S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is a game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World. It features an alternate-reality theme, in which a second nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 2006 and causes strange changes in the area around it. The game has a non-linear storyline and features gameplay elements such as trading and two-way communication with NPCs. The game also incorporates elements of role-playing games and business simulators.
The background and some terminology of the game ("The Zone," "Stalker") is borrowed from the popular science fiction novella Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky and the 1979 Andrei Tarkovsky film Stalker that was loosely based on it, as well as Stalker, the film's subsequent novelization, which later became the full version of Roadside Picnic.
In Shadow of Chernobyl, the player assumes the identity of an amnesiac "Stalker," an illegal explorer/artifact scavenger in "The Zone," referred to as "Marked One." "The Zone" is the location of an alternate-reality version of the Chernobyl Power Plant after a second, fictitious explosion that contaminated the surrounding area with radiation and caused strange, otherworldly changes to the local flora and fauna, as well as to the laws of physics. "Stalker" in its original film context roughly meant "explorer" or "guide", as the stalker's goal was to bring people into the Zone. The acronym S.T.A.L.K.E.R. stands for "Scavenger, Trespasser, Adventurer, Loner, Killer, Explorer, Robber." On July 11, 2007, GSC Game World announced a prequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, which was released on 5 September 2008. On April 30 2009, GSC Game World announced a sequel, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, which was released worldwide in February 2010.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games take place in an area called "The Zone," based on the real-life "Zone of alienation" and partly on the settings of the source novel and film. It encompasses roughly 30 square kilometers and features a slice of Chernobyl extending south from Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant; geographical changes for artistic license include moving the city of Prypiat into this area (in reality, it is to the northwest of the power plant). The city itself is directly modeled on its real-life counterpart, albeit smaller in size.
After the initial Chernobyl Disaster attempts were made to repopulate the area, primarily with scientists and military personnel. However, in 2006, almost 20 years after the first incident, a second disaster occurred, killing or mutating most of the inhabitants.
Shadow of Chernobyl begins years later, after people have begun coming to the zone in search of money, valuable artifacts, and scientific information.
In keeping with the post-nuclear decay within The Zone, extreme radiation has caused mutations among animals and plants in the area. As such, Zone mutants are vastly different from their real-world counterparts (dogs, boar, crows, and many others). Additionally, some areas of The Zone contain mutated humans (Ex: Bloodsuckers, Snorks, Controllers, etc.), the majority of whom were caught in the second nuclear disaster. Note that several creatures present in the game code can only be enabled with game modification.
The Artificial Intelligence (AI) of wildlife is highly developed and presents many realistic behaviors, including pack mentality and competition for food, all observable in non-scripted events. The game engine was designed so that animal behavior is calculated even if the player is in a different part of the world.
Anomalies, Artifacts and RadiationEdit
As a result of the second Chernobyl disaster, The Zone is littered with small areas of altered physics, known as anomalies. There are several different variations, each having a unique impact upon those who cross its path. They can be potentially deadly to the player and other NPCs, delivering electric shocks, or pulling them into the air and crushing them. Most anomalies produce visible air or light distortions and their extent can be determined by throwing bolts (of which the player carries an infinite supply) to trigger them. Some Stalkers also possess an anomaly detector, which emits warning beeps of a varying frequency depending on their proximity to an anomaly.
Anomalies produce Artifacts, the valuable scientific curiosities that make the Zone worth exploring. In addition to their monetary value, a number of Artifacts can be worn to provide certain benefits, though not without cost (for example, increasing a Stalker's resistance to gunfire also exposes him to slightly higher levels of radiation). Artifacts are found scattered throughout the Zone, often near clusters of anomalies.
Radiation caused by the nuclear incidents at Chernobyl occur in specific invisible patches throughout The Zone. Although most areas in The Zone have no radiation, areas near abandoned construction equipment that was used in the post-accident cleanup, certain military wrecked vehicles, and a variety of other locations, create fields of radiation, some of which cannot be passed through without proper equipment.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl is a non-linear sandbox game. Players have relatively free reign to explore the world and have many opportunities to interact with other characters.
