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. James T says:

    SPOILERS:
    Although I did find the STALKER world sufficiently chaotic in most places, I agree with Joe that the predictability of certain areas, clash-wise, did let that element down.
    I’d like to see Clear Skies employ a Tabula Rasa/Battlefield-esque ‘capture the spawn point’ system; it was a bit bler to help the Garbage stalkers overcome that bandit scum, and then never have them press the advantage and seize the bandit camp down the hill. I think it’d be a healthy employment of their ‘A-Life’ to have a constant game of AI Battlefield going on all around you, with frequent reinjections of subjugated parties to keep it active (the course of this ‘background’ game could even trigger side-missions — “Please help us beat back the army/animals/bandits/Duty here, here and here, they’ve been successfully taking most of the Zone”, etc.) AI clashes in STALKER practically never go down the same way twice unless there’s a major imbalance in numbers, so it’d provide a nice ‘randomised’ sprinkling of Zone wanderers to encounter as you traveled. Of course, with the big focus on faction warfare in S:CS, maybe this is what’ll happen. Hooray, good stuff happening! Next thing you know, I’ll have gainful employment!

  2. akbar says:

    The raid on the freedom base?! That sounds fun… I should have hung around doing the faction missions more. The only time I ended up crossing freedom was when their AI suddenly (and for no reason that I can think of) decided I was an enemy. I was just outside their base at the time, so I squatted behind a pillar and waited as wave after wave of them came out of the base after me. It was a bit disappointing how uninventive they were – it was too easy to just pick them off as they came, all the way down to their leader Lukasz. Of course, I then got to wander their base and raid the armoury in peace, which was handy.

  3. Morph says:

    Stalker is highest on my list of games I wish could get into. I’ve tried three times but never managed more than a few hours. I’m constantly put off by little niggles.

    I found radiation and anomolies annoying rather than challenging. I got angry when compelted quests didn’t seem to matter. I didn’t understand artefacts (they just seemed to poison me). The interface and quest system was so clumsy. Random crashes to desktop didn’t help.

    Sigh. I wish I could love it as much as you lot.

  4. Cooper says:

    I completed Stalker a few months ago, and uninstalled it in order to fit EP2 on. I’m not sure it was worth it.

    Stalker has atmosphere coming out of it’s ear ‘oles. After completing it, I went back, and just ignored the main quests. I’d spend hours, doing the same; just working with the side quests and the location-specific ‘save the stalkers from the bandits’ and the like.

    The thing that always got me, was that even though they had this most amazing landscape, which was incredibly detailed, there was little in the way of encouragement to explore. There are whole swathes of the map that, if you never do anything but missions and side missions, you’ll never see. Which is a shame.

  5. Paul Montesanti says:

    Man, this really makes me want to play STALKER.

    This reminds me of the way I used to play Oblivion. You know, sometimes I think these kinds of experiences, the need to wander in a place both familiar and unfamiliar, point out a glaring flaw in my personality, some psychological hole that needs to be filled. Is this why Ishmael went to sea?

  6. kadayi says:

    @Morph

    A lot of the early artifacts are pretty much only worth selling for phat cash. Don’t attach the + radioactive ones unless you have some form of worn radiation protection otherwise they will slowly poison you. Generally there’s little gain to be had from those kind tbh. Worst comes to the worst, hunt down a walkthrough there are plenty online if you need tips.

  7. Cargo Cult says:

    The thing that always got me, was that even though they had this most amazing landscape, which was incredibly detailed, there was little in the way of encouragement to explore. There are whole swathes of the map that, if you never do anything but missions and side missions, you’ll never see.

    For me, the fact that there was such a desolate, empty world out there was enough of an incentive to go exploring!

  8. phuzz says:

    Something tells me we’re still going to be talking about Stalker for a long while yet, maybe because no one seems to have had the same experiences as anyone else.
    Unlike something like “do you remember when you saw the portal open in Minerva?”, one person will mention something and everyone else seemingly had a completely different experience (“I killed some bandits”, “some dogs killed some bandits”, “some bandits killed me”, “it crashed and wiped my harddrive”).

  9. ChrisL says:

    Great article. Now I’ll have to play Stalker again.

    Sigh.

