I know, I know, I am perhaps a little over-enthusiastic about STALKER and its follow-up. Flawed though they were, both games captured atmosphere like essentially no other, and as such I am enthusiastic over the looming release of GSC Game World’s latest Chernobyl-drivern installment, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. According to GSC, the team listened carefully to the complaints about Clear Sky, and have put some degree of effort into correcting them.
Chief among the issues most gamers had with Clear Sky was the overabundance of enemies; enemies who could cap you in the face, from a mile away, during a thunderstorm, using a rifle that was old when Brezhnev was still Premier. Enemies who could hurl grenades with such accuracy, and cook them with such precision, that you rarely had a chance to hit the Toggle Crouch key and start running before you got blown to smithereens.
Two other key complaints were the reuse of several major regions, and the lack of some of Shadow of Chernobyl’s more terrifying moments. Well, we know that Call of Pripyat takes place in an entirely new region of the Zone, so no retracing your steps here. And based on the trailer above, it looks like they’ve added the scary back in. I hope they don’t push it too far, because I nearly wet my pants the first time I encountered a snork.
But I don’t actually love the STALKER series for the reason most people think I do. I actually love it for the promise it represents: of open worlds that are not repetitive but handcrafted, where environment and mood play a crucial role, and where your character may in fact not be the center of the action at all, but instead a player on a larger stage. In a word, I love STALKER for the same reason I hated Far Cry 2: because the former tried, really tried, to move the idea of open world shooters forward, while the latter… well, the latter just sucked.
God it sucked. I fucking hate that game.
Anyway, Call of Pripyat is due out in the “Fall,” which means it’s going to compete with a lot of major releases from larger studios and publishers. In fact, it will be competing with a couple promising-looking open world shooters (the format is still decidedly barren of titles), of which Gearbox’s Borderlands looks most tasty, though id Software’s Rage rocketed to the, well, not the top, but high up, on my To-Buy list based on the recent Edge magazine preview. So it’ll be a rough holiday season, as it always is.
I wish GSC the best with their latest effort, and I’ll certainly be buying myself a copy. Expect a wordy review at some point. Though they have made noises about a proper STALKER 2 being their next project – likely 3-6 years out – it has also been suggested that Call might be the last game in the STALKER franchise. If so, I’ll miss visiting the Zone. If not, I’ll be headed back the next chance I get.
So great is my love of STALKER that I’ve actually been tapped by Carnegie-Mellon prof Drew Davidson to do an article on it for the sequel to the highly acclaimed Well Played 1.0: Video Games, Value, and Meaning. It will be called Well Played 2.0 and will be coming out sometime next year. The best news? Drew told me I could have up to ten thousand words for the piece.
It’s like Christmas!