While it is primarily an FPS, it also features many RPG elements. The player does not gain additional abilities or statistics as in most RPGs, but is instead allowed to use various types of equipment that is either purchased or found throughout the game world. There is a large number of items in the game, so players have customization choices that are constrained primarily by how much exploring they do.
The game also attempts to blend the story and character interaction that are typical of RPGs. Unlike RPGs such as Fallout, conversation branches are extremely limited and do not significantly influence the course of the game, aside from accepting or declining missions.
Playing area and travelEdit
The Zone is a large and varied area consisting of wilderness, human settlements, and several heavily-guarded military bases. However, the game world is not a true contiguous world, but rather 18 different maps separated by loading screens. Transfer from one area of the Zone to another can only be accomplished at certain specific passageways; barbed-wire fences and geographic features block players from attempting to cross the map in other areas.
The game lacks controllable vehicles (although vehicles are programmed in the game code, they are not available without the use of a third-party modification , ), so players are required to go from place to place on foot. A sprint option using a limited stamina bar can be used to temporarily increase the player's rate of movement, though this is reduced by the weight of objects the player is carrying and weapons cannot be fired while sprinting. It is possible to sprint indefinitely by using artifacts and keeping below a certain weight limit (50kg).
If the player enters a highly irradiated area, he will begin to suffer from radiation poisoning. A radiation icon appears on the screen and fades through from green to yellow to red to indicate the degree of radiation poisoning, which increases until the player leaves the affected area. The stronger the poisoning, the faster the player's health decreases. Radiation will persist and continue to drain health until either radiation medication or a substantial amount of vodka is consumed.
Get out of here stalker!
This page contains spoilers to the game's final plot. It is advised you skip this section or page if you haven't completed the game yet!
In the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet Union designated an area around Chernobyl as an Exclusion Zone, often referred to in-game as "The Zone," for special research into the human mind. Results include enhanced ESP, psychic weapons, and the eventual formation of a hive mind known as the C-Consciousness.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the self-aware C-Consciousness takes control of the Zone and autonomously continues its research. It attempts several times to bring about world peace using global mind control. However, these attempts result in the unintentional twisting of the physical terrain around Chernobyl as well as the mutation of resident life forms.
In an attempt to hide its existence from the outside world, the C-Consciousness erects a Monolith in the center of the Zone which it uses to brainwash any Stalkers lucky enough to reach it into serving the C-Consciousness. In a further attempt to insulate itself, it constructs a network of psy-fields, known as the "Brain Scorcher" that effectively destroys the mind of anyone who gets too close. As reports of valuable "artifacts" disseminate from explorers who venture into the zone, whispered rumors of a Wish Granter housed in the Sarcophagus of the Chernobyl NPP begin to spread.
A group of four Stalkers, named Strelok, Ghost, Fang, and Doctor, travel to the center of the Zone in an effort to uncover its secrets. They attempted to unlock a peculiar door inside the Sarcophagus, but their attempts failed after encountering large numbers of the fanatical Monolith faction. They are then forced to retreat. Strelok is knocked unconscious during an "emission" (or "blowout") and loses his memory. The others are able to escape the Zone, although Fang later dies of his wounds, and Ghost is killed by overwhelming psychic emissions and a mutant known as a Controller.
The unconscious Strelok is discovered by the C-Consciousness, who, unaware of his identity, mistakenly assigns him the task of killing the Stalker known as Strelok and his allies. On the way out of the Zone, the truck carrying the still unconscious Strelok is destroyed and he is discovered by another passing Stalker.
