S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, previously known as S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Oblivion Lost, is a first-person shooter computer game by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World, published in 2007.
It features an alternate reality theme, where a second nuclear disaster occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the near future and causes strange changes in the area around it. The game has a non-linear storyline and features gameplay elements such as trading and two-way communication with NPCs. The game includes elements of role-playing and business simulation games.
The background idea and some terminology of the game ("The Zone", "Stalker") is borrowed from the popular science fiction book Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky and the 1979 film Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky, loosely based on the book. Some of the music in the game such as that heard on the radio or sometimes performed by stalkers with guitars was recorded by the Ukrainian metal band FireLake.
In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the player assumes the identity of an amnesiac "Stalker", an illegal explorer/artifact scavenger in "The Zone", named 'The Marked One'. "The Zone" is the location of an alternate reality version of the Chernobyl Power Plant after its second (fictitious) explosion, which contaminated the surrounding area with radiation and caused strange otherworldly changes in local fauna, flora and even the laws of physics. "Stalker" in its original (film) context roughly meant "explorer" or "guide", as the stalker's goal was to bring (guide) people into the Zone. On July 11th, 2007, GSC Game World announced a prequel S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky which would be released on 29th of August in 2008.
GSC Game World has been considering porting the game to console platforms. It is unknown what platforms the game would be ported to, and it is also unknown which S.T.A.L.K.E.R. would get ported, since S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky is now in development . At the end of November 2007, it was reported by GamesIndustry.biz that GSC Game World had been certified with Xbox 360 development status.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. (Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, and Robbers) is a non-linear, sandbox-style game. Players can explore the game world, or complete various assignments given by certain NPCs. Players take the role of "The Marked One", a Stalker with amnesia who is attempting to regain his memories. The Zone presents various dangers.
Gameplay is an RPG/FPS hybrid, though the player does not gain increased powers as in a standard computer RPG. Character advancement is achieved through acquiring and strategically using new equipment and artifacts, rather than enhancing attributes and skills. The role-playing part focuses more on traditional RPG elements, such as storyline and character interaction. However, the game does not allow for extensive variety in regards to conversations. Unlike RPGs such as Fallout, conversation branches are extremely limited and do not significantly influence the course of the game, save accepting or declining missions.
The Zone comprises an area of 30 square kilometers, consisting of wilderness, human settlements, and several heavily-guarded military bases. However, the game world is not a true contiguous world, but rather 18 different maps separated by loading screens. Transfer from one area of the Zone to another can only be accomplished at certain specific passageways; a wire fence border blocks players from attempting to cross the map in any other area. The Zone is a fictionalized version of the real-life Zone of alienation, specifically a slice of it extending south from Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant; geographical changes for artistic license include moving the city of Prypiat into this area (it is actually to the north-west of the power station), although the city itself is directly modelled on its real-life counterpart, albeit smaller in size.
The game does not feature controllable vehicles (although vehicles are programmed in the game code, they are not available without the use of a third party modification , ), and thus players are required to go from place to place on foot. A sprint option using a limited stamina bar can be used to temporarily increase the player's rate of movement, though this is reduced by the weight of objects the player is carrying, and weapons cannot be fired while sprinting. It is possible to sprint non-stop by using artifacts and keeping below a certain weight limit.
The local wildlife and plant life were severely altered by the years of radiation, and have developed deadly instincts and natural defenses to survive the hostile environment. Another factor is large numbers of mutant lifeforms left behind from the unlucky workers and soldiers who were caught in the second blast. Mutated encounters in the earlier game areas are limited to altered domestic animals, but mutated humans and humanoids appear in later sections of the game. Certain mutants only appear in very specific areas. Mutants exhibit some realistic behaviors as part of their AI, including territorial defense, fleeing when injured, feeding on and dragging their prey, attacking and retreating in packs, limping when injured, and the chance of them attacking is somewhat based on their hunger as well. However, many of these creatures were removed from the game before release, but like vehicles, they can be added back in with modifications.
Many human NPCs in the game belong to a Faction, designating their group loyalties and attitude toward the player. The Faction an NPC belongs to affects how they interact with other NPCs as well as the player. NPCs without a Faction are considered Loners; they are generally neutral to all other characters, and the player can even interact with and accept missions from some of them. Loners are actually a Faction of sorts, despite operating independently. This implies that news travels fast among Loners and the reputation of any particular group or person is judged accordingly.
The most omnipresent Faction in the Zone are the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, known to Stalkers as the Military, who are attempting to control and police the Zone to separate it from the outside world. The Military are hostile to all Stalkers (whom they regard as trespassers), and use ground troops, helicopter air support, and elite Spetsnaz special forces to control the Zone's inhabitants.
The two most important Stalker Factions are Duty and Freedom, as they are the only Factions that the player can befriend (friendship with a Faction allows various benefits such as access to their facilities and supplies). The player may join one of the two factions only if he never works for the opposite one (to join a faction the player must work hard for just one faction). Also the player may find uniforms used by the factions in various places in the game. Duty and Freedom are philosophically opposed to each other. Duty sees it as their responsibility to protect the world from the expanding Zone, while Freedom members fight for free access to the Zone and believe that information about the Zone must not be hidden from humanity. They challenge the state's monopoly over the Zone's secrets and wonders. These two Stalker groups are at war; members attack each other on sight, and assisting one group can cause the player to become the enemy of the other group.
There are also a few other Factions, such as scavenging Bandits and professional killer-for-hire Mercenaries, AKA Mercs. These factions are always hostile toward the player, and generally serve as enemies for the player to overcome. Finally, there is the mysterious and elite Monolith Faction, who control the center of the Zone, including the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. The later stages of the game revolve around a full-scale conflict between Monolith and all other Stalker Factions, in which the Marked One can gain the trust of more than one neutral faction by helping them fight Monolith.
