FPS/action genre since Dues Ex and even with all its faults (which are numerous) atleast it tried to do something new, something exciting and for its atmosphere alone it deserves major kudos. I loved the Combat, I loved the missions and story. It all just worked for me.

    Funnily enough Stalker also pushed me further away from liking Half Life 2 + eps. Ep1 was a complete mess and though the second was much better it was all just so old, so boring since having played Stalker.

  22. phuzz says:

    I only picked stalker up a few weeks ago, but apparently I’m just about to reach the Red Forest, right now though I’m doing exactly the same stuff as Jim (and some of the rest of you), side quests and random bandit slaying. Wiping out packs of animals and checking out a few of the stashes around the place.
    Oddly enough I spent yesterday afternoon batting emails back and forth with a mate about places to go explore in the zone (hey Corporal!), it’s just one of those games that creates those little experiences that you talk about with your mates later;
    “There was this one time I was trying to carry a whole bunch of guns back to the bar and…..”

  23. nexus7 says:

    *…the game based on the sci-fi story “Roadside Picnic” (authors: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkady_and_Boris_Strugatsky).*

    Ep2, worth to mention, has a glitcing bag on nvidia g92 gpu, so i can’t play it at all.
    i play stalker, second time now, cause there aren’t any competitors/
    :greets:

  24. heretic pride says:

    crispy: i don’t think that’s a bug; the family rifle is underground, in an underpass

  25. Jim Rossignol says:

    Other than the sound loops and a couple of physics freakouts I encountered almost no bugs in Stalker, even unpatched. I am well aware that this has probably skewed my experience somewhat.

  26. Rook says:

    I’ve never quite understood Stalkers buggyness reputation. I played through unpatched on Vista so of course I had the dreaded save crash in two different areas fixed by reverting to static lighting in those maps, but apart from that and some AI glitches it was plain sailing.

    As an aside, I picked up both Roadside Picnic and Stalker the film because of this game. I thought Roadside Picnic was a good, but stalker can be safely skipped (although the bit with the dog is so pretty).

  27. Cigol says:

    I never really enjoyed playing STALKER in the sense of completing the quests or storyline – but I can still relate to the Blade Runner analogy, as there’s just something intoxicating about STALKER and how it ‘feels’, that atmosphere I guess, which makes playing it so fresh.

  28. roBurky says:

    My experience of Stalker was lots and lots of bad guys that needed firing at repeatedly with a rifle from some kind of cover, until you hit them in the head. The combat just got terribly repetitive after several big buildings full of bad guys, and I gave up.

    Was I just doing the wrong missions, or something?

    (I tried reinstalling on this new PC, but it crashed every time I tried to save the game.)

  29. Strelok says:

    Actually the movie is strongly recommended to film buffs. It is deliberately not following the book cause the Strugacki brothers (they also wrote the screenplay) did not want to repeat it and settled for something different.

    On the other hand, Roadside Picnic is one of their more “mainstream” books (probably the most easily digestable) and should be a good read for everyone.

  30. nexus7 says:


    gsc has changed publisher: now it’s deep silver.
    i hope atari is just chose wrong… way. i think it’s question of QA.
    fun

  31. Jim Rossignol says:

    I enjoy Tarkovsky films, and I enjoyed the film of Stalker. It’s entirely at odds with the game of course. Glacial and action-free.

  32. Gap Gen says:

    There are some nice touches. Like the first character you meet tells you to bump off a guy pretending to be his agent. This guy happens to be wandering outside the Duty complex, and if you shoot him a band of Duty men shoots you back. The solution I found was to lure a pack of dogs towards him and let them do the killing.

    The atmosphere of STALKER is unrivalled – you’ll spend the whole time half-stalking, half-running from wild animals and human foes alike. It’s a shame the ending is so linear, because the feeling of carving your own path is very powerful. That, and meeting those invisible guys reminded me that I needed to put on clean underwear anyway.

  33. meatpeople says:

    Oh STALKER, how I loved it. Even in spite of crash to desktop and bluescreens to hard reset (seriously), I still played it through twice.

    I’m actually playing BioShock now for the first time, and despite my love for SS2, I’m not impressed. In some ways I think Stalker slightly ruined it, at least from the visual angle – I fell in love with the radiation-drenched saturated visuals, and the plasticy high-specularity of BioShock (and so many games; why do they do it?) just irritates me all the more. It didn’t in Doom 3 for example.

