Don’t Just Stand There, Etc: The STALKER Bundle

Discounts on the STALKER trilogy (which seems like the wrong way to categorise the series somehow, but never mind) tend to wheel around pretty often, but this is particularly good deal for the whole set. There a certain games which are buried deep in RPS’ DNA, and the semi-open world, post apocalyptic survival/horror/action STALKER is one of them. If you haven’t played them, you are everything that’s wrong with humanity missing out some of the most ambitious and atmospheric shooters of all time.

Bundlestars is offering all three games (as Steam codes) for $9.99/£5.24, which works out as $3.33/£1.74 per game. Can’t grumble about that. For the record, my favourite of the set remains the original, Shadow of Chernobyl, as some of its locations and events are burned into my memory forever. Third game Call of Pripyat is probably the “best”, however, in terms of coherency and stability. Middle game Clear Sky is very ambitious but to my mind felt more mechanical, as well as being especially bug-ridden even by this series’ wobbly standards. I honestly don’t know how much of that stuff got patched out subsequently as I’ve not been back to it, but there’s certainly no shortage of fan-made fixes and mods.

In fact, the mods are almost the reason to get this package. Amazing things have been done with graphics, balance and features alike, as well as taking Stalker closer to a genuine survival experience.

STALKER’s just incredible – not without issues by any means, but truly a landmark PC game, and one which strove for so much more than shooters with a thousand times the budget or staff ever did. If I had more free time, I’m sure I’d spend much of it simply wandering its alternately beautiful and bleak Ukranian wastes. Here’s Jim talking about the first game’s long-lasting essential appeal, way back in 2008, and then again in 2011 after the series had apparently met its end.

In fact, we’ve written so much about the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series since RPS began in 2007, but we were rather… liberal with how we tagged our posts. I’ve just spend a morning consolidating and fixing everything, and now the whole archive of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. coverage is available here. See earlier pages especially for tons of thinkpieces, interviews, retrospectives, mod guides and more about this remarkable shooter series. You can also click the individual game names (as per the tags below) for more specific coverage on those.

Oh, the bundle lasts for the next six days, by the way.

59 Comments

  1. Holysheep says:

    Stalker CoP is probably the best FPS I’ve ever played.

    Most seem to prefer SoC, but I don’t really understand that: CoP, while having less labs and suchlike, has much more open zones, missions aren’t “Kill the stalker”/”get the object” anymore but proper missions with a plot, and events, and the game is MUCH MORE sandboxy than SoC. CoP is the game in which I dropped an modified AK because of the weight, and found it on bandits some hours after that. CoP is the game in which I could follow stalkers to anomalies, wait for them to recover artifacts in it, and kill them afterwards.
    CoP is the game in which monsters make sense during the night, and you’re constantly under pressure because of the blowouts… Which will actually turn some stalkers you’ve talked to earlier in the game into zombies.

    And so on.

    I honestly recommend starting with Call of Prypiat. Back in 2007, I tried Shadow of Chernobyl, did 100m only to realize I needed multiple headshots for a bandit that would OS me, and then realize that I had no save before.
    So I ditched the game. Only after playing CoP, I was motivated to play it again, only to realize that SoC was great as well. Also you don’t lose anything plot wise when you play CoP before.

    Clear Sky, at the contrary of what people say, isn’t bad. It’s less good than CoP, and it’s less good than SoC, but it’s still a stalker game regardless, and it’s very nice sometimes. But it’s more like of a 1.5 of SoC, with more pretty stuff, less labs, less monsters and more humans that spam grenades worse than in CoD4. Other than that it’s still a greta game.

    • Ross Angus says:

      CoP is the game in which I could follow stalkers to anomalies, wait for them to recover artifacts in it, and kill them afterwards

      You … you … monster.

      • All is Well says:

        So it turns out that even people that have played Stalker are everything that’s wrong with humanity.

