Hands On With Call Of Pripyat

This week I’ve been playing the English-language version of Stalker: Call of Pripyat. While the game is already out in Russia and Germany, the English version isn’t coming out until January. The version I am playing is therefore a preview build, and incomplete in a number of ways, mostly in UI English and some bits and pieces of presentation. What does seem to be complete, however, is the new and transformed zone, and its surly denizens. My impressions of this, the third Stalker game, follow.

Having photo-montaged its plot – in which, post-Shadow Of Chernobyl, military helicopters are lost in the zone – you’re dumped straight into the game world. While the opening of the first game, and of Clear Sky, were both fairly linear, and could be seen as something like tutorials, Call Of Pripyat is instantly open. The first of the three maps, a clogged up and toxic river valley, is vast – perhaps three times the size of the largest area in the original game – and you can immediately wander its enormity, encountering neutral stalkers, and setting about investigating the crashed helicopters that are marked on your map.

Of course it soon becomes clear that the standard equipment supplied to you isn’t going to be good enough to keep you alive. The environmental dangers are ramped up in Call of Pripyat, to the point where I’ve been suffering mild radiation poisoning for almost the entire game. The A-life is rampant too, with battles between stalkers, dogs, bandits, and snorks breaking out constantly across the spooky valleys.

Nor is the game as forgiving as the previous titles in terms of resources. Previously selling guns and other loot to trades made for an easy living, but this time you’re going to have to search for – and sell – the artifacts produced by anomalies if you want to stay alive. The detector system from Clear Sky remains, so this is a necessary process. You only occasionally find artifacts lying about, as in Shadow Of Chernobyl, and these are tied into specific plot lines.

What all this amounts to is a game that immediately presents you with the “go, survive” ideal that many Stalker players had said the original game should have espoused. While Call of Pripyat has a very clear mission for you – investigating the helicopter crashes – your primary concern is really one of staying alive and working with and for the people who really belong here. You need to scavenge better equipment, food, anti-radiation drugs, and ammunition, and trading with the locals is an essential part of that.

This, in part, requires you to rely on your equipment, and to get it fixed up. The upgrades and repair guy you find in the first zone is crucial to progress. You are going to be spending money on repairs and upgrades, because there’s no other option. The surplus of equipment in the first two games is gone, and the suit you have must be fixed and augmented. Amusingly, the upgrades dude can be bribed with bottles of vodka – the greater the drunkenness, the cheaper the prices, until he falls unconscious and is inaccessible. Fortunately, the sleep function that a number of mods unlocked for the first two games is now available from the outset, so you can kill time yourself. But you must find a bed to activate it. (Bunks can be found in some of the trade and mission hubs.)

What’s been most interesting about Call of Pripyat, however, is how much more like an RPG it has so far been. There’s already been a backstab storyline which beautifully illustrates the game’s subtle faction mechanics: I can’t get the revenge kill I want without alienating the quest hub I currently rely on. If I slay the miscreant then other Stalkers end up attacking me, and traders don’t want my goods. I am certain, however, that he’ll get his comeuppance. There have also been a couple of missions which I’ve felt uncomfortable about – including one seemingly insane blood-sucker hunter (the invisi-beasts) who took me through a lair of sleeping creatures, just to show off Call Of Pripyat’s stealth mechanics. Basically, crawling = quieter. And walking on noisy surfaces, or shooting, gives you away. I’ve yet to see whether sneaking plays any greater role in the game, but I’m hoping it’s going to.

So far I’ve only partially explored the first two areas. As I said, they’re vast compared to the original game, but I suspect the full game will nevertheless end up being smaller and shorter than Shadow Of Chernobyl. It’s also weirder, at least at an environmental level. While there was some strange stuff in SHOC’s world, Call Of Pripyat reminds me a little more of the open surrealism of Pathologic. In the starting area there’s a giant mutant tree, a grater full of fire-ghosts, and a slice through a hillside (like the path of a giant blow-torch) which puts you under psychic attack if you try to go inside. There’s also a bunch of cracked, warped, and otherwise anomalous sections of landscape that make the first two games look positively conservative in their level design. The zone really has changed, even if its gas-masked populace remain much the same.

