Whatever will be will be. Whatever might have been can also be, it seems. Any glimpse into the creative process behind a game, especially one of some legend, is fascinating – for instance the design documents for Planescape Torment and Grim Fandango. This, however, is some kind of alterna-history motherlode.
GSC Gameworld have released an early build (from 2004, to be precise) of their acclaimed STALKER – from back before too long struggling through development limbo saw the game enjoy a major rethink and some not insubstantial tinkering from publisher THQ. With GSC’s blessing, we now to get to find out whether this kick up the bum was entirely necessary.
The 1.2Gb build 1935 even carries STALKER’s original subtitle, Oblivion Lost – as opposed to the final game’s Shadow of Chernobyl. While none of RPS’s tired, tired men has as yet had the chance to delve deeply into this unexpected relic of the near past, word is it’s a tough old game. It’s not as if STALKER was ever a walk in the park, so presumably the difficulty is one of the rougher edges that ended up being smoothed off. On the plus side, it includes driveable vehicles and a stronger science fiction tendency.
As you’ll have seen from the above video, S:OL was also a dramatically larger game than S:SOC. While plenty of locations are familiar, there’s a distinct lack of those cocking indestructible barbed wire fences that so hobbled free-form adventuring in S:SOC. To make this huge world navigable, build 1935 includes driveable vehicles:
GTA with zombies? Oh, imagine if we’d have had this, together with S:SOC’s relative robustness and polish (I said ‘relative’, alright?). It’s also astonishing beautiful, at least in terms of its vast, ruined architecture and environments.
It’s fascinating to see all the ideas and intentions that ended up cruelly truncated. So what would have happened if Stalker had carried on in this direction? Would it have instantly bumped GSC into legendary status, the first developers to truly realise the freeform survival’n’violence masterpiece that gamers have been promised time and again to no ultimate avail? Or, given how flaky S:SOC was on its initial release, would it have been a catastrophe of over-ambition and bug-riddled execution?
What this definitely does, for me at least, is make the compromised mess that was STALKER: Clear Sky all the more disappointing. They had all this tech and content lying around, yet they settled on a poorly-balanced, depressingly artificial retread of S:OC. Perhaps Oblivion Lost will yet be put to good use - it just seems so close to the wish-dream of so many PC gamers.
Here’s what’s apparently the climactic level, which very much plays up the sci-fi horror element:
Nothing in there that’s dramatically different from S:SOC, bar the scale, but again it makes you wonder why so much content got axed from the final game. Given quite how dedicated STALKER’s modding community has proven to be, I don’t doubt that someone will knock this build into better shape, and in a few months we’ll have something that’s almost a third STALKER game. Cheers for the lovely present, GSC.
Thanks to the many who tipped us off about this. Their name is legion. The lovely legion.