At some brief moments in the game the player may encounter Zombified Stalkers. These are Stalkers whose minds have been destroyed by the Monolith Faction's Brain Scorcher, and, like zombies, act with no thought or rationality. In one part of the game there is also an Ecologist Faction, a team of scientists working in the Zone, who are neutral to the player unless allied with the Freedom Faction, and are the only faction neutral to the Military.
Anomalies, artifacts and radiation
The Zone is littered with anomalies, small areas of altered physics. There are several different variations, each one having a unique impact upon those who cross its path. They can be potentially deadly to the player and other NPCs, delivering electric shocks, or pulling them into the air and crushing them. Most anomalies produce visible air or light distortions and cause the player's Geiger counter to sound a warning click; their extent can be determined by throwing bolts (of which the player carries an infinite supply) to trigger them.
Anomalies produce Artifacts, the valuable scientific curiosities that make the Zone worth exploring monetarily. As well as being traded with friendly NPCs for money, a number of Artifacts can be worn on the player's belt, where they will give certain benefits and detriments (for example, increasing the player's resistance to gunfire while also contaminating him with small amounts of radiation). Artifacts are found scattered throughout the Zone, often near clusters of anomalies.
Radiation caused by the nuclear incidents at Chernobyl occur in specific invisible patches throughout the game world. Although most areas in the game have no radiation, areas near abandoned construction equipment that was used in the post-accident clean-up, certain military wrecked vehicles, and a variety of other locations create small to large fields of radiation that the player cannot pass without protection or they will incur damage. The player is equipped with a Geiger counter that begins to click in any location where radiation occurs, and its rate of clicking increases in proportion to the level of radiation in the area (i.e. as the player gets closer).
It's possible for the player to receive radiation poisoning. During this time, a radiation icon appears on the screen and fades through from green to yellow to red, signifying the strength of the poisoning, which grows the longer the player remains present in the affected areas. The stronger the poisoning, the faster the player’s health decreases. Unless the player dies from damage caused by radiation poisoning, there are no permanent effects from contracting it other than health loss, and bandages, food, or medkits can restore this. Certain types of armor in the game can shield against radiation and help the player avoid contracting radiation poisoning. Players that have been poisoned by radiation can reduce their exposure a small amount by drinking vodka, or a large amount by injecting antiradiation drugs. However, these do not cure any damage the player may have received. Equipping certain artifacts that help remove radiation within the player's body also can help deal with the condition.
X-ray graphics engine
The X-ray Engine is a DirectX 8.1/9 Shader Model 3.0 graphics engine. Up to a million polygons can be on-screen at any one time. The engine features HDR rendering, parallax and normal mapping, soft shadows, motion blur, widescreen support, weather effects and day/night cycles. As with other engines that utilise deferred shading, the X-ray Engine does not support anti-aliasing with dynamic lighting enabled. However, a "fake" form of anti-aliasing can be enabled with the static lighting option; this format utilizes a technique to blur the image to give the false impression of anti-aliasing. The game takes place in a thirty square kilometer area, and both the outside and inside of this area are rendered to the same amount of detail. Some textures in the game were simply photographs of the walls in the developers' studio.
The X-ray engine uses GSC Gameworld's proprietary ALife artificial intelligence engine. ALife supports more than one thousand characters inhabiting the Zone. These characters are non-scripted, meaning that AI life can be developed even when not in contact with the player.
The NPCs have a full life cycle (task accomplishment, combat, rest, feeding and sleep) and the same applies to the many monsters living in the Zone (hunting, attacking Stalkers and other monsters, resting, eating, sleeping). These monsters will migrate in large groups. The non-scripted nature of the characters means that there are an unlimited number of random quests. For instance, rescuing Stalkers from danger, destroying Stalker renegades, protecting or attacking Stalker camps or searching for treasure. The AI characters travel around the entire zone as they see fit.
Numerous tactics can be employed to complete the game, such as rushing or using stealth and sniping. The NPCs will react in a different way to each of them. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.'s NPCs plan ahead by "Goal-Oriented Action Planning" in order to achieve this.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. uses "realistic" bullet physics, similar in nature to tactical shooters such as Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter or Operation Flashpoint. Bullets are affected by gravity, bounced against solid surfaces at oblique angles, and firearms are highly inaccurate when fired without aiming. To score consistent hits at medium or long range, players must aim using the iron sights on their guns. Additionally, hit damage is pseudo-realistic, and the player can die after only being shot a few times (although later in the game various armor suits and artifacts can be acquired that increase the player's resistance to damage). Late-game depends heavily on scoped weaponry due to the well-armed and amored enemies that keep their distance from the player.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. uses a heavily modified version of the ODE physics engine, supporting hundreds of physics objects on different levels. Ragdoll physics, destructible objects, realistic bullet ballistics and skeletal animation can all be found in the game.
A weather system is integrated into various parts of the landscape and allows a variety of weather effects, such as sunshine, storms and showers. The weapons available, behavior of the AI, game tactics and ranking systems depend on the weather.
Multiplayer, like many other modern games, is available over both LAN and the Internet with up to 32 players. Currently the three game modes are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Artifact hunt. The game also uses a ranking system.
Software Development Kit
A beta for the multiplayer SDK was released on May 14th, 2007. Along with plans to release a strong mod community, GSC promised to release the single player SDK.
Widescreen resolutions and surround gaming
Due to popular demand from the gaming community, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has supported native widescreen 16:9 resolutions since the release of official patch v1.0003. Surround gaming solutions employing up to three monitors such as blackbox TripleHead2Go or the purely software-based "SoftTH" have greatly benefited from this update. A community developed patch also enables setting a custom Field of View and aspect ratio combination.
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