Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

I'm going to do something a little different here and not talk about WoW! Instead, I thought I'd say some things about the game Stalker: Call of Pripyat which is the third game in the Stalker series. The reason is simple, Love is playing it for the third time and I asked him what he liked so much about it (and if there is something he doesn't like). In case you didn't know, the entire Stalker series is about survivors living in the contaminated area that emerged with the Chernobyl accident. Well calling them survivors isn't really the right word, they're there by their own choice to profit from the fact that this area is completely lawless. Because of the heavy radiation alot of funny stuff is going on with mutations and anomalies, and well some people like that stuff, because anomalies can both spawn evil and good. Call of Pripyat is divided into three zones. When you start out you've only got a shitty gun and a flash light, which definitely isn't going to help you much against the "zombies" (people with fried brains) and mutated animal life.

This is one of CoP really strong sides. When you start out you really get the feeling to be a looser in a really hostile world and you will have to fight to survive. Realism is heavy in CoP, with everything from degrading gear, friendly and hostile npcs interacting to the need for food and it does it very well. Every encounter with a rabid mutadog that doesn't end in death feels like a victory, without the game being too punishing. It's you against the crazy world, and it's only your courage and bravado that stands between you and glory (and shitloads of money). When entering a dark cave you don't know what will be in the other end, and it can seriously be just about anything.

Also, if you've played the first game Shadow of Chernobyl, you'll be happy to know that CoP isn't anywhere close to being as buggy as SoC was. In SoC the bugs where more of a rule than an exception. And no game is completely without bugs of course, but CoP really has only the healthy, normal amount of bugs. None that bother gameplay too much.

You soon encounter other humans (that haven't had their brains fried yet) with whom you can trade and feel some connection to reality. Because although everything in CoP (and the other Stalker games) is so far out, you still feel like it could be real. Out there somewhere people are eating Popcorn while watching Karate Kid, but right here you are fighting an invisible Bloodsucker. In that way it is similar to Fallout.

Unfortunately, the game quickly turns a little too rewarding. And I don't mean "too good" but that it gives you too much of everything. About half way through the second zone you'll have your hands on most of the really heavy artillery (rocket launchers and mecha suits anyone?) and not even the rabid mutadogs or creepy Bloodsuckers pose much of a threat then. The vulnerability and feeling of having to fight for your survival disappears as your inventory is filled with heavy weapons and heavy armors. A characters has to become better and better of course, so that you don't feel stagnation, but in CoP this happens a little too fast. Preferrably one should never feel too good, there should always be a feeling that there are somethings you still dread to take on. But towards the end you don't do your choices based in difficulty anymore, but based on lazyness. You don't choose your fight style because you'll die if you go about another way, but because it's the fastest way to get rid of the pest that just some hours ago made you run away screaming.

Also, unlike the previous games, there are no factions to rep with. That makes you feel cut off from the other humans in the zone and like a one man army. That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, but if you don't feel like you need the people around you you're eventually mostly just annoyed by their presence. When you should feel like they're part of a haven in a dangerous world.

The third zone is a model of the real Pripyat itself, the neighboring city of Chernobyl that was quickly evacuated when news of the catastrophe was spread. People probably didn't realize the magnitude of the catastrophe back then because the citizens of Pripyat were told they'd be able to return in a couple of days and therefore left everything laying and standing as it was. This has turned Pripyat into a modern day museum, or ghost town rather. A complete city, totally empty of human life, but as if it was left yesterday (except for the fact that vegetation has crept into the buildings).

Unfortunately, the game doesn't offer much to do in this zone. The area is huge and you can wander around and look at stuff, and maybe that is the entire reason for it, but that feels a little too empty. Some emptiness is good for the immersion but here it feels unfinished. There are no side quests and only a few main quests to do. Since the previous zones have thrown anomalies and mutants in your face every now and then you enter Pripyat with the sense that it is a little too quite. Something is about to happen. After about 10 minutes of sneaking around, looking around your shoulder and keeping your senses peaked for anything, anything at all, you realize that no. This place is just damn empty.

CoP offers alot of potential and the inital half of the game is also really well made. It could've stayed that way but the player quickly overpowers the game, without the game throwing in more challenge. Getting hold of enough money to buy everything you'll ever want and need isn't as difficult as it should be and you go from feeling like Sarah Connor hunted by Terminator to quoting "Hasta la vista, baby" to every hostile encounter. The thrill of exploration and victory disappears too fast.

So far one could get the feel that CoP has more bad than good features, but the good things about it are good enough to warrant at least one playthrough (or three). The game doesn't actually ever turn bad, it just turns too easy (just cranking the difficulty setting to max seems like a haphazard solution) and that removes its most important components - immersion and the feeling of success through hard work.

No comments:

Post a Comment