  10. InVinoVeritas says:

    I purchased Stalker after reading about it on RPS, and never managed to sit down and focus enough to get myself hooked. I did the same with Pathologic, and this past Sunday, had the whole day to myself (wife was out of town) to immerse myself in the game world. Now, wild horses couldn’t drag me away from the diseased little village. I just need to get around to doing the same thing with Stalker…

  11. Robin says:

    I found myself approaching Stalker very differently to Oblivion. I barely touched the side-quests and focussed on survival and pushing forward through the Zone, getting by with what I could scavenge rather than seeking out powerful items and tinkering with my inventory. I think I might go back into it just to take pictures next.

    I thought it was a bit of a shame that Pripyat was chock full of enemies when you get there, exploring it at leisure would have been nice. Maybe something for Clear Skies.

  12. Ben Abraham says:

    Would stalker run on my geriatric Nvidia 7100 GS? =P Methinks I would go out and buy it otherwise.

  13. Don says:

    Like the author I was in the mood to have another trip into the Zone recently. And with a shiny new CPU/GPU I could now play it with max bling. And it does look really good, specially when lightning flashes in the night and the road ahead lights up and shows the shadows of the trees for as far as you can see.

    Sadly the experience usually lasts no longer than a level as it BSODs frequently, often in transit from one level to another. Seems to be a common experience judging from the forums and unfortunately epitomises why PC gaming might go into a big decline. Perhaps there’s some magic combo of game/driver patch level in which it will work ok but I really haven’t got the time. Must be incredibly frustrating for the developers – try as they might there are so many different hardware and software combinations out there that their chances of getting it right for everyone are zero. Throw in widespread piracy and you can see why they’ll prefer to target consoles.

  14. Jim Rossignol says:

    @Robin: Pripryat will not feature in Clear Sky.

  15. Evan says:

    The writing on this site so often convinces me to buy a game.

    Anyway, I guess I will give in and buy Stalker tonight. God knows I can’t afford another game right now… especially a good one that will eat up a lot of my time.

  16. Chaz says:

    @Ben: Well it runs on my 6800GT OK with max settings at 1280×1024, in my 3 year old P4 PC. So I don’t think its that much of a heavy duty game as regards kit requirments.

  17. Jim Rossignol says:

    Stalker is pretty scaleable, but you need to have quite a long play with the variables to get it running nicely. Reducing vegetation draw distance is a major one.

  18. Will Tomas says:

    Just out of interest, does anyone (especially Jim, given this piece) play Stalker with any of the realism mods? I say this because I quite liked Stalker (completed it once properly, but saved near the end so did all the endings just to see what would happen…) but haven’t yet got around to playing it again. If some of the mods make the experience more immersive they might be worth looking at.

  19. Link says:

    I totally agree, even though i was slightly put off by the major performance issues i had. Most prominent in my memories was when i first faced one of those psychic guys in the labs… my gf walked in as i’m creeping down the shadowy tunnel, i check behind me only to see the disfigured shape stumble into the light, then he did the super-scary-zoom-into-my-brain move and she screamed and ran out.
    Or when i entered pripyat, met up with the super duty soldiers, fighting for a good 10 minutes through the city, then i turn around to take cover and suddenly realize, they’re all dead, i’m alone again…

  20. SwiftRanger says:

    The game is quite scaleable idd but near the end (in Pripryat f.e.) the framerate does drag down a bit (got a PIV 2.66 Ghz, 1GB Ram and a Radeon 9600 Pro, playing in 1024×768 res with Medium detail). I’ll get a new PC shortly, ready for going through the original game again and after that Clear Sky of course (if it makes that August release date).

    A list with recommended mods next to the ones already mentioned in the previous comments would be welcome idd. :)

    EDIT: oh yeah, the first time you encounter that hypnotising bubble-head is just unforgettable. Such an enemy ‘weapon’ sounds like a cheap trick at first if you read a description about it but it’s really cool in-game.

  21. James Sterrett says:

    The wounded enemies in Stalker sparked a heated discussion with my wife. She was horrified when she saw me executing the wounded, and it took some time to convince her that this was, in fact, an act of mercy, since they were going to either die fast from me, or bleed out in agony.

  22. eyemessiah says:

    I am one of those who wanted to like Stalker but couldn’t quite manage it. Technical problems & odd in game bugs gradually sapped away my will to play – and to be honest I didn’t really feel like the game was offering much in terms of reasons to hang around.

    I’ll be glad to try the follow up though, as I always liked the premise of the game, and in terms of tone I liked the angle that the developers took. If it was just a little bit more focused & solidly built I probably could have gotten into it.

    Maybe I’ll give it a go after my next upgrade in the hopes that a fresh hardware base renders me immune to the technical glitches too.