Later in the game, Strelok is reunited with Doctor who helps him piece together his past, prompting Strelok to return to the Chernobyl NPP and the Monolith. When Strelok eventually confronts the C-Consciousness, he is faced with a choice of merging with it and attempting to repair the Zone and bring about world peace, or trying to stop the C-Consciousness from continuing its experiments. If the player chooses not to join the C-Consciousness, he is forced to battle heavily armed members of the Monolith faction. When they are defeated, he destroys the bodies that make up the C-Consciousness. Strelok is then seen standing in a grassy field, the Zone seemingly gone.
If the player decides not to piece together his past, he will receive one of five alternate endings. Actions taken by the player during the game decide what ending the player will receive. The Wish Granter endings are universally negative.
- If the player kills both the Duty and Freedom leaders, Strelok wishes to rule the world. The Monolith then absorbs Strelok, leaving only his clothes in a pile on the floor.
- If the player collects enough money, Strelok wishes to be rich. The Monolith generates an illusion of gold coins falling from the sky; in actuality, the roof collapses on Strelok's head, crushing him to death.
- If the player has a terrible reputation, Strelok states that "Humanity is corrupt, it must be controlled." Strelok then has a vision of the end of the world, and awakens alone in a dark void. In the original Russian, he wishes for humanity to be destroyed.
- If the player has an excellent reputation, Strelok says "I want the Zone to disappear." He soon witnesses a clean Chernobyl. However, the player notices that Strelok's pupils have vanished. As he is blind, the Zone has disappeared, but only for him.
- If the player accomplishes none of the above tasks, Strelok wishes for immortality. The Monolith then proceeds to turn him into a metal statue.
X-Ray graphics engineEdit
The X-Ray Engine is a DirectX 8.1/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time. The engine features HDR rendering, Parallax mapping and normal mapping, soft shadows, motion blur, widescreen support, weather effects, and day/night cycles. As with other engines that use deferred shading, the X-Ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this form uses a blurring technique to simulate anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty-square-kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area are rendered to the same amount of detail. Some textures in the game were photographs of the walls in the developers' studio.
As of patch 1.0003, the X-Ray engine supports "surround screen" monitor setups, including a 16:9 native resolution ratio. A community-developed patch also enables setting a custom field of view and aspect ratio combination.
The X-ray engine uses GSC Game World's proprietary ALife artificial intelligence engine. ALife supports more than 1,000 characters inhabiting the Zone. These characters are non-scripted, meaning that AI life can be developed even when not in contact with the player.
The NPCs have a full life cycle (task accomplishment, combat, rest, feeding, and sleep) and the same applies to the many monsters living in the Zone (hunting, attacking Stalkers and other monsters, resting, eating, sleeping). These monsters migrate in large groups. The non-scripted nature of the characters means that there are an unlimited number of random quests. For instance, rescuing Stalkers from danger, destroying Stalker renegades, protecting or attacking Stalker camps, or searching for treasure. The AI characters travel around the entire zone as they see fit.
Numerous tactics can be employed to complete the game, such as rushing or using stealth and sniping. The NPCs will react in a different way to each of them. Stalker's NPCs plan ahead by "Goal-Oriented Action Planning" to achieve this.
The game's use of bullet physics is similar in nature to tactical shooters such as Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter or Operation Flashpoint. Bullets are affected by gravity, bounce against solid surfaces at oblique angles, and firearms are highly inaccurate when fired without aiming. To score consistent hits at medium or long range, players must aim using the iron sights on their guns. Additionally, hit damage is pseudo-realistic, and the player can die after only being shot a few times (although later in the game various armor suits and artifacts can be acquired that increase the player's resistance to damage). Success late in the game depends heavily on scoped weaponry because of the well-armed and armored enemies who keep their distance from the player. 
A weather system is integrated into various parts of the landscape and allows a variety of weather effects, such as sunshine, storms, and showers. The weapons available, behavior of the AI, game tactics, and ranking systems depend on the weather.
Development delay, leak and releaseEdit
The game was first announced in November 2001 and had its release date, originally in 2003, pushed back several times. Meanwhile hundreds of screenshots of the game had been released, as well as dozen preview video clips, accompanied by other forms of promotion by GSC, such as inviting fans to their offices in Kiev to play the current build of the game. However, due to the delays some considered Stalker to be vaporware.
