Number 7 – S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of ChernobylPlatform:
For a game which was so massively delayed and annoyingly named though, S.T.A.L.K.E.R
was fantastically enjoyable and used a surprisingly intricate plot which draws from modern Russian literature, notably Roadside Picnic
by Arkady and Boris Strigatsky.
The game sets players off in the forbidden zone around the radiation-filled Chernobyl and tasks them only with the task of discovering their own identity – the main character wakes up amnesiac, only carrying a note which reads ‘Kill Strelok’.
From there, it’s a huge open-ended adventure with a dozen endings and a smoothly integrated RPG and FPS combo.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl, click to enlarge
falls down on a number of levels. The game is a little clunky to play and the story is very difficult to follow owing to translation problems and a frustrating design. Many of the available endings are disappointing and the entire RPG system is massively scaled back from the original design.
Still, when S.T.A.L.K.E.R
gets it right then it does it very, very well. The combat is beautifully put together and the level of difficulty is honed to a razor edge so that although it is often frustrating and challenging, it is never unfair. Bullet physics are excellently integrated to the game and as you progress further towards the end-game and learn how to make the best use of your arsenal it becomes almost impossible not to appreciate the fine-tuning of the combat model.
To be praised for ambition and scope if nothing else, S.T.A.L.K.E.R
didn’t just break the mould; it shattered it completely and sent the pieces back to its mother in hundreds of separate envelopes. There are some obvious holes in the formula and you can complete the game without ever realising that you messed up the main quest and have wasted twenty hours of your life, but as a whole S.T.A.L.K.E.R
still manages to succeed thanks to a grimly realistic world which is consistently engaging and brilliant.
Number 6 – Call of Duty 4: Modern WarfarePlatform:
PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Call of Duty 4
was a radical departure for the series, bringing players out of the hedgerows and trenches of World War II and into the modern day. It could have gone horribly wrong and resulted in the death of the series, halting the growth of period shooter series for years.
Thankfully, it didn’t. Call of Duty 4
is arguably the best in the series to date and uses a Clancy-esque plot filled with Russian megalomaniacs and crazed terrorists as players hop about to experience the best of the action.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, click to enlarge
It kicks off to a hell of a start too. The first level sees players form part of a crack SAS squad conducting a raid on a cargo freighter to salvage a nuclear missile in the middle of a typhoon. Rain hammers down, waves crash on the deck and players silently creep from room to room, killing bad guys in their sleep. When it all goes wrong and the ship starts to sink the whole world starts to turn upside down quite literally there’s a terrifying moment when you think you might not make it back to the helicopter in time.
Then the credits roll and you realise that you’re only five minutes in and that that level was just the introduction; a sign of things to come.
From there things get better in spades and players get to experience a regime change first hand, fighting on both flanks as the battle starts to build. The singleplayer campaign isn’t massively long—in fact it’s pretty damn short—but at the end there’s still plenty of intelligence to track down, an arcade mode to try and, of course the glorious multiplayer which is superbly put together.
The multiplayer mode alone is plenty praiseworthy too, using ranks and levelled unlockable attacks to create a multiplayer tactical FPS game with a distinct RPG feel at times so that the game is almost universally appealing.
The game may not be everyone’s cup of tea and there are plenty of people who will argue that the Call of Duty 2
was the high point of the series, but whether that's true or not doesn't detract from the fact that Call of Duty 4
is still one of the most involving and dramatic war-shooters we've played in a long time.