    • neckro23 says:

      I think a lot of people prefer SoC (I do, too) simply because it feels more dangerous. Almost everybody and everything you meet is trying to kill you. Anomalies are unmarked, and if it’s your first STALKER experience you don’t even know what to look for. Your weapons and armor are mostly limited to what you can scrounge up, and can’t be repaired or upgraded. Nighttime is scary as hell, and you’re not allowed to sleep through it. Even the bugginess of the game itself conspires against you.

      CoP is a more polished experience, but it feels a little bit more like STALKER: The Theme Park. There’s also a distinct lack of man-shooting until you reach Pripyat (at least, if you don’t piss off one of the neutral factions).

      • GameCat says:

        The lack of manshooting in CoP is great. It sets the game closer to Roadside Picnic. I didn’t really liked overcrowded Zone in first two Stalkers. It should be a lone, quiet place that can strike you in the most unexcepted moment.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        Soc was also First

        You never love again like you did your first love…

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      I’m the same. There’s a simple explanation: the first STALKER game you play will always be the best. COP was the first I played and as an andidote to every Bethesda and Ubisoft open world it was perfect. It was never the same replaying it after trying the first 2, each in its way was so brilliantly different. SOC was an antidote to Half-Life 2, it was ostensably linear but if you pushed against the edges it let you push. Clear Sky was the weird remix album a classic always recieves, fascinating in its own way and a trick I’m surprised more DLC doesn’t steal: Follow the steps of the main game through new eyes. But COP will always be my favourite. The first and best STALKER game I played. Up there with Dark Souls and Deux Ex. We play these endless mountains of piss and shit to find gems like this. Shame we’ll never see a true sequel.

  2. bobbobob says:

    I understand the games are great, but the memory of them for me is that the very first NPC conversation you have is broken. The audio with the guy in the bunker. I don’t think it ever got fixed either.

    • Holysheep says:

      Stalker games went through a great number of patches, though. And CoP isn’t that broken.

    • Congo says:

      I think they did fix that, it worked on my end after a patch.

    • Stevostin says:

      It was broken for you to be fair. Never had a problem with it, and I did buy the game upon release. It was not very stable but nothing like a serious issue in the game experience, at least for me.

    • bobbobob says:

      I’ll have to install it again. I’m sure it was a problem over two different machines that I had. I know it wasn’t really a game breaker either, but it just felt like a really poor start.

    • fish99 says:

      Never had that problem, either patched or the unpatched release version. What was the issue, maybe you were expecting Sidorovic to speak all the dialogue?

  3. Bostec says:

    Might get this, I suppose steam and the mods work alright together? just got to dig a little deeper to wack the files in I suppose?

    • Holysheep says:

      I installed multiple mods on Stalker CoP (to enhance the graphics and such) and it worked perfectly, so I’d say go for it.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I remember installing mods to be quite easy.

  4. BeaconDev says:

    Hey guys, please make sure you play the games without serious game-changing mods the first time! That way, you can experience the game as it was originally intended, and then in the myriad of amazing ways us modders want you to :)

    • Optimaximal says:

      Not sure why, but when I originally tried SoC, I went in with that mental ‘change the entire game, including the menus into Russian’ mod.

      Oblivion Lost, that’s it!

      • Optimaximal says:

        Needless to say, I was killed by one of those tentacle faced monsters in the starting camp and I didn’t go back :/

  5. revan says:

    Playing it right now. Started with CoP but went back to SoC to see how it all started. Had these games on my GOG account for some time but never got around to playing them. I know there are mods but wanted to have my first playthrough be vanilla experience. So far so good even if I’m not all that thrilled about survival horror aspect of the game.

    I did hit some bugs right from the start. First mission, clearing the bandits, had a character, who was supposed to move the mission forward, being unresponsive and going into some bushes the moment I approached. So I ended up killing him and his two pals, pilfering their equipment and going off to clear out the bandits on my own.

    • Stevostin says:

      SoC is still the best for many STALKER fans. It still has the best story, best atmosphere, best moments and longest playthrough. That being said, it’s not as beautiful as CS and not as smooth as COP.

  6. Turra says:

    I still have nightmares about snorks.

