Having grabbed some mods and restarted Call Of Pripyat, it turned out that both Jim and Alec were playing through this most recent Stalker title at the same time. It seemed logical, therefore, to have a bit of a chat about the game. Earlier this year Jim had called it “one of the most interesting shooters we're going to see in 2010”, but does that still hold up? And what about those mods? Let's see what the chaps said, below.
The main mod that both Alec and Jim were using is Atmosfear 2, which overhauls textures, the weather system and the ambient sounds. The other one worth considering, especially for a second playthrough, is RCOM, which rebalances the weapons so that they all do more damage, as well as tweaking AI and other bits. This makes battles against human enemies tougher, but far more rewarding. It's a great mod.
The big daddy of CoP mods right now, however, is Redux. This megamod introduces tonnes of changes, including making survival tougher, rebalancing the economy, changing weapon balances, randomizing NPC weapons, and allowing plenty of customization in how you play the game on installation.
Of course what some people will be waiting for is the Complete mod. That's in development too, as you can see over here. Pavel's epic retexturing will probably have the zone looking the best it has ever looked. And we can't wait to get our hands on it. No date yet, but it shouldn't be too long.
Anyway, that chat.
Jim: So, we're both playing through Call Of Pripyat at the moment. Me for the second time. You for the first time?
Alec: Yeah, I didn't catch it first time around - partly due to time and partly because Clear Sky soured my fondness of Stalker and I was genuinely worried about compounding that. Enough time past that I felt ready. Are we both in agreement that it rights a lot of Clear Sky's wrongs?
Jim: Yes, in terms delivering more zone to get lost in, it certainly does. I mean I still have a lot of time for Clear Sky's ideas: fighting men is more interesting, and the faction mods push it towards functionality... but what I wanted was more zone survival, more mystery, and more freedom. Pripyat does all that. Also, I don't know if you noticed this, but Pripyat is /much/ more RPGesque
Alec: It's very much "here's the Zone, now go do your thing" And yes, I was feeling a lot of the same kicks that I got from Morrowind. Just surviving in a strange land, with a background hum of loot'n'stat compulsion. I also like that it feels a few years on from Stalker - there's less of the big, set-piece moments and more of an ecosystem, that fragile balance between groups and even monsters - even down to the Snorks, living in random caves, clinging to life rather than being AND NOW HERE IS THE SNORK BIT.
Jim: Yeah, I've actually found much more of that on this second playthrough. I think because before i wanted to get to the end, to do a review. This time I have no interesting in that, and have just done everything in Zaton. I've found lots of options I missed before, like the capacity to double-cross the bandits. There's actually a huge amount of subplot stuff in there. There are some real surprises, too. Like finding the lair of one of those psychic monster things when I was hiding from an emission. You could hear it warn me as I entered the cave. An amazing little detail. Then there's the getting into Pripyat sequence where you have to raise a team. It's so much better than the allies you get at any other point in the game, because they are your team. Also, I saved a stalker who was out looking for artifacts, with his mate standing their helplessly. It was great. I don't remember them actually looking for artifacts before.
Alec: was that the guys in the Boiler, walking into the flames?
Jim: Yeah, that's it. A set-piece then, just a little one.
Alec: Yeah, that's a set-piece rather than random occurrence. And there's an awful lot of that, but they've implemented it really smartly - so it seems a part of the Zone's general comings and goings rather than a big, screaming A Thing Is Happening Look At The Thing Happen.
Jim: I think that's the thing with Pripyat, it's less linear, so the set pieces are smaller, more distributed than in Chernobyl.
Alec: It's much more scripted and even polished, but in a way that supports rather than undermines the free-roaming. There's a real sense of tightness (tight!) where it could have been flabby and vacuous as a result.
Jim: Did you install any mods in the end?
Alec: I went for Atmosfear and TGS or whatever it's called - pretty much graphical and ambient sound tweaks rather than changing the balance, as I want to know what the devs wanted to make before I go and screw with it utterly. Atmosfear is fantastic though - the nights just look extraordinary. Especially the looming silhouttes of giant, ruined machinery. You're on the challenge-changing stuff though, right?
Jim: I installed those same mods, and also RCOM, which boosts all the weapon damage a bit. Making it easier to kill people, and easier for them to kill you. I've had to be really, really careful against mercs and bandits. But it's a good change, I think. That said, Vanilla CoP is really good as it is. It's not a game that really needs mods. However, I stripped out the TGS pack and reinstalled Atmofear 2, as I was having some sky texture glitches. It turned out it was the high-res textures from Atmosfear messing up the sky. I fixed it with a install of the normal res stuff. Quite a professionally produced mod, in the sense that it has an excellent installer and so on.
