Lethal Emission

Call of Pripyat may be a sequel to the first game in the STALKER series, but it’s actually the third game in the franchise, and so manages to incorporate nearly all the improvements of the latest title, Clear Sky. The levels are therefore much, much larger and less constrained than anything you’ve seen in the original game, and The Zone as a whole feels like a much larger and more palpably alive location for the adventure.

Critically though, the levels have all been dramatically changed, and just because Call of Pripyat is set in the same place as the previous games doesn’t mean that the levels are actually all that similar. The fallout of Shadow of Chernobyl has dramatically altered the landscape, creating new terrain and anomalies for players to contend with, some of which prove remarkably beautiful.

There are entire new areas of The Zone which have opened up, with regular quakes creating fissures in the earth that lead to vast underground caverns and new hilltops scarred with cracks and steamy geysers. Lakes have dried up, and the Stalkers who eke out a living by trading the strange artefacts and creatures that fill The Zone have taken refuge in the pitted, hulking shipwrecks. Swamps and shallow stretches of stagnant water have appeared too, making a deadly obstacle for anyone foolish enough to try to take a shortcut through the reeds.

STALKER: Call of Pripyat Review Lethal Emission
You can't park that here!

That’s just all the regular terrain though and, if anything, it’s the more eclectic areas which have the biggest impact – tiny canyons that are overlooked by impossible spirals of rock and impassable hillocks that can only be reached through hidden cliff top anomalies that warp the fabric of space. It’s locales like this which help to make Call of Pripyat feel like more than the endlessly drab countryside we remember from the first and second games, in spite of the fact that the new game shares the same dreary colour palette.

That’s right; brown-green colour-blind gamers will still think their monitors have broken when they try to play Call of Pripyat, but the rest of us will at least have the parade of muddy tints broken by occasionally breathtaking vistas that help to make this latest iteration of Chernobyl the most striking one yet.

Unfortunately though, some of the ideas and features carried over from earlier games don’t fit in quite as snugly as the larger levels and massively improved graphics. The emissions are one such annoyance, having featured prominently in the STALKER prequel Clear Sky, and now being incorporated as a new threat for the player. The Zone is now so unstable in Call of Pripyat that it puts out a new emission every day, killing everything it hits and further re-jigging the artefacts and anomalies that fill the game.

STALKER: Call of Pripyat Review Lethal Emission
Get that torch out of my face, or else!

When exactly an emission starts is entirely random, but they do happen on a daily basis and can often be inconveniently timed, disrupting your current quest. The only way to survive one is to take a large dose of hard-to-find antibiotics or to head for cover and hunker down for the duration. You are mercifully given two minutes warning to make it to a safe zone, though if you’re in an isolated spot and are carrying too much then you’ll likely find yourself forced to abandon your gear and run at full pelt for the nearest sanctuary.

The idea of daily emissions sounds gross is a good one once you’ve got used to the way it changes the game, and it honestly introduces a challenging survivalist element that makes you reluctant to stray far from the path and forces you to plan ahead. Even then, you’ll still find yourself having to run for shelter with reckless abandon.

Unfortunately though, like everything else in Call of Pripyat, there’s absolutely no warning given to players about what an emission is. The first we found out about them was when a warning went out at the start of the first day, advising us to seek cover. We were confused by what was going on, but obligingly took shelter in a nearby building and waited. And waited. Warnings kept coming and then we were insta-killed as the sky turned red. Apparently hiding in a basement didn’t constitute 'the right kind of cover' and we needed to head for an underground area or Stalker camp. Thanks for the heads-up.
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October 14 2021 | 15:04