    • All is Well says:

      I remember falling down a crack in the earth into a cave and hearing snork sounds all around me. Terrifying.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      I owe one of my BEST EVER gaming memories to a snork!

      I was in Yantar, making my way through the Production complex, one of my favourite areas of the game because of the rich replayability on offer. It caters to just about every desire a gamer has. This playthrough I’d decided to stealth it, so I was sneaking around like Garrett, sniping zombies from long range, and stabbing anything that got too close. I’d worked my way into the centre of the complex, a corner away from the entrance to the X-18 lab (although I was in no hurry to get there because HOT DAMN this level is amazing) and I was crouched inside a building, atop rubble from a collapsed wall…

      …when suddenly a Snork passes literally CENTIMETRES in front of my face. He was also moving slowly, carefully, cautiiously, so I hadn’t seen or heard the bastard coming AT ALL. He was so fucking close I’m amazed I didn’t clip into the polygons of his slowly crawling arms. I didn’t dare breathe, sure that at any moment the AI would twig it was passing me and all hell would break loose. But it didn’t Somehow I found the nerve to move my limbs enough to work mouse and keyboard to slowly, painstakingly crawl out of the building where he’d just come in. Somehow I made it, but that moment of sheer horror at being sneaked up on by something so dangerous eclipses just about every other memory I have.

      GOD I love these games!

      • SlimShanks says:

        So you want to hear about Snorks? Son, I was once being chased by a pair of bloodsuckers, which was bad enough, but when the mercs started shooting at all of us, I realized my only chance was to jump into the nearby and infamous Snork cave, where that dipshit Snag dropped his loot. I was only on an item hauling run, so I had to fight through a cave full of snorks with only my flashlight in one hand and my M9 in the other. After killing a few of the wheezy bastards, I was moving towards the cave exit, and I messed up. I didn’t notice the corner, and as I walked past, a snork jumped out a mauled me real bad. Not only that, but the damn thing knocked my pistol out of my hands.
        At this point, you had better believe I was panicking. I jumped over the Snorks head and sprinted towards the cave exit, trying to bandage my wounds as best I could while I was moving. I also pulled my Spetsnaz knife out of my backpack, as it was my last remaining weapon, and primed my only grenade. An old RGD, but it would have to do. I knew based on the sounds that I now had a whole pack of wheezers on my tail, and I was only gonna get one chance at taking them out. As I rounded the corner into the longest straight section of tunnel, I tossed my grenade at my feet, ducked behind a rock, and waited.
        What a beautiful sound! So many screaming Snorks, maybe I would make it out after all. But the sounds didn’t stop. As I stepped out from behind my rock, I saw two of them still coming at me, one limping. They were only 15 metres away. The healthy one jumped at me, and I barely sidestepped out the way of it’s claws, which surely would have killed me as I was already in bad shape. As the snork turned around to make another lunge, I sprinted towards it’s wounded ally, and after it feebly swiped at me, a stab to it’s head brought it down. One more. I heard the snork jumping as I turned back towards it, and really it was just luck that it missed me that time. Sometimes I wonder if the Zone watches over those who obey it’s rules. In any case, with the way the cave was shaped, that snork had no room to charge. I strolled up behind it as it turned back towards me.
        I STABBED THAT FOOL. SO. MANY. TIMES. Suffice to say, I was covered in nasty shit after that, but I didn’t even care. I retrieved my pistol (trashed now, dammit) and got the hell out of there. I needed some vodka, and a lot of smokes.
        True story.

  7. Perkelnik says:

    I recommend playing with “Complete” mod. It doesnt do anything with core gameplay, but improves graphics and atmosphere.

    • BeaconDev says:

      No, just no. Stop recommending Complete, and especially for first timers. Seriously.

      • timsmith says:

        Why do you say that? I’m going to be playing the game for the first time and the Complete mod seemed like a no-brainer from Alec’s original post about it.