Alec: I lucked out with some early weapons due to miraculously surviving an ambush (i.e. sheer bloody luck), so I've poured all my money into upgrading those and killing dudes hasn't been an issue. Monsters sure tear up my armour though - I'm spending a lot on repairing that, otherwise I'm left essentially one-shot-dead There's a strong sense that the devs learned a lot this time. There was a sort of reckless abandon to Clear Sky - as thought they were indulging themselves with half-finished concepts and stuff that made them giggle in the pub. This is laser-focused, all about realising the fantasy of Zone life. I like that finding the tools necessary for mechanics to make the better upgrades is a sort of off-the-map sub-quest. You have to read the text and explore maybes off your own back, rather than trek to a neatly-marked spot on the map.
Jim: Yeah, the armour thing is interesting. On my first playthrough I relied solely on upgrades of the standard equipment. I never bought better armour, and only once changed my rifle. And yeah, there's quite a bit of hidden content. And even some genuine puzzles. There's even a mad spatial portalling puzzle in the second area. It makes me excited to see what they do with Stalker 2, for sure.
Alec: I'm a little worried they'll call of Duty it. They might look at Metro 2033 and think "that made a bit of cash”. But if so, Pripyat is a fine farewell to open Zoning
Jim: Maybe, but I get the sense that GSC now are the guys who wanted to stick with Stalker. Aren't 4A the linear-FPS spin off from GSC? And I think it's really important that Stalker offers that kind of play. If CoP is the last of its kind, I will be genuinely distraught.
Alec: Yes. But Stalker would never appear on console. It depends how much cash they're making from this, really - they've got a good history of selling over time at least. It feels like the moment where they finally got high ambition to match up with technical practicality. I keep trying to think what I'd have made of it if I'd never played another Stalker. I imagine I'd be terribly confused.
Jim: Maybe, but then games like Monster Hunter Tri still do a more open ended approach on the console. Just because Stalker hasn't crossed to multiplatform world doesn't mean it won't, or that the open-endedness can't be translated in some way. I mean I want it to remain on PC, for obvious reasons, but it's certainly doable. I get annoyed with a lot of the “dumbed down for console” comments we get on here, particularly because in most cases I want to say “no, just dumbed down!” In fact I feel a bit odd that this is the only game of its kind. I find it genuinely strange that there aren't more sandboxes experiments with the shooter. I mean the only other option we got was Far Cry 2. I think the reception that game got was in some way related to Stalker. And then there's Fallout 3. That, I guess, is the closest the console has come to Stalker.
Alec: Fallout 3 isn't quite so interested in building atmosphere, which remains the aggravatingly easy buzzword for Stalker games. They want you to feel a certain way, and the actual nuts'n'bolts mechanics are fascinatingly secondary. There's still a lot of stuff such as how annoying it is to shoot the animals, but they've decided that the feeling of overwhelmed terror is more important than a great shooting model. And that's why we don't have many more sandbox shooters - the laundry list of saleable features is too often a great priority over making an explorer's fantasy
Jim: I think we don't have many sandbox shooters because developers simply aren't allowed to make them.
Alec: Which Stalker do you think will be your most persistent revisit until 2 arrives? Pripyat's very much shot to the top of the list for me, it feels like there's tons to chip away at without necessarily having to progress. Just a slice of Zone life whenever I fancy it.
Jim: Call Of Pripyat is a cheap purchase, now well-catered for with mods. I can't see any reason why any PC gamer should not have at least tried it. It's different enough to Chernobyl to be a big deal. I will be back in Pripyat for a while now, I think. My second playthrough with be lengthy. There was some stuff unresolved last time, like the random group of monolith soldiers. I have to know what happens with them.
Alec: I'd quite like to do the bandit chain stuff at some point too, see what happens when the whole world hates me
Jim: I'm not sure it's possible - you need the guy in Zaton to travel back and forth between the areas. I don't think there's another way to do it. Which is a notable change here - the faction stuff is there, but way, way in the background.
Alec: I prefer the faction stuff that way - organic rather than metered. But I guess there's less scope for dominance and balance-shifting.
Jim: No real scope at all, sadly.
Alec: Anyway, well done GSC. You've thoroughly redeemed yourself here.
Jim: Hooray! Right. Now to get radiation poisoning just after dawn, and drink myself better with cheap vodka. (And in the game.)