S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl - PC

Most of us would like to think of ourselves as ambitious, but our trials are nothing compared with the developers of Shadow of Chernobyl. They’ve been beavering away on this massive nuclear wasteland for over half a decade.

Set in the exclusion zone that surrounds what’s left of the Chernobyl nuclear power station that exploded way back in 1986, your tasks are nice and simple. First, find out who the hell you are. And second, discover just what’s going on at the centre of this huge exclusion zone.

You’re not the only Stalker wandering around these parts mind you. Despite the huge downer of living near an exploded nuclear plant, there’s a hefty number of scavengers scouring for artefacts to sell on. Beats working 9 to 5 at a fast food restaurant we suppose.

So with all these people and this huge mass of land to explore, surely there’s loads that can go wrong? Let’s just hope that 5-years of development hell has polished S.T.A.L.K.E.R. into a shiny nugget of uranium.

While S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is set out like your traditional first person shooter, it’s not about hardcore gunning action.

Expect to spend lots of time all on your lonesome. Set in a huge area and with few prompts as to how to progress through the main story, you’ll be struggling for companionship for a lot of the time.

Traders and fellow Stalkers crop up here and there and are generally more than happy to assign you a task to perform in exchange for equipment. What you take on is entirely up to you, so don’t go expecting any of the usual hand holding that most FPS titles give you.

If you’ve played the modern day RPG classic Oblivion, you’ll know what we mean. Want to spend hour after hour checking all those dead Stalkers for equipment to sell on? Then feel perfectly free. You sick puppy you.

Just think twice before you start waving your gun in fellow scavengers’ faces. They don't take too kindly to being shot at and will soon starting fighting back. Dish out medipacks and ammo to all and sundry though and you’ll find yourself a much adored individual who everyone will happily invite to tea.

To see S.T.A.L.K.E.R. out to its conclusion you’ll need to go through the story based missions in turn. You start the game with only a photo and a note to "Kill Strelok" so you’ll have to do lots of digging to make things clearer. Shoot ‘em up and detective story eh? Nice.

Really get stuck and in and you’ll be scared witless at least every half an hour. A desolate post-nuclear fall out landscape is, not surprisingly, home to numerous mutated beasties with entrails dragging along behind. Unfortunately they don’t get much company either so it looks like you’ll do.

The visuals are first rate too. Owners of top of the line PC systems should expect to be dazzled by the lighting effects and environments S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has to offer.

Verdict

It’s not all Glastnost however. The task based gameplay means lots of running from point to point, loads of talking and periods when you simply just have to wait. Half Life 2 this ain't.

We also found a few bugs during our extensive play test. On one mission we were tasked with taking out another Stalker, only to find the guy had offed himself before we got there. OK, so it saved us a job, but the experience wasn’t particularly enthralling.

If slow paced gaming interspersed with the odd scare and gunfight is for you, then S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is one of the very best on offer. But if it’s all action you crave, give this a wide berth.