  23. UncleLou says:

    “For me, the fact that there was such a desolate, empty world out there was enough of an incentive to go exploring!”

    Yes, same here. I didn’t need to find anything special. Exploring for exploring’s sake, just to see the world they built, was rewarding for me.

  24. Zacmanman says:

    I really agree with what you say mostly because I feel the same way with a few games, one being The elder Scrolls 4. I love the idea of being immersed in a world so much different and a complex story and nonsensical inquires (why are there no childern in Mass Effect and Oblivion?). Stalker, although great and appealed to me a lot, bugged the shit out of everything I did. I played around 10-12 hours and then, randomly, the game bugged. The map was flipped upside down and I couldn’t move and I had no life. I couldn’t reload any other game because they all reacted the same way. Unfortunately, some great games are bugged. I love Stalker and I’ll defiantly get back into it sometime soon.

  25. Geoff says:

    I purchased Stalker on the recommendations of RPS and Tom Chick, and am glad I did. Played all the way through, taking my time, and enjoyed it immensely.

    I didn’t run into many bugs. Some of the aspects I enjoyed most were:
    -The feel of the combat. Guns didn’t feel like toys in a game, they felt like guns. If you shot someone, they were punctured and bled. If you shot someone in the head, they died. Even if you did it with the “weak” or “low level” guns and the bad guy was a powerful enemy. Shoot someone in the head, they die. “Better” guns was more about accuracy, scopes, rate of fire, ammunition availability, etc. rather than “17 damage points instead of 13″
    - The inventory limitations. I’m a pack rat by nature, and often feel that half the point of a game is to build a hoard of treasure. Being forced to severely limit my belongings was frustrating at first, but then changed the feel of the game for the better. It was no longer just about picking up everything, it was about planning survival.

    About the worst thing I can say for it is that the free-roaming bits in the middle were so great that I kind of lost interest in the linear push to the end. Still did it, and it was interesting. I’ll buy Clear Sky without question.

  26. Larington says:

    Haven’t revisted Stalker so far, mostly because I don’t currently have time to go re-installing games, but I definately enjoyed it when I played it… Theres a flawed genius glimmer to it that always leaves me wanting more (Just as with Startopia, Anachronox, Planetside and others).

  27. Kadayi says:

    “It was no longer just about picking up everything, it was about planning survival.”

    QFT. Indeed initially the inventory system was annoying (not helped by the cumbersome interface) but once you got your mind around it added a lot to the game and I actively enjoyed thinking about what equipment I’d take, what I’d leave behind and most importantly how much ammunition/med/rad kits I was prepared to carry. 300 rounds sounds like a lot of bullets, but often proved not to be the case, and being forced to fall back to a crappy pistol in a firefight makes for a tense game ;)

  28. dhex says:

    this is a great piece of stalker evangelism.

    my local gamestop told me that it’s coming out in september. steam says august. so…july? december?

  29. Mike says:

    I’ve played STALKER for precisely half an hour, and I think the last game to grip me that fast was probably Half-Life. It has something, certainly, that other games don’t, although I know that part of it is just my attachment to the idea of Chernobyl and exploring the beauty of somewhere so desolate.

    It’s on the list for post-upgrade investigating. It’s also on the list for Games To Only Play During The Day.

  30. Howard says:

    To all those who doubt the capacity to scare and amaze that STALKER posseses, you MUST check out a mod called Oblivion Lost (yes, the original name for STALKER).

    This mod completely changes the game, bringing it far more in line with how us long time fans imagined it would be. The scope of what it changes is staggering and it is well worth the download (even comes with an idiot proof installer and mod manager).
    I guarantee you that this mod will make you play it just once more no matter how many times you have previously completed it.

  31. Kadayi says:

    “It’s on the list for post-upgrade investigating. It’s also on the list for Games To Only Play During The Day.”

    You might want to add ‘Games to only be played with other people in near proximity’ and ‘Games to be only played whilst wearing rubber underpants’ as well to that list when you have down into the labs…

  32. internisus says:

    Some of the commentators here have asked about mods–I’ve been playing with the “Rebalanced” mod, which combines and tweaks many other mods while attempting to remain true to the spirit of the game. I recommend it.

    I am looking forward to Clear Sky chiefly for the revamped factional elements. One of the promised features is global warfare in which you can lead your own faction to victory. Something that makes me sad about Stalker is that my loner friends refuse to take over a compound that I’ve emptied of bandits, for example. They don’t progress forward, and the bandits come back less than 12 game hours later (way too quickly; I don’t like this). So I’m looking forward to having the opposite occur in Clear Sky.