    I really wish that at the end of the game they allowed you to simply roam the zone and take on random quests outside any plot structure. Not sure how well it would have worked but it’d have kept me playing for quite a while.

    I can’t wait for Clear Sky. I never tried any mods; must do that.

  34. Ian says:

    Before I play I’ll be getting that no-time-limits mod I think.

    I’m also hoping there’s one that means the AI enemies aren’t capable of shooting a gnat off a sparrow’s arse (a sparrow hiding in a hedge) from 2000m.

  35. James T says:

    Tarkovsky did Solaris, didn’t he? *grinds teeth*

    Akin to what meat said above, STALKER definitely ruined Bioshock for me; STALKER had me suspecting that maybe ‘FPS/RPG leaders’ had belatedly, blessedly learned from Deus Ex in regards to map openness and multi-approach narratives (as in DX, you’re very much restricted to the one narrative path, but you have several different ways to traverse it), I remember blasting through Yantar or suchlike thinking, man, Bioshock’s gonna have to blow my mind now, if it’s gonna be anything like it’s cracked up to be. Buuut I talk quite enough about ‘Shock already…

    I actually haven’t been looking forward to Clear Skies much, as all I’ve seen is some locations and the ‘team warfare’ example video — and I hate team stuff, unless it’s so unintrusive that it lets you do your own thing anyway, like HL2. …And it’s a prequel, so I don’t think the story’s going to blow my mind unless they’ve got something real clever up their sleeves. But having just gotten back into this brilliant, horribly-optimised game, my enthusiasm is revived. If Clear Skies carries on and enhances the freedoms and terrors and promise of STALKER, cleans up its erratic AI (I find the requirements of a stealth approach vary enormously from scene to scene, and game to game; sometimes the AI is ‘human’, sometimes it’s as omnipotent as a GTA3 policeman) and makes the game run like it should (I encounter few to no bugs in STALKER — the performance, however, is ridiculously ‘variable’, by which I mean, ‘utter shit for me, allegedly good for some people’), it is going to be outrageously good.

    I was scavenging for PC sales figures earlier, and yaknow, according to GSC-via-IGN in Feb, STALKER’s sold 1.65 million? Pretty neat. Maybe that’s thanks to the long years of expectation, but I dunno about that — personally I’d never even heard of STALKER until I read the Eurogamer review, and it’s not like I avoid gaming news…

  36. martin says:

    me loves stalker too. it runs flawlessly on my linux box. i hope clear sky also runs on my linux box.

  37. Joe Martin says:

    …but it’s still a fetch quest. You could write something nice about this for a quest in Morrowind too, but it doesn’t mean the game is fun once you’ve done 1000 of them.

    Still, I do like STALKER. Personally I love it for the feel of the guns and the bullet physics. And the subtle references to the book.

    When I want atmosphere though, I do have a few games I play over and over. Barista 2 is a favourite as a stand-alone indie title (free too):

    http://blended.planethalflife.gamespy.com/

    Grotto King and some of the HTML games from the same site are pretty good too.

  38. James T says:

    Absolutely it’s a fetch quest — and I hope to see those embody a far smaller proportion of Clear Sky’s missions — but baby, it’s all in the journey.

  39. Yhancik says:

    @ Crispy : About mods

    I tend to prefer small single-purpose Mods to the Big Overhaul ones. In this regard I liked the AliVe Mod (Discussion & Download) that makes the A-Life more free / less scripted / less predictable. The guy who made it tried to avoid breaking quests, but since I’ve never finished STALKER, I can’t tell…

    There’s a Less Generic Bandits mod that bring a little variety in bandit fashion, here

    And this one looks interesting, but i haven’t tested it yet, and i don’t know how compatible it is with AliVe.