And I’m not sure it has all changed for the better. While some areas of the world retain the original bleak and desolate beauty, it feels like much of the level design is perfunctory. The original game seemed to hide a lot of the cracks in technology by simply making the level design very beautiful indeed, but that’s not so apparent here. It seems a little hurried, a little under-imagined. I wonder if the additional weirdness is a symptom of a lack of confidence with the original palette of post-Soviet dereliction.

While the surface issues of presentation are the most obvious problems with this build of the game, there are some more subtle issues at work in things like balancing. The most obvious the reduce stamina capacity of your character. Unlike the previous Stalkers in the zone, your military major is quite out of shape, and can only manage a fraction of the distance that the previous motorcycle-legged characters could manage. It’s a strange change of pace, presumably design to limit the zipping about, and to make the levels seem a little larger. It’s a peculiar choice – and one that might not make the final build, I suppose – and it seems to chime in with a number of things that don’t feel like mature design within the game.

That anxiety is balanced, however, with a feeling that there’s just a lot to do. I’m not going to be sure of this until I’ve spent some serious time into completing the game, but it feels like I’m scraping the surface of the mission arcs – especially the side missions – in the hours I’ve already sunk into it. A couple of the missions have been really interesting, and I’m hoping the GSC team have made some of them complex enough to be memorable. (I’ve already had one good anecdote to tell, that I don’t want to spoiler here.) Naturally, I’m hoping to review a release version, so I’ll be able to offer a better judgment of it at that time.

Call of Pripyat feels a lot more like the Stalker game we wanted and expected than Clear Sky did. It doesn’t seem to quite capture the atmosphere and terrifying claustrophobia of Shadow Of Chernobyl, but perhaps nothing ever will. I haven’t played enough to be able to judge whether it’s ultimately going to frustrate, either, but it’s already a stronger offering than Clear Sky. For zone-junkies like me this is clearly going to be fascinating terrain, and I’m going to go back to exploring it the moment I get this posted on the site. (No, you’re coming shopping – The Lady Rossignol.)


  1. c-Row says:

    I already wondered why no-one seemed to talk about this even though it was already on shelves in Germany. You enlightened me, again.

  2. Paul says:

    Cannot wait.

    Though I still have yet to play SoC with Complete 09.

  3. TotalBiscuit says:

    Sounds like a bundle of grim, danger-ridden joy. What a great way to kick off 2010.

  4. [21CW] 2000AD says:

    Let’s cut straight to the most important Stalker question:

    How stable was it?

    I almost gave up on Clear Sky because of how many times I had to restart my game till after a few patches. So how many times did it crash? Any saved games corrupted? Does it look like it’ll need a couple of patches just to stop you from tearing your hair out?

    • Psychopomp says:

      “The version I am playing is therefore a preview build”

      That’s all you should really need to know

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      My PC has always been v stable with Stalker games, so I am probably not a good litmus test.

    • The LxR says:

      I’ve only encounterred one serious bug in the Russian version, that prevented me from finishing a quest, the rest is near-perfect.

    • Casimir's Blake says:

      Initial word seems to be, GSC got their act together this time. It’s supposedly pretty solid already. Looking forward to this very much, SoC is one of the few modern FPS games I’ve played through – and completed – more than twice. :P

  5. c-Row says:

    I’d like to add that there seems to be a box set coming out next week which includes all three S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games.

    link to amazon.de

    • Roi Danton says:

      Thanks! I’ll think I’ll buy it once I finished Dragon Age.

  6. Scroll says:

    Well I still thoroughly enjoyed clear sky once it was heavily modded, and if the areas are similar to the CS opening swamp then it’ll be a winner for sure.

    Hopefully the community will fully latch onto it like they did with SHOC and make some great tweaks and overhauls, and I’m pretty sure a new version of Float will probably be necessary as well.

  7. Grey Cap says:

    If you can’t wait, you could buy a German copy and use the translation mod. . . although you’d still need a basic understanding of German, since there are no subtitles.
    As to the level design: I can see Mr Rossignol’s point. I’m not spending as much time admiring each building or ruin as I did in ShoC. For some reason I can’t pinpoint, the exploring is less personal in this game. However, it is still my favorite Stalker game. You really ARE a scavenger, like Stalkers are presented, and I love that. (Just like he said, really!)
    Edit: @[21CW] 2000AD, the game is absolutely stable (for me, at least). Not a single bug in ca 10 hours.

