A Paladin’s Review: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Call of Pripyat. A Polished Yet Stark Post Apocalyptic World.
- Genre: FPS RPG Post-Apocalyptic Horror Open World.
- Developed and Published by: GSC Game World
- Platform: Windows Only.
- Business Model: Base Game
- Copy Purchased by Myself
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
If Shadow of Chernobyl was the wild west of the STALKER universe, Call of Pripyat is the “civilized” entry into the series. My immediate impression of the game is that it’s much more polished, with refined mechanics and a much more stable world to explore. Its clear that the developers didn’t want another buggy Shadow of Chernobyl again. However, there were trade-offs with this approach. Unlike the creepy and danger-around-every-corner feeling that SoC gives you, CoP comes off as a more stark and alien. As if this wasn’t Earth anymore. The “living world” that was present in SoC is much more subdued and scaled back in CoP and some mechanics were removed to my disappointment. Despite my disappointments, they didn’t overshadow the sheer fun surviving in the Zone. After all, what could possibly be more enjoyable than listening to glorious Russian accents, finding strange anomalies and surviving the mutants of the Exclusion Zone.
The game is more complete, better balanced and more variety of weapons no doubt thanks to its focused development cycle. You can also modify your suits and weapons this time around was also a nice change, allowing for a much more RPG-like experience. My favorite gun had to be the railgun you picked up in the later part of the game, the sound from firing it was just too cool. Overall, weapons feel very well balanced and have their own pros, cons and punch to each weapon. Ammo is still pretty limited but there are more merchants to buy from so it’s not terribly difficult to keep a good supply on hand. Everything is suitably deadly, requiring you to keep on your toes the entire time.
Contrary to how much I modded Shadow of Chernobyl, the only mod I used for this review was Atmosfear 3. You don’t need to mod CoP nearly as much to get it to run well. Though I’m not saying you can’t mod to your hearts content. All it does is add a dynamic & varied weather system, high-res textures and more hazardous weather storms. Something I feel I should mention here, is that unlike the previous game’s emissions and blowouts, they sound hellishly threatening and important this time around. They also look incredible as you can see above.
The story in CoP is set after the events of Shadow of Chernobyl. Said events, that I won’t spoil here, allowed a flood of new STALKERs to enter the zone for a massive gold rush of rare artifacts and rumored treasures. The government of Ukraine sent in a team of five helicopters to prep a fullscale invasion of the zone, but the entry failed. As Major Alexander Degtyarev, you’re tasked with discovering what happened to the teams, to assist if possible and discover what caused the crashes. Along the way, Alexander will meet a whole host of new people and one or two old faces from the previous title. It also has an ending that changes depending on what happens to the characters. It’s an enjoyable story though I’ll confess that it’s less important to the world and atmosphere itself. After all, who needs story when you’re being ripped to shreds by mutant beasts. Further bonus, missions aren’t nearly as buggy as they were in SoC and have a wider range of activities for you to do.
Exploration in this game is better and more rewarding. There are plenty of interesting areas to look around, people to meet and creepy as heck underground structures to freak out in. I noticed more of the exploration took place out in the zone more than in underground facilities unlike SoC which had several notable X Labs to explore. That being said, there’s still a creepy lab or two to get creeped out in. I had one memorable experience of a Burers making a baby crying noise before I opened the door. When I opened the door, I was greeted with a big whiplash to the head and I died. Oh that was creepy as hell. So creepy I took a picture of it below.
Atmosphere and the World
If there is something to be disappointed about, its the reduction of mechanics from the previous entry. Gone is how epic the A-Life engine felt when creatures roamed the lands and danger was around every possible corner. That sense of risk evaporated. In SoC, you could come across battles going on or the aftermath. Also gone are the risks to the NPCs, the zone changing around you on a regular basis with every emission. Any important quest giver won’t be killed this time around which I felt was a damn shame. Gone is that sense of continual change that SoC had. In SoC, factions fought each other over land and constant conflicts. When certain events, those factions took advantage of the craze to get into all-out warfare. The Zone feels static now, not as unpredictable as it used to be. It stays put for the majority of the main story. Instead, it goes for more mechanical purity and straightforward experience. I can’t blame them for going that route and I’m certainly not going to complain about it being a lot less buggy than CoP. However, I do wish they had taken the A-Life engine to a whole new level rather than step back.
I do have one big irritation with CoP though and that’s the weight system. You can’t carry items for crap without getting overloaded. It was hard to keep a large stock of items because you would so often run out of space. It seemed like every time I had even a slightly long mission in the field, I’d get too much stuff and get weighed down. Granted, most RPGs have this mechanic but there could have at least been a little bit more flexibility. They also changed one other mechanic. In the previous SoC, you could sell any gun you came across. Here, it had to be in good repair or the trader wouldn’t buy it. I’ll grant that this is more realistic but seeing all of those guns lying around was just unfortunate.
PC Settings and Video/Audio
CoP is largely clean of bugs in its vanilla state so modding isn’t as required as it was in SoC though there is some. The expected PC settings are mostly here though you have to do some modding to open up Field of View options, V-sync and borderless windowed mode. You can find more about that on PCGamingWiki. In game you have a selection of resolution options, quality options, full screen on/off and sliders for gamma, contrast and brightness. Advanced options include vision distance, object detail, texture detail, anisotropic filtering, antialiasing, grass detail density, lighting distance, and shadow quality sliders. In fact, there’s almost nothing you can’t tweak and change in the advanced graphics options. Everything from SSAO modes to volumetric light to NPC flashlights, there’s a crazy amount of choices to optimize your experience. CoP is the best optimized game of the lot too so your computer shouldn’t have too much trouble running it. There’s only two audio sliders this time around for SFX and music which is a bit limited. Key rebinding and secondary keys are also supported.
This is one of the better looking open world games out there but even its starting to show its age. Still, if you need to see what it looks like, I certainly took plenty of screenshots. The post-apocalyptic world feels like an alien, stark world. It’s almost as if Earth is being consumed by the Zone. (Which it seems to be). This was well reflected in the music and general presentation. Walking around in the abandoned city of Chernobyl was an experience, as if the ghosts of the past could were there, watching you. A testament of what happened so many years ago. It was unnerving to walk around there, so quiet and yet not. Audio quality is once again top notch for CoP with plenty of atmosphere-building to get you in the right mood. If you’re wanting to play multiplayer, you’ll need to install a Multi-Patch mod to replace the now defunct GameSpy server. I played a little bit of multiplayer while it still functioned and it was ok, but nothing to really write home about.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. remains one of the most memorable series I’ve had the chance to play. The journey has been exciting, terrifying and challenging all at the same time. Call of Pripyat is the least buggy and better overall game of the series. But, I feel it loses that sense of risk that Shadow of Chernobyl took, instead going for a more standard open world experience. It’s still incredibly compelling compared to most open worlds though. I still want to return to the Zone again and tackle it again. Which is pretty rare for me to want to do with most open world games. What can I say, it’s a unique series. Its tragic that the development studio closed its doors. While GSC has been rumored to return, I’m doubtful that we will see another STALKER game again. I definitely recommend this game if you’re into the FPS, RPG and post-Apocalyptic type titles such as these. Despite all of its flaws and quirks, the experience is well worth taking head-on.
I hope you enjoyed reading my review of Call of Pripyat. So STALKER, until next time…