  40. James T says:

    The only ‘Big’ Mod I like is the comparatively lesser-known ‘Basix’, which chucks in vehicles (drive a Yugo into a springboard anomaly at full speed, jump out ahead of time, and look at it become a speck in the sky!… and then crash to earth a few hundred metres away. And you can still drive it), pops in lots of ‘variant’ weapons (Spetsnaz carry camouflaged Abakans with slightly rebalanced properties, for example), plus a deleted weapon or two (I love the long shotgun — the ‘TOZ-34′, I think it’s called; beats the sawn-off into a cocked hat), and it includes a bunch of trader stuff like repairs, fixing the Freedom Compound trader’s cashflow problem, things like that. The only problem with it is that the story mission guys actually kit you out with some of the souped-up stuff when you accept a mission (‘since they wouldn’t send you out on their errands with a pistol and a foul mouth’), which coddles the skilled STALKER player a bit; that said, since the bandits and enemies are now routinely carrying better weapons, you do need better gear to survive, so it’s not completely patronising…
    Best to play STALKER through with more minor fix-y type mods first, but Basix is fun. I think this is the final version.

    …That version might have some of the deleted monsters. I don’t know what they’re like, a bit weird apparently. Old men with monkey limbs or something.

  41. Turin Turambar says:

    Of course you can replay Stalker. It’s a solid shooter, with some freedom on top of it.

  42. Chaz says:

    I enjoyed the atmosphere in Stalker immensely. I really love that whole grey skies wilderness and decay thing, with nature slowly claiming back the crumbling vestiges of abandoned buildings. Unfortunately overall I found the game a bit disappointing, especially as my expectations for it were quite high. My main problem with it was that it didn’t feel very open; the different zones although nicely constructed, just left me feeling very hemmed in. The timed missions that had me running back and forth through the different zones only served to make me more aware of the constrictive nature of the zones. In that sense I think Boiling Point worked far better for me, a huge open world with no barriers, which was actually how I was expecting Stalker to be. Plus there was a few ideas they had that they pulled from the game in the end, like having to shelter from blowouts, and shooting birds and various other wild life for food as you got further out and into the zone. The food thing now seems to have little point other than to fill up your inventory with heavy tins of spam and sausages.

    Having said all that the game still has its moments, for instance going down some of those underground bunkers were possibly some of the most scariest and tense moments I’ve had in a game. Sneaking up on some bandits and fighting my way into an abandoned factory was also a tense and thrilling experience, especially since death can come very quickly in Stalker.

    I only got half way through the game before leaving it, although its one of those that I still fully intend to finish off some day.

    Now if only those two devs could get together and make Stalking Point: Road to Chernobyl.

  43. AndrewC says:

    I like the attitude of playing along with the random happenings, both good and bad, a game throws at you, rather than the quickloading as soon as something imperfect happens – most games seem to encourage the latter response and most gamers, especially ones who grew up playing the much more linear, limited games of old, have internalised it. Or me, anyway.

    But, well, it is still just a fetch quest. Relating in-game stories is fun, and better than descriptions of abstract play mechanics, but is it really this sort of mission that makes STALKER so special for you?

    For me, and for lots of people judging by comments, it’s that ineffable atmosphere that does it and an attempt to root out the things in the game that cause it might better communicate the arguments for this game – and how it is different from others.

    For example, in comaprison to most post-apocalyptic games (Gears of War!) which are full of characters who seem happy to be there and give off a vibe that all the desolation is cool, no-one in STALKER wants to be there, they are all trapped, and just trying to survive. This change in attitude towards the gameworld changes the player’s attitude towards it. I thought that was a pretty big thing in regards to atmosphere.

    As another example (touched on in the above article), the slightly cranky is-it-a-bug-or-not behaviour of many NPC’s objects and missions in the game actually work to unbalance the player’s relationship to the world – it is not predictable, and anything really could happen simply because something might happen that even the programmers didn’t want to happen – something that becomes explicit and deliberate when the brain scorcher is starting to mess with your mind. An example of pragramming failure actually feeding in to themes in the game, making cons pros.

    And, now i’m done telling you your job, when is the new game released?

  44. Jim Rossignol says:

    August 29th.

    It’s not *that it’s a fetch quest* that makes it special, but that it allows things to happen along the way which make such a limited quest replayable. I could do that again and face a different outcome. That’s unlikely to happen in any other FPS I can think of. Most games sorely lack random encounters, or events in which you’re not actually involved – like the fight between the bandits and the Stalkers.