    Will rant for food.

  8. skalpadda says:

    Sounds hesitantly positive, which I suppose is a good start. It’s not like Shadow of Chernobyl was a game most people instantly fell in love with either. I skipped Clear Sky because of the poor reviews it got, but I’m really starting to feel the urge to go back into the Zone, so if this is good I’ll be overjoyed.

    Not sure if I like the idea of a more punishing economy though, while equipment and looting was fun, I quite liked having money for whatever I needed. It made sense to be rich as well, if you were a successful artefact hunter, and guns aren’t cheap. The first mod I installed was one that let me repair stuff, and since I’m kinda bad at shooters I spent a fortune on repairing bullet-riddled stalker suits. Just hoping the economy won’t make the game too hard for me.

    • Spacewalk says:

      This is exactly what we need, for the game to hate us even more.

  9. jti says:

    Sounds like this is the game they were originally aiming for. Excellent! I hope this will be a huge success.

  10. kyrieee says:

    I don’t know if I can deal with another game using the same assets
    We’ll see

    Slightly looking forward towards it though. STALKER is probably the most memorable game I’ve played in the last few years

  11. Kelron says:

    I’d heard the game still hasn’t evolved much since the original. I won’t object to more Stalker, especially as it sounds like a harsher and more open game, but it would be nice to see some new ideas now.

  12. toni says:

    most ppl who own the game can’t talk about it since they are STILL PLAYING IT (or again). this game delivers !!!!!

  13. LMN8R says:

    Wow, I’m extremely happy with this preview. SoC was one of my favorite shooters of all time, but Clear Sky disappointed me in a number of ways. CoP seems to be doing everything I’d hoped for.

    One thing – you say there are 3 distinct areas, all much larger, but are there additional underground lairs beyond those 3 areas? I thought I remembered reading something about Call of Pripyat containing some of the creepy underground sections that Clear Sky lacked, which would be awesome.

    • Tim James says:

      I wouldn’t get too excited. I think there is some creepy stuff but they’ve put less emphasis on the claustrophobic underground areas.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I’ve explored some tunnel systems and caves, but there have been no distinct dungeons as per SHOC yet.

  14. Jockie says:

    Have you met any of the new creatures yet I wonder? The telekinetly gifted dwarves are a right pain the in the arse..

  15. the affront says:

    “While the game is already out in Russia and Germany”
    “It’s a peculiar choice – and one that might not make the final build, I suppose”

    I don’t get how those two sentences go together. Obviously (to me, anyway) they’re only doing translation now, and not game mechanics, seeing as it’s already out elsewhere.

    Or do you have some information regarding to the Russian/German releases being some kind of semi-beta rush-job awaiting patches?

  16. Jim Rossignol says:

    @ the affront: From my experience with games in the past, releases across different regions have different branches of code. What was released of Arma 2 in the UK, for example, was different from that released in Germany, because “gold” came at a different point.

    • the affront says:

      Jim: Huh, ok. Curious practice, that.
      I’d have expected them to just finish the base “stuff” and later work on the language files, if it’s clear before development that it’s going to be multilanguage anyway, like it’s done with MMOs. Then just call different regions’ versions gold whenever their respective language files are finished being translated.
      Seems rather stupid this way, but hey, I’m not a developer, so…

  17. Tim James says:

    There are always mods for fatigue and things. Maybe it will make the game feel shorter but I don’t think anyone minds.

  18. Dan Sunderland says:

    Have they manage to get rid of the loading screens from SOC? I didn’t play Clear Sky so I didn’t know if they were still present in that? That was the biggest mood killer for me in the first game, I hate seemingly free roaming games that have those kind of invisible walls for engine restraints.

  19. Muzman says:

    All my foreign chums, who were much harder on Clear Sky than I was, have been sining this one’s praises since it came out. I was all ready to beleive the magic would be gone, but all advanced word now is awesome.