    It would also be nice if I could say, “Hey you, go and patch up that wall. You there, fix this ladder so we can use the tower as a sniping and watch post. Okay, I want men at these positions with six hour rotation.” or whatever. The environments are so incredible that it makes me a little crazy to see NPCs ignoring possibilities for fortification. I’m not expecting to see this kind of thing in Clear Sky, of course.

    Anyway, for a totally different vision of what Stalker could have been like, check this thread on the GSC forums: http://www.gsc-game.com/main.php?t=community&s=forums&s_game_type=xr&thm_page=1&thm_id=8866&sec_id=14 Personally, I love this direction and would kill for that kind of game. Lonesomely roughing it out there in the zone, searching for rare opportunities, making long-term decisions based on economy and safety, etc.

    Oh, hey Dhex. Clear Sky is coming out at the very end of August, which is why the retailer told you September.

  33. Justin says:

    I found that the closer I got to the end of the game, the more occasional pauses I’d have as my video card and CPU tried to catch up. This made the end of the game a bit of a slog. The exploration part was wonderful, though.

    I have to admit: at first, I didn’t realize you had to activate artifacts by putting them in a special (unlabeled) part of the inventory.

    I also didn’t realize how easy it was to damage your reputation; I went through the game helping when it was obvious, but I avoided firefights, which killed my reputation and I suspect raised prices. If I had bought a better gun, sooner, my game would have been somewhat easier.

    This game is one of the things that makes me want to build a newer, stronger gaming machine, just to experience the atmosphere.

  34. BarkingDog says:

    I found that the way bandits or whatever would respawn in a couple of game-hours was incredibly frustrating- partly because I had to loot everything I could, but mostly because I found myself fighting the same bandits over and over in exactly the same way to get anywhere. And, the guns I found (maybe because I could never get into it) always felt ridiculously weak; they didn’t *feel*.. solid, for want of a better word.

  35. Kadayi says:

    I’m not sure I agree on that, certainly the early guns are a tad weak, but later ones like the TR301, GP 37 and Tunder are all pretty robust, and have good put down.

    Again though, Stalker is more about putting them down before they see you at distance rather than trading gunshots up close and personal John Woo style.

  36. meatpeople says:

    Turns out that Oblivion Lost mod implements the Freeplay at the end of the game I asked for above! Drivable vehicles! Roaming mutants and soldiers! Sounds great.

    Now I’ll never get round to finishing BioShock.

    Anyone any other mod recommendations? Regarding which mods work well with others etc?

  37. Yhancik says:

    Mods don’t work well together, except if they’re very specific (like the Less Generic Bandits that only changes some meshes and textures).
    If 2 mods modify the same .ltx files, it won’t work.. but I hear you can merge them, if you have the time and the knowledge.

  38. Irish Al says:

    STALKER can throw up some unparalleled atmosphere. I remember crawling and sneaking through a cornfield in the pitch dark on a stormy night, just about able to see the vegetation. Suddenly, a flash of lighting and all around me is a pack of mutant dogs, just sitting there and watching me …

  39. muggins says:

    I just remember looking down that grey road into the forest, just outside the village at the start, with the guitar from the stalker at the campfire floating over.

    I felt cold and very alone, what a brilliant game.

  40. Malibu Stacey says:

    The writing on this site so often convinces me to buy a game.

    Anyway, I guess I will give in and buy Stalker tonight. God knows I can’t afford another game right now… especially a good one that will eat up a lot of my time.

    I ordered it from Amazon last night after reading this yesterday. It’s less than £10 now.
    I have next week off & am now forced to choose between far too many games (This, MINERVA, FEAR expansions, Overlord, UFO: Extraterrestrials or finishing Prey to name but a few).
    Damn you RPS! /me shakes fist angrily at the sky

  41. Inglorion says:

    I haven’t read all the other replies, so I might repeat what others have already said.

    I think STALKER is a great game, and it epitomizes the strengths and weaknesses of PC games in that it’s more complex and detailed than console games, but along with that comes the buggy, unpolished gameplay we sadly have gotten used to.