        • Muppetizer says:

          It significantly alters the balance of a lot of mechanics. Carry weight is greatly increased which means you’ll be able to carry just that much more ammo, medkits, and weapons. The bartering is made a bit easier which means you’ll always have just that much more cash to spend on ammo, medkits, armour and weapons. It also makes a lot of minor seeming quality of life improvements that added all together really change the feel of the game, nightvision is much more powerful, other STALKERS have much more trouble spotting you at any distance, weapons jam less and the ballistics all act much more accurately, it’s possible to repair any weapon (which means you can use the rarer weapons a lot more frequently than you usually would).

          It makes the game a lot less scrappy, which can honestly be good and bad depending on what you want out of the games. STALKER fans are afraid to recommend them because we’re selfish and want more fans exactly like us. Ultimately it homogenizes the series a little bit and makes them operate at a less unique level, more inline with standard game design, most average gamers would probably prefer Complete — and it shows in the amount of recommendations it gets.

      • DyingFlutchman says:

        May I ask why you feel this strongly about the Complete mod?

      • dare says:

        Why? (Genuinely curious; I’ve never played anything but the Complete mod versions, and really love the first two games; haven’t tried CoP yet. Am I missing something that would make my experience even more awesome?)

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      What? Complete should be bundled with the games, at this point. Bugfixes plus textures and lighting that bring the games up to modern standards while assiduously respecting the original art direction? Without messing with core mechanics or plot? And even increasing framerates in some cases? Come now. Install it with no regrets. Install it, and live.

      • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

        Oops, that should have been in reply to BeaconDev’s reply.

      • Razumen says:

        Complete seriously messes with the game’s gameplay and difficulty, making it much more easy hat it should be, here’s a sort list of the changes it incorporates:

        – All weapons have their accuracy increased 10-20%
        – All damage decreased by few percents.
        – Weight limit increased by 10kg, maximum being 70kg. In vanilla the Exo-suit enabled up to 80kg!
        – Limits NPC’s eye sight distance so they can’t spot you from beyond ~100 meters. =You see them always first. Said to remove enemies skill to spot you from”unrealistic distances”.
        – Sound radius of knife and other critical sounds such as falling dead bodies, grass, and footsteps greatly reduced
        – Reduced the sound distance of death cries
        – Repair Kit – A special item to the game that allows you to repair weapons and armors out in the Zone. Can be purchased or found.
        – The bar trader and Screw now sell weapons and armor repair services.
        – Elite Nightvision – Black & white night vision based on the psy_antenna postprocess effect. Replaces the original UV-based blue NV, and lets you see perfectly in the darkness, be there light sources or not.
        – The old, “green” night vision has much less noise and blur. NVs don’t emit any audio noise anymore (=can’t be heard by NPCs/mutants).
        – scientific suits with 90% rad protection now feature an anti-rad injection system.
        – bandages auto-apply at 10% health.
        – enabled a tracer effect for armor-piercing bullets, making them visually distinguishable when use
        – allows looting cash from bodies (CS & CoP only)
        – You can BRIBE hostile factions to leave you alone.

        Nonetheless, regardless of everything, I think if it’s your first playthrough, you should always go with vanilla-not only is the vanilla game still great, but otherwise how will you know that the mod is changing stuff you actually appreciate?

        • Premium User Badge

          Qazinsky says:

          Wow, did not know it changed that much, I thought it was mostly visual changes, I guess vanilla is the way to go for the first playthrough.

    • Premium User Badge

      Qazinsky says:

      The only problem I got with complete in SoC is that it adds back that hunting rifle into the game. “Great!”, I thought to myself, as I always loved that rifle in CS and CoP, and it seemed to work better against humans than the sawed off, I assumed due to accuracy and headshots, but no, it’s because the damage is insane!

  8. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    I’ve tried to play through the original STALKER a couple of times, and I’ve been put off by quite how miserable the experience was.
    It was constantly raining. Pretty much every enemy would kill me straight away unless I quicksaved, and worked out exactly where they were going to jump out from and head-shotted them pre-emptively. The guns seemed about as useful as a peashooter in my hands, but like an AWP for the enemies, armour was like tissue that weighed as much as lead and I would run out of food after a 100m trek. If none of those things stopped me, wandering more than a few meters away from the invisible path would result in either radiation sickness or death by anomaly.
    That said, pretty much everyone else I know loves it, but you might want to give it a miss if you hate survival games as much as I do.

    tl/dr I’m a grumpy idiot who hates STALKER.