    • SheffieldSteel says:

      You mis-spelt “sinning”. Still, as long as they’re enjoying themselves.

  20. l1ddl3monkey says:

    Did they hire coders from the modding community for this? It seems a lot of what’s in it has appeared in modes already (i.e. annoying psychic dwarves).

    Not that I’m complaining; I’m so goddamn STALKER I’ve booked a tour of Pripyat for next year :)

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      I hope so. Egosoft did the same thing with X3 : Terran Conflict and it was by far their best game yet.

    • Muzman says:

      It would be harder to say with this who’s responsible for new features. Most of the stuff the mods were using happened to be features that were already in the game but deactivated for the release version.

  21. Nick says:

    It was certainly the case with the original game that it was a build or two different between Russian and Uk release. Unless I’m remembering it incorrectly.

  22. dtgreen says:

    I’m a huge fan of SoC, replaying it with the complete mod at the moment. I’ve not jumped to Clear Sky yet, and am tempted to avoid it and go straight for Pripyat. I’m actually visiting Pripyat itself next year as part of a camera crew, want something to prepare me for the experience. :P

    • SirKicksalot says:

      Don’t pass on Clear Sky. The new areas and gameplay mechanics are good. Its main problem is that the ending was rushed, so HELICOPTER MINIBOSS OLOLOLOLOL :/
      It also has quite a nice range of mods that fix the vanilla’s problems.

  23. Cooper says:

    I do wonder if the

    “It doesn’t seem to quite capture the atmosphere and terrifying claustrophobia of Shadow Of Chernobyl, but perhaps nothing ever will.”

    Is due to the age old ‘nothing will be as good as Deus Ex [or insert other game here]’ issue.

    SoC was SO different, new and wonderful in its bleakness that, like many first times, is unlikely to be superceded. But I guess that’s what you were getting at by ‘perhaps nothing ever will’

    • kyrieee says:

      CS had too much English dialogue and lacked any real dungeons. The dungeons are what made the game for me in SoC. The zone is not a nice place but when you’re down in the dungeons you’re just aching to get back to the zone. You’re not down there for terribly long stretches of time, but there’s the fear of having to go into them and the relief of having escaped them. They really added a lot to the game. The atmosphere in the game is great in all areas but it’s in the dungeon areas that they use that atmosphere to an emotional response.

  24. Vinraith says:

    I still need to get past the damn bus yard in the first one, but I want so very much to love these games. They seem ideal, I’m not sure what’s keeping me from fully engaging with them. Hell, I’ll probably end up buying CoP for that very reason. It’s certainly sounding like something I’ll enjoy.

  25. Weylund says:

    The bus yard is really where you learn to fight SHOC-style, in my opinion. That’s the hurdle I had to cross there anyway – it took me a few dozen tries to get it right. It’s basically a tutorial on how to fight fifteen human enemies with an average amount of cover.

    As for COP… sounds nice.

    • Vinraith says:

      I’ve gone through this in STALKER threads before, but I’ll do it again since you brought it up. The bus yard would not be a problem if it weren’t for the infinitely respawning enemies. I’ve gotten there twice in STALKER play throughs and in each case the enemies never stopped coming. I got up to around 30 kills before being overwhelmed. I’m told this isn’t supposed to happen.

    • Muzman says:

      Eh it varies really. I’ve had a few where they just seemed to keep coming. I’ve usually given up after the second wave (by then there’s nothing left to defend, often enough).
      I think it depends where you go after the first lot. If you head for the bandit camp right away, they don’t turn up. Some of the mods should fix it, although I think you said you had the same trouble with Complete?

      I doubt there’s any concrete method to stop them respawning if they are, anyway. The first couple of times I just ran away. It’s like a lesson in crushing defeat. Living to fight another day is more what Stalker is about than FPS style winning every engagement. You could also just refuse the mission.

  26. Eli Just says:

    I really need to finish my play through of SoC with complete 2009 and finish Clear Sky. I love the zone so much, it’s amazing. Second semester senior year, I’m looking at you!!

  27. Luke-NukemTW says:

    Excuse me, level 25 fail n00b here, but what does SHOC stand for? SHadow Of Chernobyl?