    Just a few days ago I started my second “serious” STALKER adventure, and yesterday I got past Bar, on my way to kill “Master Stalker”. Before long I came upon a few Duty members who offered me a job: they wanted me to help them massacre the Freedom’s camp. Sure, count me in. So, I’m suppose to take out the snipers, but then there’s also something about killing a person – L-something – and as hell breaks loose I get “voice messages” from the Duty guy – Skull, i think it was – but someone else is talking over his voice, so it’s virtually impossible to understand what I’m really suppose to do. I eventually take out the snipers and L-something. I had to reload several times to make it, because of the confusion and my shoddy rifle, and every single time there were multiple voices mingled, so that I couldn’t understand anything. But now the job was done, and I go on a savory scavenge spree. I then head back to complete the mission – but what the hell?! Skull isn’t there! I go back to the Freedom base, and among the heaps of bodies I find Skull. So I’m not able to complete the mission, and the game doesn’t seem to understand that it was botched. There’s an element of realism in that Skull could die, obviously, but it feels very unsatisfying within the game, and I contemplate reloading once more, but quickly think, “No way – too much work.”

    This is just one of many examples of how the game is unpolished. If we should toss realism into the game, like I mentioned, then one of the surviving Duty members should have taken the lead and given me my reward – whatever that was. All of this makes the game feel very unpredictable. It’s like whenever I’m about to complete a mission or something, I have a queasy feeling that the whole thing might blow up in my face, or that when I quick-save, my machine will reboot.

    About “No women in STALKER”: I thought about that myself just recently, and came to the conclusion that in a truly realistic and mature version of the game – the way it should be if video games should be taken seriously, compared to for example movies — then there would be a brothel in Bar. The world of STALKER is a hard place, and in a hard place women must do what is necessary in order to survive, just like men would. Sex, drugs (or alcohol) and violence is an integral part of human life, even when you have a government that tries its best to restrict those things. If you take heterosexual relationship out of the equation, like you would in prison, then people would have to adapt. This goes for the world of STALKER as well.

    STALKER is very cool, but it’s such an unpolished game, and many of those damn annyong things – “I said come in, don’t just stand there!” – have not been fixed in any of the patches. Whenever something happened, or is about to happen, I can’t help but wonder if the developers intended it that way or if it’s just another bug I’ve stumbled across.

  42. John P (Katsumoto) says:

    Weirdly I just did that mission with Skull and he also died for me, but it simply transferred command to another surviving Duty member and I could hand in the quest with him. Patched all the way to 1.004?

  43. AndrewC says:

    Muggins: ‘I felt cold and very alone, what a brilliant game.’

    I agree completely, that sentence is really very strange from an outside perspective. ‘It made me feel like shit. Best game ever!’

    Maybe games have failed to be genuinely immersive for so long that any sort of palpable atmosphere is regarded as glorious for those of us who are hopelessly addicted. Or maybe it says something about the maturity of games that the ‘best’ ones roll around in adolescant emotional spaces of isolation and the linking of ‘darkness’ with maturity. Buggered if I know, but I couldn’t stop playing the final section once it becomes linear as i knew I was near the end and *had* to get there. Finished at 2am, shivering, tense and utterly unable to sleep for the rest of the night. An extraordinary experience but, you know. Where’s the happy?

  44. AndrewC says:

    Oh, and I walked in to the Freedom base and told the leader about the Duty raid and he told me to kill the Duty people, which I did, as I thought they were big dicks. Then Duty hated me for the rest of the game, making the bar area really interesting.

  45. Down Rodeo says:

    Damn, like many others this article and its comments really make me want to buy STALKER. I have exams, but, I could be playing this awesome game. But I have exams. But STALKER…

    I’ll settle it for now by saying that I probably wouldn’t be able to run it.

  46. Kangarootoo says:

    Consider me duly inspired. I just downloaded a bunch of flaw fixing mods and am going to have another run through of STALKER.

  47. Kadayi says:

    It’s possible to avoid making enemies of Duty, just inform Freedom and they will send a large team to attack the guys at the barn. As long as you personally don’t initially interfere/leave any Duty survivors alive,you should be in the clear and still be able to go to the bar unmolested.

    That’s certainly my experience of things fully patched.

  48. Inglorion says:

    John P.: I’m playing v1.006. There were only three surviving Duty members left, plus Master Stalker.

  49. Irish Al says:

    I only really got into it after applying the hacks that removed the weight restrictions, and finding a decent scoped rifle. It’s a pain in the swiss until you find a decent gun.

  50. James T says:

    Yeah, I kinda feel bad for using a trainer to abandon the quite reasonable weight restriction/endurance ‘thing’, but if I’ve got a long straight-line slog ahead of me, I wanna be able to run it; I’m probably gonna die when I get there, after all.