    • kyrieee says:

      It being a misrable place is the point. It’s so good at being oppressively bleak that it sticks with you. You do get better weapons fairly early on though.

    • fish99 says:

      The enemies don’t ‘jump out’ from anywhere since the vast majority of them aren’t scripted. They were just wandering about the environment, and they usually make plenty of noise to let you know they’re there. Also anomalies can be seen and heard and you have a detector that beeps loudly at you whenever you go near them. The weather is random too and it doesn’t rain often.

      The early weapons in the game can feel underpowered, but you should pick up a shotgun in the first mission and that’s enough to take out bandits and any mutants, it’s only the military you’ll struggle against, so you don’t attack them. The game expects you to think before you attack, to think about whether to attack, and use the natural cover that’s available.

      Enemies are pretty poor shots too, way worse than the average player.

      Anyway you shouldn’t feel bad, a lot of people bounce off Stalker on the first mission as it sounds like you did. It’s just a big shame that they didn’t persist another hour and start to learn the games’ systems and pick up some better weapons. They are fantastic games and not even that hard TBH.

      • Premium User Badge

        phuzz says:

        Firstly, I might have exaggerated a few things for comic effect, and I did actually make it all the way through until the mission where you have to get to the actual reactor itself with half the Russian army and some helicopters (and another faction?) in your way. That was the point I stopped trying to enjoy myself and just said, fuck it.

        Given how many people love these games I’m clearly in the minority though, I guess I’m just not one for survival games, which is a genre which didn’t really exist until STALKER came along.

        • fish99 says:

          Well if you got that far and didn’t enjoy it then fair enough, it’s just not your thing. TBH though once you’re that far through you should have such good gear that it’s honestly not that hard apart from a few difficulty spikes at the reactor itself (like the bit you mention). It is admittedly a bit harsh that they don’t let you leave the reactor level to go back for ammo, health or to change weapons.

          ***spoilers***

          I can also tell you that unless you’d picked up the decoder in pripyat (which you only find out about through some optional side quests) you were doomed to one of the bad ‘wish granter’ endings anyway, which made a lot of people hate the game.

          ***spoilers***

  9. cakeisalie says:

    Love the S.T.A.L.K.E.R games, I have boxed versions of all three. Some of the most immersive environments I’ve ever experienced in the game. Hiding behind a rock in a Ukrainian wasteland in a pitch darkness only broken by the occasional flash of lightning, sporadic gunfire in the far distance and somewhere nearby a mutant howls – pure magic. I’m tempted to go back and try some of the mods.

  10. timsmith says:

    I’d been thinking about giving the Stalker games a go for a while and finally picked them up thanks to this post. Now I’m a bit lost with all the info about the numerous mods available. I’m going to start with Shadow of Chernobyl. From what I’ve read previously, the games are best enjoyed with mods installed to fix issues with the first game.

    So, what mods, if any, would people recommend for a first play through? I realise there’s no right answer here but I’d like some opinions.

    Also, how compatible should different mods be? Presumably ones that are graphical overhauls (e.g. Complete and Autumn Aurora) will screw with each other?

    • Cytrom says:

      The “Complete” mod is a must in my opinion. Its been a few years since I played it, but it used to be THE best overhaul. The entire graphics remade and upgraded in a very professional manner, as well as coherent gameplay fixes, additions and streamlining. All in an easy to install package.
      As far as I know there is a version of the complete mod for all 3 games now.

      • Premium User Badge

        Qazinsky says:

        Like Cytrom said, Complete is a great start and I’d argue also the only mod you should have on your first playthrough, it doesn’t change the vanilla feeling too much. Wait for more core changing mods for following playthroughs.