In late December 2003, a pre-alpha build of the game was leaked to peer-to-peer file sharing networks. This build, marked as version 1096, inadvertently acted as a fully-functional tech demo of Stalker's engine, despite its lack of NPC enemies and fauna.
In February 2005, THQ expressed desire to see the game released toward the end of its 2006 fiscal year (March 31, 2006) but maintained that no release date had been set. In October, 2005, THQ confirmed that Stalker would not be out "until the second half of THQ's 2007 fiscal year - October 2006 at the earliest." In February of 2006, THQ revised this possible release window, saying the game would not be in stores until the first quarter of 2007.
In an interview at the Russian Gameland Awards, PR Manager Oleg Yavorsky indicated that release was planned for September 2006.
THQ ran a competition in January 2007 offering the lucky winners the chance to play the beta version of Stalker, in a 24 hour marathon session. The event, scheduled to take place on the January 24, 2007, was subsequently changed to a 12 hour session days before it was supposed to occur. On the morning of the event, the winners were met at the venue by the THQ staff that had organized the event, who were embarrassed to report that they had been unable to get any copies of the game. In late February GSC managed to release a public beta. A multiplayer demo was released to the public on March 15, 2007.
- Main Article - Cut content
Lots of content was cut and/or altered from the game during development. The storyline and ending were considerably different and many quests were changed or not included. C-Consciousness was instead named U-Consciousness, short for United Consciousness. Sometime during the game, the player would join Duty.
Two factions were removed from the game: Sin and Last Day. The latter is still mentioned in Shadow of Chernobyl by the Barkeep, referred to as Final Day. Their leader was supposedly eliminated by Ghost. They predicted that doomsday was coming and the Zone would critically increase its territory and engulf other countries. They hunted down zombies, studied psy-influences, and made their own theories on psychotropic weaponry, a more important factor of the original game.
Many gameplay concepts were removed from the game, such as strange creatures that would appear as boss fights with very unique abilities. At one point, the player would assist Duty in preventing a virus outbreak from a nearby infected town. A parasite would infect the victim, devouring their brains, gradually replacing the head with a tumor. The victim would still be alive, but their bodies would be controlled by the parasite. Some of the victim's skills could be used, and they'd shoot off a cloud of spore as an attack. If anyone was hit by these spores, they would become infected.
At the end of the game, the player reaches the CNPP and secret lab. After surviving a dynamic assault from a strange boss fight, the player is captured and put under control of The Group. He is sent to the outside world to broadcast a message, and in the end the Zone increases its territory.
In addition, many locations were cut, several anomalies never made it into the game, many mutants were cut or never implemented, several weapons were cut, and many gameplay features were cut.
|Compilation review site||Aggregate score|
|Game Rankings||83% (51 reviews)|
|Metacritic||82/100 (44 reviews)|
Upon the game's release, Stalker received generally favorable reviews, with an average critic rating of 83% at Game Rankings. While the game was praised for its style and depth, other reviewers addressed certain technical issues, mentioning the number of bugs present.
The game design of the Zone was one of the most favored aspects. GameSpot praised the style and level design, stating "This is a bleak game, but in a good way, as it captures its post apocalyptic setting perfectly," while Eurogamer called it "one of the scariest games on the PC" going on to say "Like the mythological Chernobyl zone it is based upon, this game is a treacherous, darkly beautiful terrain."
Game Informer didn't find the gameplay particularly innovative, but still complimented the basic FPS design, saying, "Stalker isn’t the revolution that we all hoped it would be. It is, however, a respectable and sometimes excellent first-person adventure" whereas GameSpot called it "one of the best ballistics models ever seen in a game, and as a result, firefights feel authentic as you try and hit someone with what can be a wildly inaccurate rifle."