  28. nutterguy says:

    Cannoooot wait…. Thanks for the preview!

    @ l1ddl3monkey: A tour of Pripyat… Wow. Wants.

  29. egg says:

    Hah great ending to the article. I find myself facing the very same problem lately. Women and their love for shoes is someting that I am still to understand.

    But anyway, my biggest problem with Stalker is the fact that it’s all separated by different areas. It’s not just a big sandbox when I can lose myself and wander aimlessly, the way I did with Fallout 3 or GTA. It’s not like it ruins the game, but it matters to me. A lot.

  30. dadioflex says:

    Probably going over old ground here, but I never finished Clear Sky despite loving the original Stalker. It was buggy as hell and a little… annoying. Are there any good overhaul mods for Clear Sky?

  31. DXN says:

    I’ve played Call of Pripyat and, overall, I’d say I agree with Jim’s wordtalking. The maps are nice and big, there is a big underground base a la ShoC and CS, as well as some ‘mini-dungeons’ where you have to venture into various threatening places for a little bit. The economy feels pretty well-balanced, the weapons, as ever, behave pretty nicely, and there’s a fair amount of side-missions which are significantly better-done than ShoC and CS. Overall, what people are saying is true: much closer to ShoC than CS was, but retaining the best improvements that CS brought. It doesn’t quite recapture the special atmosphere of ShoC, but it does a decent enough job and, to an extent, brings its own atmosphere to the table. It also seems to be extremely stable.

    Some pet peeves about it:

    – They’re re-using a lot of assets that are, frankly, quite bad. In particular I’m really growing tired of the same low-quality sound scheme (especially the stupid wooshing gun-change noise) and somewhat wonky animations. The AI is still prone to glitches and quirks sometimes.

    – Compared to ShoC, the zone is a fairly safe, empty place. Anomalies are few and far between, and mostly marked on your map. Mutants are scarce, and for anyone who’s played the other two games, beating them is not very challenging.

    – I found the storyline utterly dull and uninspiring. On the other hand, it leaves things very open for you to explore the 3 large maps doing other stuff.

    Luckily the staggered release dates mean there’s already a fair amount of modding activity. Apparently AMK 2.0 is being worked on, and will include maps from ShoC and/or CS (!), along with all sorts of other improvements.

    In the meantime, if you happen to have a Russian/German version, a pretty-much-full English translation is available here (note – separate from the machine-translated version that was floating around earlier).

    CoP Full English Translation.

    There’s also a nice mod/compilation called SMRTR Pripyat, here:

    SMRTR Pripyat.

  32. Tim James says:

    Wait, hold on a minute. How do you know the English language version will be out in January?

  33. Sam says:

    Before wading headlong into the freezing steppe bogs of ShoC community addons, can anyone recommend a definitive, collected pack? I’d love to go back to the game now, what, two years on? Returning to play a better balanced, more complete version would be even better.

    • malkav11 says:

      I think there are three or four megamods with differing approaches. The one I’ve installed is Stalker Complete 2009, because it basically tries for polish, improved visuals and the like without too many radical gameplay alterations (I’ve never gotten very far in Stalker so I don’t need the increased difficulty or fanciness of, say, Oblivion Lost).

    • Justin says:

      There’s Oblivion Lost, which is a kitchen sink of mods. Check the end of this page for the most recent version:

      link to privat.bahnhof.se

      There’s AMK, which some people swear by, but I’ve never got it to work with the English version of Stalker on Steam. It’s also a pile of modifications that add a lot back into the game.

      link to amk-team.ru

      There’s Priboi Story, which I did get to work, is a modification of both the game and the storyline too, to something similar to what’s in Call of Pripyat, though it predates it.

      link to priboi-story.extra.hu

      There’s Stalker Complete 2009, which doesn’t modify the game as much as the other mods but does add a lot, visually. I wish my computer had enough horsepower for this.

      (search RPS for the story on it.)

      Those are the “big” Shadow of Chernobyl mods I know about. I persuaded my brother to buy Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl when it was for sale for $5 on Steam, and told him to install the Complete mod immediately. It has totally drawn him in; he said he’s never gotten so much enjoyment out of a cheap game.