  45. kadayi says:

    I’ve still yet to finish it (My last save had me just about to head into Prypyat) but it is definitely a game I always recommend to people despite it janky interface, as a game that truly needs to be experienced if your into gaming.

    One of the things I particularly like about the game is that the combat is more realistic in terms of the range at which you engage. Much as I love HL2 for it’s gameplay and enjoyed CoD4 for it’s frenetic pace, the combat in both games tends to be much more in your face, where as with stalker it’s a little more distant (and you want to keep it that way to survive), but nevertheless equally as brutal, which I think greatly adds to the morbid Blair Witchesque horror of forcing you to delve into the darkness and claustrophobia of the labs in order to pursue the story line. You know you have to go down there, but you know you don’t want to, and you know it’s going to get very very ugly, but you can’t stop yourself (shudders). The other great aspect I like about stalker is the degree of constant vulnerability you feel. Regardless of whatever nifty gun or stalker suit you come across you never ever feel that bad ass. You know it only takes a bad chance encounter with a pack of wild dogs or mercenaries for everything to go completely tits up, it keeps you on your toes.

  46. Joe Martin says:

    I get your point, but I don’t really agree when it comes to STALKER. Mainly because it never seemed random to me – every time I entered that area the Bandits would still be fighting the Stalkers. I’d stop, wipe out all the bandits, then next time I came through then I’d get the same thing. I got bored of it.

    There’s a lot to like about STALKER and there are some truly random bits – like stalkers wandering into anomalies and so on, but the fight isn’t a good example to me because it was recurring.

    Maybe it’s just me, but if I really wanted random then I’d play Nethack or something. I do like the idea of random stories, but the stories I saw in STALKER were all a bit too samey.

    Not that its a bad game – like you, I’ve finished it twice and replayed parts of it much more than that, but the random stories bit never struck me as STALKER’s strong point.

    What was a strong point was the stories in combat – bullets ricocheting, deflecting, spending a good fifteen minutes planning out how to take down a squad of duty guards, using grenades to flush people out and finding random weapons along the way. Those are the stories which make STALKER stick in my head.

  47. Rob says:

    Great article, makes me want to fire it up again; I never really got into it the first time.

  48. UncleLou says:

    ““Come in! Don’t stand there!
    Come in! Don’t stand there!”

    he he yeah that’s tremendously annoying.”

    Hehe, yes, but at least it’s just one character that says the same thing over and over again.

    /glares at Assassin’s Creed

    “Stalker is my favourite story driven game ever, for me it was the most significant progression in the FPS/action genre since Dues Ex and even with all its faults (which are numerous) atleast it tried to do something new, something exciting and for its atmosphere alone it deserves major kudos. I loved the Combat, I loved the missions and story. It all just worked for me.”

    You are me, and I am you. I have nothing to add. :-)

  49. Nick says:

    The raid on the freedom base is one of my favourite gaming moments. The first time I did it the duty guys got themselves killed, so I waited untill dark snuck around (after sniping out the alarm) with a vintorez, exacting covert revenge. It was amazing fun. Then I found the armory and raided that.

    I never finished Stalker, but it gave me more hours of entertainment and fun than most games I’ve played in the past 5 years.

  50. Senethro says:

    Get out of here Stalker!

    Get out of here Stalker!

    Stalker gave me a taste for survival. I still remember the first night I was caught outside, stumbled into an anomaly before dragging my wounded self under a bridge. There I decided to wait until dawn, perched on a pile of crates with a shotgun, listening for wildlife. I was joined by a couple of other stalkers and twice we had to fend off dogpacks. Just as it was getting light we heard gunshots and voices and I decided to hang around with my night buddies a little longer. We weren’t kept waiting long as some bandits came over a nearby hill, looking none too healthy but still spoiling for a fight. One of them had some decent assault rifle while we were armed with pistols and shotties. My allies fell fast and when I exhausted my medical supplies, I chose to remember the better part of valour.

    I followed the bandit group at a distance throughout the next day, hoping something bad would happen to them. Its the Zone, so in the long term it was inevitable. They decided to take on a military checkpoint. In the confusion of the gunfight, I crept from bush to bush and stabbed the bandit with the assault rifle in the back, grabbed his gear and dashed along the road back to a camp of friendly stalkers. The weapon would go on to get me through the first third of the game.