Upon release, Stalker was said to have numerous bugs, especially when used with the then-recently released Windows Vista. IGN found the game "tended to stutter quite often, sometimes pausing for three or four seconds at regular intervals, which occurred on two different Windows XP rigs at maximum visual quality", with even some cases of complete game crashing glitches.
In December, Stalker won the Special Achievement award for Best Atmosphere in GameSpot's Best and Worst 2007, that "Stalker captures the "ghost town" nature of the zone, from the abandoned cities to the overgrown wilderness. Then, the game adds its own paranormal elements, which help make a spooky environment almost terrifying at times."
As of September 2008, Stalker has sold 2 million copies worldwide. GSC Game World CEO Sergiy Grygorovych has said "We are very pleased that Stalker became so popular among players from all over the world. Financial success will allow us to develop Stalker in different directions as a brand." 
- ↑ "Stalker will stalk again". Gamespot. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/action/stalker/news.html?sid=6174611&mode=all. Retrieved 2008-07-23.
- ↑ Developer Diary #3
- ↑ GSC Game World. "Stalker Zone World". GSC Game World. http://www.stalker-game.com/en/?page=zone_world. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
- ↑ GSC Game World. "Stalker Zone World". GSC Game World. http://www.stalker-game.com/en/?page=zone_world. Retrieved 2008-07-24.
- ↑ TweakGuides. "Stalker Tweak Guide". TweakGuides. http://www.tweakguides.com/STALKER_5.html. Retrieved 2007-04-03.
- ↑ PC Gamer UK. May 2004. pp. 38–41.
- ↑ Widescreen Gaming Forum :: View topic - Solution: Stalker [Patch]
- ↑ "Game Review Only" (2007-11-28). "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl" (in English). http://gamereviewonly.com/3/stalker-shadow-of-chernobyl/. Retrieved 2007-11-28.
- ↑ IGN Editorial Team. "Top 10 Tuesday: Modern Vaporware". IGN. http://pc.ign.com/articles/701/701364p1.html. Retrieved 2007-03-31.
- ↑ "STALKER Pre-Alpha Leaked". MegaGames. http://www.megagames.com/news/html/pc/stalkerpre-alphaleaked.shtml. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
- ↑ David Adams. "S.T.A.L.K.E.R Delayed". IGN. http://pc.ign.com/articles/584/584913p1.html. Retrieved 2007-03-31.
- ↑ THQ lessens loss, talks next-gen, by Tor Thorsen, Gamespot.com
- ↑ THQ announces holiday results, delays Stalker, by Brendan Sinclair, Gamespot.com
- ↑ "Stalker goes gold". GSC Game World. http://www.stalker-game.com/en/?page=archive_news&subpage=3&item=17. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 Rossignol, Jim (2007-03-07). "Reviews = Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl // PC". Eurogamer. http://www.eurogamer.net/article.php?article_id=74255. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Ocampo, Jason (2007-03-20). "Reviews = Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl // PC". GameSpot. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/action/stalker/review.html. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 Biessener, Adam (March 2007). "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl review". Game Informer. http://www.gameinformer.com/Games/Review/200705/R07.0323.1414.37101.htm. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- ↑ 18.0 18.1 Onyett, Charles (2007-03-19). "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Review". IGN. http://uk.pc.ign.com/articles/773/773803p1.html. Retrieved 2007-011-07.
- ↑ 19.0 19.1 "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Reviews". Rankings Game Rankings. http://www.gamerankings.com/htmlpages2/540331.asp. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- ↑ "Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl Reviews". Metacritic. http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/pc/stalkershadowofchernobyl. Retrieved 2007-11-07.
- ↑ PC Review: Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl - PC Gamer Magazine
- ↑ "GameSpot's Best and Worst 2007: Best Atmosphere". GameSpot. 2007-12-24. http://uk.gamespot.com/best-of/specialachievement/index.html?page=24. Retrieved 2007-12-24.
- ↑ "S.T.A.L.K.E.R official site". GSC Game World. 2008-09-03. http://cs.stalker-game.com/en/. Retrieved 2008-09-03.