2009 Reviews

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

  • Review Date: 2014-02
  • Release Date: 2009-10
  • Developer: GSC Game World
  • Rating: 7.5

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is one of those franchises that has a strong cult following. Where you either love it (despite all its issues), or hate it (because of all its issues).

After Call Of Pripyat, the third game, the developer was dissolved and employees went their separate ways to form two new companies. This is a good thing, I believe. As GSC Gameworld, and after three games, they just don't seem to be able to fix all the issues. They've come a long way since the first game, but not far enough. There was for a short time development on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, which dumbfounds me since we've already had two fully standalone games since SOC in 2007. What they hell were those if not sequels, although Clear Sky did re-use a lot of areas from SOC.

Some of the employees formed 4A Games and created the Metro 2033 franchise, while others formed Vostok Games and started development on Survarium, basically just a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. MMO under a new name. But Survarium has been very quiet for over a year now.

Anyway back to COP (Call Of Pripyat), it's a game where the developers are assuming you've played one, or both of the previous two games. There's no tutorials at all, no instructions on how anything works, which means a new player coming in COP is going to be a bit lost without a bit of reading first. Things like your health suddenly evaporating and you have no idea why (usually you need food or anti-rads).

Just reading over my reviews of the previous games, I must admit many of the problems have been solved, although I was playing with the Complete mod in both the first games. The overdose of radiation and anomolies everywhere isn't so bad. The pitch dark night levels where enemies can see you from a mile away is no longer an issue. Ammunition isn't such an issue. I actually had decent weapons at the right stages of the game and they don't jam as often. Once you get to Pripyat you can repair all your weapons for free as many times as you want. Killing enemies is much better, no longer do you have to do headshots to avoid pumping hundreds of bullets into a torso. With upgrades, the assault rifles and shotguns are quite accurate and feel much better to use.

Overall, COP is easier than the first two games, which is a good thing. Shooting works, like I said above, and just provides a more enjoyable gameplay experience. The issue this time, however, is there's not enough combat! I was a good three hours into the game before I fired my first shot at something other than a dog.

Four hours into the game, I was almost ready to enter Pripyat (the final third of the games' playing area)! Fortunately, while there aren't a lot of main missions, you won't be able to get to Pripyat unless you've got enough money for a Seva (anti-radiation) suit and have some buddies to go with you. So I then had to do many of the side quests before I could continue, which is a good thing because some of the side quests are enjoyable. They're certainly not on the level of other RPG's that open up new exciting areas. Most being fetch quests or a splash of combat, but usually in areas you could have explored previously.

Some of the side missions aren't too clear either. I had to consult walkthroughs a number of times just to see what I'm supposed to do to get such-and-such on my side. There's ways to shoot yourself in the foot and not all quests will be possible on a single playthrough, depending on who you help and side with. However I got to a point where none of the factions would give me any missions, so I couldn't continue with any faction missions. Also in Pripyat there's several side missions that I never got the option of doing, for some reason. Perhaps I hadn't helped the right person 10 hours earlier, who knows. This is where you end up googling things a lot.

The inventory size/carry weight is still an issue and too small, but it didn't affect my playthrough this time since I ran a mod to up it so that I never ran out. Also, just like the previous games, there's way too much walking around. Not a big deal really, though. At least dogs and beasts can be avoided better.

The franchise and zone has the potential for some very interesting storytelling, but unfortunately this isn't a strong point of the GSC, and never has been. In COP you're part of the military sent in to discover why five helicopters crashed in the zone (in case it isn't obvious enough). Nice premise, but it doesn't really go anywhere. You go in, find hte heli's, find a cool weapon, find some documents, realise the heli's went down during an emission storm, so bugger off at the end. Along the way you meet a bunch of characters and do some random quests. It's certainly no novel.

While the gameplay in COP is a big improvement, sadly, the design side is not. GSC have created three decent sized regions. But there's not that much new to explore after a while. It's not like Fallout 3 where you can get lost in a single underground metro for an hour. In an hour in COP, you could probably cover an entire region of just sightseeing. Not only that but some of it isn't that interesting. No forests, just wide open plains and swamps, with the odd building or boat left ashore. Pripyat returns you to a small destroyed town of empty, dull buildings. The graphics haven't improved much either. While I did play the other games with the Complete Mod, which vastly improved graphics, textures and weather, I had no such mod for COP. Complete just wouldn't allow the game to last any longer than five minutes without crashing. So it was vanilla old COP for me, and despite having a very unique environment, I can't help but think other engines like CryEngine could have done a better job for the radiated toxic wasteland of Ukraine. Still, compared to other games in 2009, COP does offer a fantastically unique environment, and that's much of what fans of this game love so much about it.

Finally, I had no shortage of crashes. Trying to change lighting type off anything but 'static' results in the game not starting. Many crashes while alt-tabbing out. Choppy framerates sometimes. GSC certainly had some fixing still to do on their engine to get it more stable. I didn't get this amount of crashing on previous games, even with mods.

Overall, the gameplay of COP was much better, but only a year in development since the last game has resulted in visuals and levels that aren't quite as interesting as the previous games. A dull story and steep learning curve still make COP a game that only some gamers will love. I'm not one of them, but I did like it a lot more than I was expecting. It is the best S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game in the trilogy.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat