MISERY Diary: Playing Stalker’s Hardest Mod

Get to the chopper!

There are lots of survival games, but there are also lots of games which could be survival games with the right mods installed. Over the course of Survival Week we’ll highlight a few of those games and i) write a diary of our experience playing with it ii) explain how to do it yourself.

Honour is for better folk than I. Honour is for the short-lived. Honour is for the people not playing MISERY. Accordingly, I choose to play as a Sniper. I’ll pick off monsters from the safety of a nice, cosy bush, although odds-on that’ll eat me too.

MISERY is a mod for STALKER: Call of Pripyat, two all-caps games which combine to form an experience which shouts death and despair at anyone who tries to play it.

I’m unscrupulous alright, but not one to derelict duty. This time, at least. I’ve never completed Call of Pripyat’s storyline. As in all open-world games I just piss about collecting MacGuffins for miscellaneous MacGuffin lovers and seeing the sites. Not this time. I’m Special Forces, and I’m going to cannonball my mission without hesitation: finding the hell out of five missing Stingray choppers. Oorah!

I’m lost. Well, disoriented. The start point is ostensibly the same, but STALKER’s default opening is a country garden by comparison. Gone are the cheery browns of irradiated soil, no more welcoming wave of blasted pines. The landscape is a resolute grey. Twisted willows bedeck the riverside ahead, and something massive is moving among them, something that I shouldn’t be seeing until much later: a pseudogiant. One swipe can kill a man. One tickle can kill a sniper. I decide that the best place to begin my mission is with Stingray 5. Because it’s in the opposite direction.

No game does rain like Pripyat. Fingers of cloud reach down to earth and water tumbles in sheets. MISERY includes an AtmosFear 3 variant to make it bleaker yet. My stamina recovery drips away with the downpour. I can’t say if they’re connected, but I sure feel drained by the washout.

After an arduous trudge, I’m surveying the swamp inhabited by Stingray 5. The scuttling of an unknown quantity echoes across the wretched pools. Rifle away, shotgun out. Unknown quantities get the special “still accurate while panicking” treatment.

There’s a sizzling sound. Oh, that’s my flesh. I’m within two metres of the anomalous bog when toxins begin nibbling at my health. You know, that stuff that bandages no longer replenish. Default STALKER would have let me get a pool party started before I showed symptoms.

Unsuspend your disbelief in my fireside tale for a sec, because it’s only thanks to Fraps footage that I can account for what happened next. At 23 seconds, I begin to pivot, alerted to some pernicious rustle. At 25 seconds, it’s over; I am comprehensively dead. That my shotgun went off is news to me, but a bloodsucker’s corpse sails past around 24 seconds. Then his mate decloaks and expresses an interest in my entrails.

Restart.

I stand once more on the lip of the stinking swamp, alert for camouflaged foes. Through my rifle scope, I scan each reed clump for disturbance, but nature intervenes before I complete my sweep. Fog rolls in. Anything which might have been an enemy becomes so much lint on a background of fluff. I crawl onwards in what I consider a stealthy fashion. A little mist don’t inhibit a bloodsucker though. There is a roar, a rush, a loading screen.

Restart.

My current approach amounts to feeding the wildlife. I need to be sturdier, or build toxin resistance to wade the long way round to the Stingray. My intent is still to follow the main mission, but MISERY is pressuring me into optional content like a discount holiday tour guide.

So I go raiding, scaling a water tower at the Sawmill to pick off slow moving military zombies with my rifle. It’s about time I sniped something. Trawling through corpses adds ammo to my stockpile, but there’s nothing wearable among the stray bits of soldier.

Stopping to take screenshots of Emissions is a shortcut to natural deselection.

There is an unholy rumble, and the sky assumes an awesome beauty. Towering clouds spew god rays with shimmering wakes. An Emission – a radiological event which renders stalkers into glue. Sightseeing assumes a low priority. I dive through doorframe of the ruined sawmill and hunker down. I’m actually excited! There’s deep satisfaction in outlasting something MISERY throws at you.

Then two pseudodogs run in, chew out my heart and fuck off again.

The obscenity of the death almost breaks me. When you jack up the AI, opaque cover sometimes crumbles to its intellect. It’s not an unusual issue, but it’s the first death to leave me feeling miffed.

Come on... Come on! Do it! Do it! Come on. Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! I'm here! Kill me! Come on! Kill me! I'm here! Come on! Do it now! Kill me!

Restart.

On the off I steer south for the main hub of Skadovsk. I’ve had it with my bandanna for breathing apparatus. I am going to gear up and neither man nor beast will stop me.

Social injustice scuppers me instead. The vendors stock some delicious gear, but MISERY’s oppressive economics sit me in the 99%. I volunteer to accompany Skadovsk mercenaries onto a stalker ship to shake the place up. A bit of honest night-time raiding for extra funds.

Sniping makes it my sombre duty to stay at the back while the muscle runs in. I didn’t ask to be a hero, but someone’s gotta take that hit. My mercs become splatters within seconds. The mission is cancelled, but I’m calling it a win because the other stalkers are impassive as a lone sniper emerges from enemy lines, loots the corpses of his mates and drops a sleeping bag on their porch. MISERY has not made a sportsman of me.

Eight hours’ sleep stimulates a fearsome hunger. I knew I should have had that post-raid kebab. Snipers are resistant to starvation and sleep deprivation, but I’ve still snacked my way through my starting rations. I need to ‘acquire’ some unsecured sustenance within minutes.
For the first time since arriving in the Exclusion Zone, MISERY opts not to screw me over. Scaling the rusted container ship I kipped in, I inch around the forward mast to discover one of STALKER’s hidden stashes. It contains the best goddamn chocolate bar I’ve ever looted. I annihilate my breakfast, radiating self-satisfaction. It’s a crime against Cadbury World. Once sated, however, there’s no shaking the thought that I would have withered away as a heavier soldier.

So who packed the tactical fog light?

It’s a fresh morning and I’m unaccountably alive. I skip my way back to Skadovsk and sell their own guns back to the vendor. In a pleasant turn, the lesser beasties I felled en route yielded hides which can be flogged for more dosh. What at first appear to be impassable obstacles to the main objective instead channel players into organic RPG progression. Start with feeble creatures, check off some easier side quests and just maybe you’ll amass cash to survive something more serious.

Too many rubles later, I’ve got myself a gas mask. In unmodded STALKER it’s a starting item; in MISERY it means more to me than a human child.

For third time I mount an assault on Stingray 5. I test the water, although the fact that I can get near means the mask is doing something. Tentative paddle changes to wading. Shrill warnings blare, but toxicity is still minimal. She’ll hold.

Crack.

She won’t hold! This was unexpected, and a nice touch in a ‘you’re screwed’ sort of way. Masks in MISERY have a visible overlay. Dark rims bound the screen and breath condenses. Mine now features a hair fracture. The quagmire has voided my warranty.

Twelve hours I’ve been at this, and as I’m up to my nipples in acid, there can be only one way forward. I’ll either die a hero, or get dissolved in a swamp much sooner. This is it. I take another stride.

More than a human child.

Crack crack!

Toxins are in the yellow. I’m unsure whether my detector is beeping or just screaming in agony. What would MISERY least expect? I summon what’s left of my hamstrings, stare down the Stingray and charge the Anomaly like a berserker. Toxicity enters the red, my gas mask looks like it’s been through a blender.

I make landfall. Two feet (sans toes) touch down on the single safe islet in a sea of cruelty. Suck it, MISERY. I inspect Stingray 5 from tail to blade. Mission accomplished! Okay, one-fifth of a mission accomplished, but I’m in exceptional spirits. MISERY has had quite the unexpected effect. The survival overhaul isn’t a bolt-on, and I’d argue it makes STALKER far more than it is in isolation. Hunger, sleep, and bastard toxic swamps transform Pripyat into a deep RPG in which each system- hang on, I hear something.

A dog hares past. Nice try, dog, I’ve fallen for that one before. If I leave you be, you’ll be back for a taste. The shotgun comes up, and both barrels find their mark.

As I was saying, each survival tweak forms part of an ecosystem in which each moment is significant. If you see a swamp, you need a gas mask. And if you kill a fleeing canine, you inherit its invitation to the bloodsucker on your six.

You can read more Survival Week articles over here.

42 Comments

  1. SAeN says:

    Misery is also the best way to describe the unfixable performance impact that MISERY has.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      Consider what they’re working with, though. You know Pripyat’s the most poorly-optimized of the bunch when the Complete mod somehow makes it run smoother.

    • Endsville says:

      Aye, the performance from the very start was awful, especially when compared to other mods. Didn’t really get a good chance to play it then, although by the sounds of some of the odd changes it makes, it’s not my kind of mod anyway. Had thought that its intention was to push the immersion higher but it’s actually all about pushing the difficulty to obscene heights instead, even at the expense of making any sense. A bit of a shame, I think.

      • AngusGM says:

        With the exception of the sometimes psychic AI, I found the changes made great sense. This is a supernatural nuclear hellscape after all! I’d argue MISERY makes Pripyat a better, more coherent game all round, but that’s masochists for you.

        • TimePointFive says:

          I feel the same. Also, even though this was wonderfully written, it is a cringe-worthy account of gameplay! Always go straight to Skadovsk, always enjoy the branching Yojimbo style stuff you can do with that “mercenary” stalker mission (they were bandits robbing the stalkers, you could have sided with one, the other, or double-crossed either for more dosh), NEVER go into water/acid, there’s always a safer way (stingray 5 is the easiest one of them to nab, just skirt the shoreline avoiding the anomalies).

          Sorry for the rant, but Angus…Get out of here, sub-par Stalker.

        • manny says:

          I found Priprat very easy so much so I didn’t bother playing after the first map, too easy and the whole game becomes a chore to complete for the nibbles of story.

        • maninahat says:

          Is MISERY the one in which the Mercenaries started shooting me dead from a (no exaggeration) mile away for no reason whatsover? I found it an extremely frustrating game that aims towards a more realistic take on the mechanics, and ends up tumbling right past.

          • Zetetick says:

            I think you may be remembering the early hours of STALKER: CLEAR SKY….When you make it back to the map from STALKER: Shadows of Chernobyl
            ( Cordon ) after the swampland missions.
            And, from your entrance place (a derelict tunnel) in blackest night, 300 metres away the damned AI soldiers fire off volleys of “Psychic marksman AI (TM)” – killing you almost immediately every time!!
            Almost made me quit the whole damn Game – GAH!!
            (There’s actually a fairly good game after you get beyond that little patch of Hellfire)

      • AngusGM says:

        With the exception of sometimes psychic AI, I found MISERY made great sense. I’m tempted to say it makes Pripyat a better, more coherent game all round, but that’s masochists for you!

      • Antistar says:

        Yeah… see, when I tried the mod, I had a pseudodog barrel across a knee-deep lake like a cheetah on a salt flat, shrug off several bullets to the face, and insta-kill me by headbutting me in the chest.

        And that’s just the start – so I’d agree that the mod doesn’t make any sense a lot of the time. It’s just about making things stupidly difficult.

    • Lobster9 says:

      It sure is taxing on the old computer box!

      That said, CoP already had some unfixable performance issues in the base game. A persistent jittery pause when moving towards populated areas has existed since Shadow of Chernobyl.

      I have found that all 3 games can sometimes benefit from being installed on an SSD drive, as the jittery problems seem to stem from the mess of asset files, and the way the game handles memory.

      It doesn’t solve everything however, and other people’s mileage will vary.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      Came to say this. I was disappointed by MISERY – I’m not a fan of the mods where it feels like I’m walking on eggshells. Also, I appreciate the added complexity mods like this have, but I think it loses some of the magic when there’s so many foreign inventory items you didn’t have to worry about. Maybe I’m just a weenie

    • buzzmong says:

      FYI, the biggest performance drain on Misery is the massively expanded range the A-Life system works around the player. The default game is has a value of 150m set in alife.ltx, Misery sets it to be something bonkers like 1500m.
      I found knocking it down to about 600 worked a charm and made it playable.

  2. Arglebargle says:

    Some of the adaptions were just too obtuse for me. The bandaging system, iirc. Also had a major save that left me in the open before a blowout, with no safe haven in range. Just a little too far: Not everything needs to go to 11…..

  3. buzzmong says:

    MISERY mod for me is unfortunately not the sum of it’s parts.

    I like the fx tweaks, the environment tweaks, blowouts etc etc… all good stuff. I like the AI tweaks and all that jazz. I like the massively expanded item set as well, with batteries and such, plus lots of different food (and cooking!). The class system is interesting as well, although it was uneeded to go to the extent of having skill ratings for armour and weapons attached to them. New enemies were interesting as well.

    What I don’t like however is the way repair items were implemented, with some things being only able to be used above 92%, the massively increased cost, and the seemingly increased degredation. Far too painful and obtuse to use, although I understand things like toolkits being limited use was an engine restriction.

    I also didn’t like the changes to NPC guns and ammo, ie, NPC’s basically drop no ammo and their guns are either ruined or near ruined. That’s actually really unrealistic, and sadly intentional by the mod team to make it harder.

    The combination of the horrid repair system coupled with the lack of dropped ammo and knackered guns took a hell of a lot of the fun out of the mod for me, as the “realism” focus completely fell apart.