    • Razumen says:

      Play the original game first, it’s still very enjoyable vanilla, and the Complete mod changes the difficulty too much towards the easy side. People should not be recommending it for a first time playthrough.

  11. Cytrom says:

    A cool experience I had with the original stalker, was glitching outside the game’s artificial map limits, and just wandering off into the distant horizon.
    By true open world game standards Stalker’s maps were relatively small (although still gigantic compared to the linear corridorshooters of nowadays), but there were a surprizingly huge walkable out of bounds areas, beyond the fences and while it was mostly empty space, it did contain some leftover structures and terrain here and there. It felt like a glimpse into an alternate reality where the original vision of stalker (with vast explorable landmasses, vehicles) was realized.

  12. Monggerel says:

    One cool thing about STALKY and the rest is that the image of the rusty wastelands and the barren hulks of abandoned soviet coffin-architecture in game are something I’m very much familiar with, being from a post-soviet republic. Sometimes it feels like going home (or rather, about 5 kilometers from home). Just with more guns.
    And less mutants, tee-hee.

  13. matte_k says:

    Just started playing Clear Sky a few weeks ago. Definitely the weakest of the three, but still better than your average shooter (even though it crashes on an hourly basis). Call Of Pripyat is the most polished GAME, really, but it lacks the wow-factor of the locations in Shadow of Chernobyl- including central Pripyat and the power station itself.
    I remember following coverage of this way back when it was originally called Oblivion Lost, and just being so stunned by the capabilities of the game they were planning. Even though a lot of content was cut (for example, continuous area maps, finally achieved in CoP, vehicles, etc.), the final product was still light years ahead of most FPS’s of its time. Sadly, the bugginess and system heavy needs of the game prevented it from being bigger than it was.

    Thankfully it didn’t end up going the way of Republic:The Revolution, and managed to deliver most of what it promised.

  14. Lord Zeon says:

    Dammit Alec, you missed out on the “S.T.A.L.K.E.R? I barely know her – bundle” headline.

  15. BathroomCitizen says:

    Off-topic:

    What happened to Jim? He was my favourite writer on RPS (John, Alec, and you guys, don’t hate me!) and he’s vanished from the ‘Authors’ page too.

    Jim, I miss you! *sadface*

  16. fish99 says:

    Funnily enough I just finished Lost Alpha last night. Well worth playing for Stalker fans, it has probably twice the area of the original Stalker and it’s great to see all the other areas and missions GSC cut to finish the game when they ran out of money. The zones that were in the original all have enough difference in Lost Alpha to make them feel new as well.

    There’s some bits of it that are worse than the original Stalker though, like the copious amounts of really bad in-engine cut scenes, and the end of the game isn’t as good from the point you leave the reactor building, but other than that it was all awesome. Great to finally play Stalker with vehicles, I took the same jeep I found early on all the way to the door into the final base (X2) – i.e. through pripyat and through the NPP zone.

  17. SlimShanks says:

    If you have played Stalker to death and are looking for a new Stalker experience, you should give Misery a go. It even has a rookie mode now so you don’t have to bitch about it being too hard. Go play it.

  18. oceanclub says:

    I was talking about this on Twitter today. I still remember SOC, stumbling thru the almost pitch dark clutching a pretty shit rifle, with eerie sounds all around, and running thankfully to a distant bonfire to find it was a camp of, well, fascists, but _still being relieved_. Amazing atmosphere.

  19. Soviet Pachyderm says:

    I’m shocked people still recommend Complete 2009. All it’s bugfixes are stolen from Zone Reclamation Project (and not credited, mind you!), and it doesn’t have the latest version of ZRP that fixes the radiation bug. It makes the game far easier, and is generally not good for a first playthrough.

    Here’s a small explanation about why it’s not good for first time players: link to pastebin.com

    If you actually want a good first playthrough, play with just ZRP, play on Master difficulty and no crosshair. You will have the absolute best experience with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Next, try some hardcore mods like AMK, or maybe something a little lighter like LURK 1.05 that adds bugfixes, guns, and graphic overhauls. Always play on Master, preferably without crosshair.