MISERY Diary: Playing Stalker's Hardest Mod
Get to da choppagh
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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