      Really, GSC could just release map packs every few months for Shadow of Chernobyl and I’d buy them. I’m kinda surprised they haven’t done that – I’d gladly pay money just to explore a little more Zone with the same game, every couple months.

    • Sam says:

      Thanks guys

  34. Frye says:

    Might be old news, but reading this I checked their site and found they released a benchmark last week.

    I took the liberty of copy/pasting this from their site:

    This benchmark is based on one of the ingame locations – Pripyat . The testing process includes four stages, those utilizing various weather and time of the day settings (day, night, rain, bright sun). In order to test your system thoroughly the benchmark is provided with a number of presets and options including different versions of DirectX (9.0, 10.0, 11), screen resolutions, antialiasing etc, all at your disposal.

  35. MadMatty says:

    What put me off in the first game, and a lot of others, was the ludicrous amount of lead bad guys and mutants, would take before they went down.
    I feel as im basically spraying them with air freshner or something, although the thing in my hand does look a lot like a gun. So i went playing Arma2 and Counterstrike and some others instead, even if i do love sandbox rpg/shootyz things.

  36. Whelp says:

    I’m currently playing through the German version of the game, and I must say it’s actually quite good.
    A lot more polished than the previous 2 games too, as I’ve yet to encounter a single bug.

    One improvement I especially like is how all the anomalies are hand-crafted now, some of them are quite the sight to behold.

    The creepy indoor areas from SoC are back as well… you’re gonna put that flashlight to good use in this game.

  37. KindredPhantom says:

    Sounds like the ideal Stalker game. Can you revisit the areas covered in Clear Sky and Shadow Of Chernobyl?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Nope, CoP is all new terrain. Which is kind of a shame, because if they’d included the original space it’d now be giganto-massive. There’s a mod project, anyway.

    • Heliocentric says:

      modding in the old terrain might well be possible. Same engine basically?

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Well I dunno what the tech behind the larger maps actually means for modding, but I’d certainly like to see a zone unification project.

    • KindredPhantom says:

      That is a shame, I enjoyed that part of Clear Sky, going back to original locations and reminiscing over past adventures.

  38. UK_John says:

    Excuse me while I get up off the floor – a shooter becoming more of an RPG?!!!!!!! Surely that only happens the other way around in today’s multiformat market? Like Bioshock and Mass Effect both becoming more ‘shootery’ and RPG’s in general becoming Action-RPG’s!

  39. ZeeKat says:

    I love how the game has some underground sections and settlements inside of shipwrecks made seamlessly without any loaders between them and open part of the map. Leaving the safe interior of ship, walking on the top of it and watching the sunset over the zone while still hearing muffled laughter and dialogues from the inside is most atmospheric thing ever. Accenting the border between the safe places and grim and dangerous world outside is IMO one of Stalker’s biggest achievements.

  40. Deuteronomy says:

    You know what made SOC? It was Mooze. His dark ambient soundtrack made that game. I don’t believe he was involved with Clear Sky and it showed.

  41. OcularDissonance says:

    So I never played STALKER all that much but I did see the 1979 movie by Andrei Tartovsky which is one of my favorites. I’ve never seen anyone reference it in any reviews of Shadows of Chernobyl or Clear sky. Can someone tell me if there is a movie link since both the movie and the games contained ideas of the Zone, Dystopian Nuclear landscapes, Psychic trials and uh Soviet Decay it kinda seems obvious. I get why most people don’t know about the movie and why the half that do hate it but this review’s description of the reviewers surreal encounters conjured up images which the movie patterned on my brain but never revealed making me wonder.

    • ZeeKat says:

      Finished the main storyline today – it’s great to the very end. Really rights all the series’ wrongs. And not a crash or bug, that’s even more amazing. Yay GSC, finally!

    • ZeeKat says:

      Aw damn threading system. OcularDissonance – yes, it’s inspired by Strugacki’s novel. Pretty officially I think.

  42. OcularDissonance says:

    link to en.wikipedia.org fyi

  43. ken says:

    do a search for it using bittorrent, that’s where i found it.

    It’s a great movie except there is no English spoken version, just subtitles.

  44. tuo says:

    Get the detailed information on the review for the article on link to techarena.in.