This is one of the stand-out areas of Stalker - the sound design is inspired. The massively open world is filled with a cacophony of bizarre noises, and the way that the sounds of animals echo around hills and valleys can be haunting.

The voice acting is superb, even if it is plum-Russian, and it really brings you into the story and the world. There are some inspired moments - such as when a group of Stalkers are sitting around a campfire, singing as one plays a guitar - that really make you feel like sound has been given a lot of consideration.

The use of EAX effects is particularly welcome, since the varied environments really make the soundcard work to render things accurately. Sound is a crucial cue to staying alive, too - geiger-counter-style crackles tell you when you're getting close to a radiation zone, and these soon become part of your awareness.

If there's one area where sound design is let down, it's in the weapons - guns make suitably generic firing noises, and environment doesn't seem to affect them too much. Overall, however, sound is a crucial, and well executed, part of the game.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions

Andy's Conclusion

It’s been a long time coming - the game was originally scheduled for a 2003 release - but for the most part it has been worth the wait. Stalker may not be quite the revolution it was once heralded as and it has its fair share of problems, but there’s a great deal to like about the gameplay and the wonderfully realised environment in which it is set.

Unfortunately, it feels as though narrative and plot have taken a back seat to creating the game world, and this is to the greater detriment of the game. One can’t deny the impressiveness of the environment GSC Game World has created, but without a strong narrative it never quite comes together. Moreover, unlike Oblivion, Stalker doesn’t have a good enough sandbox element to make up for this failing.

Stalker is a game that could well divide opinion for a long time. Some may consider it an instant classic, but the reality is it’s a very good game that just falls short of bringing all its constituent parts together. I’d heartily recommend playing it, if only because it’s a fresh take on an often stagnating genre, but it narrowly misses out on greater glory.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions

Wil's Thoughts

Having played through Stalker over the last week or so, I have to say that I think Andy has been too harsh on the game. I will fully admit that I was expecting this to be a dud - it's delay-ridden five-year gestation smacks of the Romero-flop Daikatana. Often long projects like this run out of cash and are hastily wrapped up near the end in the hope of recouping whatever investment they can. To that end, I was expecting the plotline to be hung awkwardly together, a rash of bugs, and a lack of anything to really pull me through.

I didn't find any of this. From day one, Stalker gripped me and amazed me. The sheer scope of the environments was a big wow factor, and some of the small touches add to the immersion. Where Andy found the plotline lacking, I thought it was great, giving you a great lead through a legion of side quests and locations.

Being someone that really didn't enjoy Oblivion - too big, too open plan, too much crazy dialogue, I was surprised to find that Stalker, as a similar RPG/FPS hybrid really did it for me. I find FPS a genre that rarely holds my attention, but the variety on offer here in terms of missions and environments kept me playing. And, thankfully, the amount of mutant animal slaying I had to do was limited compared to the fun of taking on the Army.

Having said that, the game clearly has its problems. The story line is, in reality, a later addition and this sometimes shows - but not enough to really distract you from the world built up around you. There are so many incredible set pieces, quite aside from the dumbfounding A-Life system, that you never feel lacking in compulsion to move forward. Stalker is also, I would say, quite a hard game - troops are often tougher than you, and the scarcity of supplies within the zone can make bullet conservation a wise option.

But this really is a game that everyone should play and make their own mind up about. It will appeal to FPS fans and to RPG fans, and even those who don't usually like either should give this a go, just to see how it sits with them. Heck, everyone should give this a go just to play the legend. Stalker really has become a legendary game, even before its release, and you, as enthusiasts, owe it to yourself to play what has to be one of the most hyped game in recent history. Prepare for a surprise - it's actually bloody good, and for that I am grateful. I'm already jonesing for the sequel - maybe we can see it sometime before 2012?

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl Conclusions

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October 14 2021 | 15:04