S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat - PC - Review
They say that the sunsets following a nuclear blast are among the most beautiful you could ever to see, and in many ways, GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise has done a lot to represent this. In the series’ bleak landscapes, many PC gamers have discovered a deep and rich gameplay experience, as well as a fully realized world that can be noted for both its barren wastelands and brooding sense of atmosphere. The franchise has done a great job in the past of truly emphasizing that a game does not need to be littered with eye candy and special effects in order to illicit a visceral response in the player, instead focusing more on sparseness in order to convey a feeling of isolation and overall dread.
Now, after a somewhat troubling misstep that was S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, the series is back in fine form with this latest entry, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. Call of Pripyat puts you in control of a Ukrainian security agent named Alexander Degtyarev as he traverses the barren countryside that is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, a radiated locale sparsely populated with mutated dogs, bandits, mutants, and all manner of baddies. The game is a fine entry that will no doubt captivate fans of the series’ previous incarnations, but those looking for an action-packed twitch-based experience will likely be frustrated by the slow pace and sparse combat.
The one area that S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has in the past and continues to nail is the sense of atmosphere. The game’s environments, be you walking along the surface or underground or in the dregs of a hollowed out city are captivating, providing all the depth you could hope for. The Chernobyl Power Plant kicks out deadly blasts of radiation at regular intervals, killing off NPCs and littering the landscape with new corpses for looting. You’ll encounter several traders throughout the area, and see ramshackle huts where the population seeks solace and brief respite from the horrors of The Zone. The game’s combat is divided into large intervals, with firefights occurring several minutes apart from each other, requiring you to spend a lot of playtime simply navigating the huge environment.
Call of Pripyat is a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game through and through, and doesn’t really shift up the formula from its predecessors too much. However, the additions here will definitely delight fans of the series and offer up some improvements to make for a truly engaging experience. The AI has gotten a big boost, as NPCs will react more realistically, and enemies will often give you signs that they mean business and will rain down on you. Additionally, side jobs are a lot more interesting this time around, giving you plenty of options and diversity aside from simply going from one place to another. The game also features several new enemy types, including the chimera, which is a terrifying night creature that strikes quickly and ferociously, and the burers, which are dwarf-like mutants that can even use telekinesis to pull your weapons away from you. As intense as these sequences can be, the real key to Call of Pripyat’s gameplay is patience and approaching these combat situations with a lot of thought.
Unfortunately, what could serve to be Call of Pripyat’s best feature can be seen as its primary weaknesses. The game unfolds at a very slow pace, in terms of both the story and the gameplay itself. The empty and bleak environments paint a picture of a desolate wasteland nearly devoid of life, but are perhaps a little too sparse for FPS gamers weaned on more action-oriented content. The game’s story takes quite a while to pick up, and many itchy shooter fans may not be able to stick through the game’s slower early moments to get to the real meat of the game.
At times the game also feels a bit too scripted and predictable, with enemies popping out at preplanned moments, taking away from the otherwise open feel of the game’s exploration-based elements. Additionally, the multiplayer side of things doesn’t work as well as many would hope, with the series’ token gameplay mechanics and combat system not really lending itself well to online play.
Whereas previous S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games have had some issues with bugginess and polish, Call of Pripyat is a vast improvement. The game runs smoothly and feels much cleaner than its predecessors. The game really delivers on an atmospheric level, and offers an impressive experience in a huge environment, filled with agoraphobic vistas that will help you feel the sense of isolation that the developers wanted to illicit.
The world of The Zone as presented in Call of Pripyat is all at once a sparse, barren, and yet somehow a living one, and the game provides a great sense of atmosphere in this regard. The new gameplay elements are solidly implemented, and aside from a couple of minor issues, this is one wasteland that fans will want to trek through.
Review Scoring Details for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
While not a big departure from other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. titles, Call of Pripyat’s gameplay manages to nail the sense of isolation and sparseness of its landscape very well, with firefights occurring not really as often as they would in other shooter titles. The game moves along very slowly and takes a while to truly pick up and feels pretty scripted at times, but is an otherwise solid experience.
The game’s engine is certainly showing its age and likely won’t dazzle you, but the huge environments and open landscape looks very good, and even takes advantage of DirectX 11 effects on capable systems.
The game’s sound is very well done, with a sparse soundtrack that fits with the game’s level of ambience, and some pretty good environmental noises which can add some great tense moments.
The story isn’t one of the game’s strong suits, moving along very slowly and taking a while to get interesting. However, the game’s design and sense of atmosphere is very well done.
Pretty standard fare as seen in other S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, and the combat doesn’t lend itself well to online gameplay.
Minor quibbles aside, this is an atmospheric and desolate experience that fans of the series will want to jump into.