Call of Pripyat was a decidedly difficult game to anticipate. Coming as it was from a series which has spawned both a hit and a miss, for many the third instalment was anything but a certain success. In 2007, gamers worldwide found themselves enraptured by GSC Game World’s depiction of the radioactive world of the ‘Zone’.
Now, in 2010, we return once again to the uniquely atmospheric setting of the Zone. But will Call of Pripyat be more akin to the classic Shadow of Chernobyl, or the underwhelming Clear Sky?
Call of Pripyat is an indirect sequel of the original S.T.A.L.K.E.R.game, following loosely on from the events that the player put into motion back in 2007. I say indirect, however, because instead of controlling Strelok – the Stalker with amnesia from the first game – the player instead looks after Major Degtyarev, an agent of Ukraine’s Security Service.
His primary goal in traversing the zone is to uncover exactly what happened to a number of army helicopters sent into the zone. As with the other games, it is entirely up to the player how quickly or slowly the plot advances as each area is a huge open map with plenty to see and do aside from the main plot.
The game is split up into three main areas, which may sound a bit limited when compared to Shadow of Chernobyl’s eighteen. In reality, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Each of Call of Pripyat’s areas is roughly three times as large as the largest area in the original game.
This helps to provide a much more open and free experience for the player. These three areas are still as densely populated with interesting features as we have become accustomed to for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, with countless little secrets to find and explore.
As anyone who has played a game in this series before will know, the people who get the most out of this game are the people who take the time to go exploring in the game without a definite location or goal set.
This time around GSC Game World seems to have realised this, tying in certain missions to this sense of exploration. As a result, the game actively rewards you for finding a good many of these interesting things, while those players who forgo the exploration aspect will simply not find a number of these missions.
For example, fairly early on in the game the player is asked to look for evidence that a legendary area called the ‘Oasis’ exists. However, because all everyone knows of this place is what everyone else has told them, asking other stalkers is of limited use. To actually find the area, the player must simply explore the areas open to them.
Of course, while the setting that S.T.A.L.K.E.R.provides the player with is the reason a good many people enjoy the games so much, it is the gameplay that keeps them captivated until the credits roll and beyond. As such, you will be glad to hear that Call of Pripyat is a vast improvement on both Clear Sky and Shadow of Chernobyl.
In fact, Call of Pripyat almost acts as a kind of bridge between the two games, taking some of the most promising elements of them both and making them work together in a way that the previous games couldn’t quite manage. GSC also had the sense to drop some of the aspects of Clear Sky that simply didn’t work, such as the faction wars, and instead replace them with simpler mechanisms that actually work a lot better.
Of course, this is not to say that they haven’t kept many of the workable elements of the second game. Mechanisms such as the upgrade systems, which give the player the ability to improve certain aspects of weapons and armour, are present from Clear Sky, as is the technique of finding the valuable artifacts (radioactive rocks with varying beneficial and detrimental properties) using a detector. Both of these have been balanced and improved since the last game, and as such feel much more a part of the world rather than systems loosely slapped on top of the setting.
The gun play, which has been consistently strong throughout the series, is perhaps at its best in this installment. The somewhat psychic element of the AI from the previous games has been toned down a bit, so that the enemies don’t automatically know exactly where the player is at all times, and their accuracy is reduced over long ranges to something resembling human.
The guns are as terrific as ever, with something for every type of player and scope to fine tune it even further. The only marring factor is the slightly stiff animations for reloading – a criticism so minor that it should be clear how impressive the rest of the gameplay is.
The sound quality of Call of Pripyat is extremely variable at best. In fact, what I could claim is the foremost failing in the game, which is also present in both the previous games, is the voice acting. While the majority of the time it is bearably quirky and amateurish, there are occasions where it actually pulls the player out of the game – a very bad thing to do in a game which prides itself on the atmosphere and immersion it creates. Luckily, these moments are not too frequent and you can generally avoid the characters you know sound particularly awful.
On the other hand, the score and general sound direction when you’re away from the chattering, over-enthusiastic populous is terrific. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.has a wonderful habit of melding the soundtrack and the diegetic sounds around the player into one broad soundscape, often leading the player to look nervously over their shoulder as they hear a creaking or groaning from a non-existent source. This tradition has continued with Call of Pripyat to great effect, combining with the more open areas to make the player feel even more vulnerable than before.
The graphics are yet another improvement over the last two games. While Call of Pripyat reuses a lot of the assets from the previous two games, the updated version of GSC’s own X-Ray Engine is incredibly impressive to look at. The weather effects especially do a huge amount to draw the player into the atmosphere of the Zone, and the architecture of the dilapidated buildings is as hauntingly majestic as ever.
One of the most surprising improvements in this chapter of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series is the relatively bug-free nature of the game. Obviously due in no small part to the game being released months before hand in Russia and neighbouring countries, giving GSC a much longer period to iron out bugs before shipping the western versions of the release. In a way, this lack of glitches is perhaps the biggest departure from the norm for the series, but it is not something I feel old fans will be complaining about.
There is, as with the previous games, a multiplayer option for players to try out, with the usual options of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch as well as lesser known modes such as Artifact Hunt and Capture the Artifact, which try to blend in with the game world a little better. However, while these are a fun distraction for a short while, it is clear that the focus is on the single player mode.
Call of Pripyat is very definitely a return to form for the series. Every enjoyable element of the last two games have been reworked and improved, to the point that there is very little to criticise. For many this game will be one of the best released this year, and I believe I will count myself among their numbers.
Call of Pripyat boasts truly impressive graphics and a wonderfully designed world to explore. Walking through a thunderstorm in this game is awe inspiring.
|How does our scoring system work?|
Every element of the previous two games has been honed and improved upon to deliver some of the most satisfying fire-fights seen in the series.
Definitely the weakest link, with some minor speech bugs combining with amateurish, over-enthusiastic voice acting to remove some of the immersion the rest of the game works so hard to maintain.
The main mission structure won't take you too long to blast through, but there's enough going on in the surrounding environment to keep an inquisitive player going for much, much longer.
Call of Pripyat is not only a return to form for the series, but a breath of fresh air for an increasingly stale genre. Recommended for fans of the previous games and newcomers alike, this is how a real PC FPS should work.