    It’s a shame, because if it wasn’t for those two systems conspiring to make it painful to play, it would be the definitive survival mod for CoP, as the rest of it is pretty good.

  4. caff says:

    A brutal mod. I think I played for 3 minutes before uninstalling.

    (But the base game, Stalker: Call of Pripyat is amazing – definitely the one to get if you haven’t played any of them)

    • gummybearsliveonthemoon says:

      Wha? Not SoC?

    • Creeping Death says:

      Pripyat is oddly the one STALKER game I could never get into :/

      • Zetetick says:

        Me too, and I have no real idea as to why?
        I played both “Shadows of Chernobyl” and “ClearSky” 2 or 3 times each,loving every moment, but never got further than 6 hours into ‘Call of Pripyat’

  5. Lobster9 says:

    The last time I played MISERY I ended up stuck in a strange situation.

    After crossing back and fourth across Zaton over the course of several hours, I had been chased by several packs of dogs that slowly formed into a single forty-strong group led by a white pseudo dog. The dogs acted as a kind of cleansing tidal wave orbiting the entire map, and eating every opposing creature in it’s path.

    I had to time my crossings of the central swamp to coincide with gaps in the orbit, and on several occasions they encircled the Skadovsk, which made for some amusing spectator melee as the various stalker patrols tried their luck at running the gauntlet.

    In the end I decided to put that particular save to rest, as it seemed likely to me that everyone on board the ship would be dead of starvation before they could scrape enough bullets together to kill all the dogs.

    It was like a rusty nautical version of that Liam Neeson movie ‘The Grey.’

    • drumcan says:

      Stories like this one are exactly what I love S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games for. Thank you for sharing.

    • SlimShanks says:

      As much as I loved this post, I have to wonder why you didn’t stand on top of the Skadovsk and apply some buckshot/grenades to the dog horde whilst smoking a cigar/drinking tea.

  6. Stevostin says:

    I tried it on release and hated it, but mostly for bad reasons common ton many mods that I becomed used to with Sigerous Mod. Sigerous Mod is one of the russians mod and overall Russians mod are more numerous and better than the ones getting the hype here (like Lost Alpha or Misery). They’ve been translated by someone who doesn’t really get russians but used google translate + writing skills so overall it works pretty well. Like Misery it’s a collection of mod adjusted together and they have a lot in common, but Sigerous is less intrusive (no video filters…), possibly less harsh on survival (although this is not sure) but mainly offers a lot more content: new quest, new factions and the ability to work for some normally hostile ones (mercs, monolithe). There are now mines (you’ll need mines detector), new maps (revamped from SoC and CS) and ALPHA SQUAD who’ll make you squeal in terror. And a heap of new weapons (although you can still use the core ones with success as I did with my VSS Vintorez which is the only weapon a man needs).

    I didn’t play Misery enough to do a proper comparison but on the CanardPC forum where I found it the word in the street was that Misery was a let off and Sigerous got all the love. Indeed I highly recommend not only that mod but other by the same translator:

    link to moddb.com

    They come in convenient package and if you’ve been disappointed by stuff like Lost Alpha, this delivers the promises.

    I feel I could go back to Misery now but unfortunately I am a bit tired of the CoP maps. Maybe later but it’s unlikely as now it’s Survarium all the way. Very different game (multiplayer matches for now although we’ll see what the free play brings) but I absolutely love it.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      The issue with SGM is the horrible tedium you have to play through before you get to Zaton. If anyone is interested in trying SGM and skipping the introductory nonsense, I think I have a save file floating around… Eventually, though, it seemed like the economy in SGM became to ridiculous. Stuff was so expensive!!!

  7. Monggerel says:

    Well, I didn’t like the mod at all but I sure found its title appropriate.

    Makes me wonder just how in the god damn are you supposed to complete the second chimera hunt mission in the game (the first one just requires an F1 grenade casually propped in the chimera’s mouth – let sleeping dogs lie unless you can wake them with a high-explosive shrapnel breakfast).

  8. SlimShanks says:

    See, what you all have to understand here is that this is a game where you can maintain your AK with bacon grease and vodka. This is a game where you carry a giant bag (30g!) of weed, and toke from it to protect yourself from psy fields. This is a game where you really hate blood suckers, so despite your terror, you hunt them down and introduce them to the business end of Major Degtyarev… and then cook and eat them at the Skadovsk, and drink many bottles of vodka, and tell everyone about how awesome you are!
    In all seriousness though, can we please have some more love for MISERY? I say honestly that I really don’t see what all the complaints are about, and I was very rarely frustrated by my 200 hours with the mod. This is why: Whenever I died attempting something, I generally tried something else whilst applying the knowledge I had gained from my death. People need to think of it as more of a puzzle game, you have to learn the rules of the world, which are assuredly NOT random or particularly unpredictable. Example: Many say that bloodsuckers are too dangerous and frequent. Given that this observation has been made, perhaps the next step would be to stay close to things you can hide on top of, learn their habits, where they tend to travel, what weapons are effective against them (big ones). Or you could stick with a group of stalkers for protection. Or! You could do the standard thing and run away leaving trails of urine behind you. This tends to discourage them. This is just one example, and I believe this sort of problem solving skill is exactly what the game demands and rewards. Not everyones idea of fun, however it got me through the whole game with many deaths, but very few that couldn’t have been avoided. Much like Dark Souls, in that aspect.
    Anyways, not trying to fanboy or say that people are bad at games, I just think that a different approach might be required for the logic of the game to click. And when it does, you will be damn glad that you stuck it out. Because you can be just like me, hiding in the bottom of a long forgotten lab, trapped in a half buried elevator, surrounded by mutants, anomalies, and secrets. And I’ll be enjoying the hell out of this chocolate bar that I paid all my money for. It was so worth it.
    Also this is my first post so be kind…
    Edit: **** Flint

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Welcome! And thanks, you’ve convinced me to give it another go. Played it on release at a stupidly late time so gave up after only half an hour of death and crashes. I shall give it the respect it deserves this evening

      • SlimShanks says:

        Excellent! Hopefully you don’t bounce this time. May you find many bottles of vodka. And if you see Flint… whoop his ass for me.
        Also I didn’t know that one could be both a gentleman and a taffer.

    • MykulJaxin says:

      I wanted to love it, but kept getting shafted by technical woes. One friend of mine refused after the first 5 minutes, I kept trying and once I got to Skadovsk things improved. But, like someone else in this thread, I was also destroyed by an unavoidable blowout. I COULD NOT ESCAPE. That made me cranky.

      • SlimShanks says:

        Number one fix for performance issues is to run the game in DX10. Not that it will eliminate The Stutter. Which actually has an in game explanation, by the way.
        I am very curious about this unavoidable blowout. What happened?

  9. JimmyG says:

    If I was into modding, I’d make a semi-autobiographical S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: MISSOURI mod, in which you amble around lengthy highways, get jump-scared by roadkill, and trade strange curios at the last remaining truck stops.

    • TimePointFive says:

      You’d have to worldbuild a bit to make room for all the Russian-speaking guitarists gathering around all of the fireplaces, somehow.

  10. Muzman says:

    Reminds me of dying a lot in SoC with AMK. It’s kind of fun though.
    That particular mod combo didn’t make the survival all that severe (except maybe sleeping which was great). But the invisible and moving anomalies were quite something. It’s interesting being chased over unfamiliar ground when walking is about the most comfortable speed normally.
    The dynamic shelter system made hiding from blowouts interesting too.

    Misery might have such stuff, I don’t know.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    There’s a fine line between a solidly brutal survival game and a fiddly, frustrating, sadistic one. Too-onerous item degradation often seems to push games over that line; gas masks that can spontaneously shatter off your face for no good reason don’t seem like a good sign.

    • SlimShanks says:

      I must insist that if you look quite closely at these here game mechanics, you will find them quite reasonable. You can fire about 150 rounds from a low quality weapon before the repair gets beyond fixing with cheap items. If you think that a gas mask wouldn’t shatter off your face when you walk into a cloud of acid then you, sir… should avoid clouds of acid. Not saying the game isn’t hard, but it wants you to be more careful. If you don’t find extreme caution at all times fun, that is totally fair.

  12. GernauMorat says:

    Could anyone advise a mod/modpack for COP? I bounced right of MISERY. While I like the idea of a hardcore experience in STALKER games, this was too much like hard work for me to keep playing.

    • Stevostin says:

      If you follow the link I gave above then the author there are some for STALKER too.

    • Tandino says:

      Call of Pripyat Complete is a well put together mod pack. There are numerous enhancements and additions but ultimately it remains true to the original CoP. Also, have you played Lost Alpha at all?

      I’m some way through making a series of Let’s Play videos detailing my adventures in the zone. It might be worth a look if you want to watch a sweary bloke bumble his way around Chernobyl! I intend to carry on with them as I love the game and enjoy gabbing on about it.

  13. KFee says:

    looks good, If you like what you see you might want to check a game in development called “Dangerous rays”