Developer: GSC Game World
Release Date: March, 2005
Pre-order 'S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl': PC
We recently got a chance to check out the multiplayer modes on S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, GSC’s upcoming semi-apocalyptic FPS. Of course, by “check out,” I mean “get shot repeatedly by people who had not taken advantage of the open bar quite as thoroughly as I had” (the makers of fine vodka urge you to frag responsibly), but the point still stands, dammit.
The first impression: the levels are huge. We got to chase other human soldiers through a decaying industrial complex, complete with rusty catwalks, dark rooms, ramshackle buildings, and a certain ominous sense of presence. The environment looks abandoned and haunted somehow, the way that a place can get if no one’s been there for decades. The stage takes place at twilight, with the last rays of sunlight filtering slowly through cloud cover, and there are plenty of little places for gunmen to be hiding.
When you first enter a stage, you’re equipped with a pistol. That’s it. There are no weapon pickups, and you can’t grab guns off of fallen enemies. Instead, you begin with sixty points, and each time you kill an opponent, you earn sixty more. Upon respawning, you can bring up a selection menu that lets you buy your next weapon and some additional equipment. If you’ve got enough points in reserve to buy your current weapon, you can hold onto it even after you’re killed.
The selection’s pretty vast. You can buy silenced pistols, AK-47s, body armor, headlamps, shotguns, more powerful handguns, night-vision goggles, and radiation suits, among a host of other offerings. Some of the items are the only way to feasibly navigate certain areas of each stage; for example, if you want to hide in the shadows of a darkened, windowless office building, you’d better have some way to see in the dark.
You’d also better play conservatively. One thing I noticed over the course of my horrible victimization was that blowing all your points on the big gun was not a terribly wise idea. You are not very durable in STALKER, and oddly, the post-apocalyptic Ukraine does not have any handy medical stations. (I’m thinking of writing a letter of complaint just as soon as somebody starts a government that I can send it to.) Even if you’ve got a Kalishnikov, somebody who sneaks up on you with a pistol can kill you in four or five shots, if that, and if you blew all your points on your rifle, you’re going to go right back to the dinky little handgun you started with.
You’d think this system would make it hard to manage a come-from-behind victory, but it’s not. STALKER rewards patience and stealth more than it does speed and overwhelming firepower, so it’s possible for a cunning newbie to turn the tables. It’s not easy, but then again, you’re fighting a guy with an automatic weapon. That isn’t easy.
STALKER strikes me as a sort of thinking man’s deathmatch game. Your characters run at a realistic speed, none of the weapons function as a win button, and the maps are enormous. Old-fashioned run’n’gun tactics don’t seem to really work very well. This is a game that’s all about waiting in the dark for some poor schmuck to wander in so you can ventilate him, or sneaking up on an unsuspecting opponent.
Of course, that’s just a first impression, but it’s also a good one. The multiplayer mode on STALKER isn’t easy, especially if you’re a newbie coming into an existing game, but it’s rewarding and satisfying in ways that most online multiplayer games aren’t.
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