Mike mentioned in the recent barrage of comments aimed at this blog to talk about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (henceforth known as Stalker). I have no problem with this. He wants me to talk about it in reference to my previous tirade on poor game design. Unfortunately, I have no idea whether Mike thinks this game really is poorly designed, or if he's being an ass because he knows I love the game. Either way, here we go.
Stalker was released back in March of '07. At this time the game had reached a sort of legendary status, not because of all of the interesting game play elements GSC (the developer) had promised, but because the game had been originally slated for a 2003 release. Also, the constant delays did nothing to expand the game in any way. In fact numerous elements were stripped out as they proved too complex or unfeasible to implement. Vehicles, a persistent world with no level loading, and a larger area sadly were cut in the final release.
These disappointments aside, the game is fantastic. I've actually taken a go at playing it through again, and I'm still impressed.
The game takes place a few years in the future near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Horrendous mutations have occurred turning animals into deranged beasts, humans into zombies, the area is plagued with bandits and looters. Stalker uses the oh so contrived plot gimmick of amnesia to set the player forth on exploring the world. But we won't speak of the plot. It's a poorly translated, convoluted waste of time (the game was actually developed by Ukrainians).
Where the game excels is in its world. AI controlled animals and humans roam the countryside fighting each other, animals drag dead bodies away to eat them, characters sit around fires strumming away at guitars or telling jokes (I think so at least. Thanks to the absence of subtitles, I don't really know for sure. Everybody laughs at the end though so I think they were telling a funny...). It's a pretty neat thing to see. The combat is also very interesting. Weapons are wildly inaccurate, so great care must be taken in a firefight to aim properly. This is not a run and gun classic FPS.
The environments are also wonderfully done. Much of the game world was based on actual environments and buildings in the real world. The town of Pripyat and the famous Reactor 4 at the nuclear plant are just a wonderful sight to look at. You can tell that GSC loved their game and wanted to really capture the rundown world that surrounded the plant.
That was probably part of the problem with the game's development. I see the developers wanting to capture everything too accurately and trying to cram too much in, and they just couldn't pull it off. In the end, the game has a bit of a rushed feel to it. I'm pretty sure that the publisher THQ stepped in and started cracking the whip to get the game out. It's buggy as hell which can be really annoying when you can't finish quests, the game performance was shit initially, though patches have done much to help this. Also, as previously indicated there is a lot of spoken Russian dialogue in the game (imagine that!) but there are no subtitles. This can be very annoying and can really pull you out of the game world and experience.
But despite that, it's still one of the better more immersive games I own.
So there Mike. Stalker rules.