Hey, hey people! Sseth here. After a long and healthy life, my old microphone now sounds like this: *angry microphone sounds* So I had to put it down. And I got a condenser mic. I have no idea what I’m doing. Thank you for your patience and understanding. Today, I’ll be covering S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. *buzzing alarm sound* *sound of large metal door unlocking and opening* *lovable Slavic subway gremlin screaming and grunting* Actually, I lied. I’ll be reviewing all of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games at once. And the novel this universe is based on, Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s premise is very simple. You play as a delinquent Gopnik who’s just broken into a fenced off exclusion zone in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which is actually based on a fictional country, here in Europe. If the legends are true, the mythical nation of Ukraine produces most of the bootleg cigarettes and prostitutes we find in Europe today. But, everyone knows this is just a fairy tale. However, in this world, there was no nuclear meltdown, nor any subsequent cover-up by the infallible benevolent Soviet Union. Instead of nuclear fallout, we have an expanding circle of land where the laws of physics don’t apply, filled with all manner of strange anomalies and mutated wildlife that wants to kill you. Why did you come here? No one knows. Thousands of men, serving hundreds of interest groups, have come before you. What makes your ideology any different? Some claim they want to contain it. Others study or even protect it from the outside world. In truth, there is no single rational answer. We have no reason to be here, but we’re drawn to it, fascinated by it and afraid of it. But no matter what, we can’t resist its siren call. Welcome to the Zone. The Zone while physical in the games is more of a metaphorical concept. The Zone represents our anxious and often fatal curiosity, our hopes and dreams, and ultimately, our darkest desires. Rumors of the Zone spread throughout our planet. Talk of mutants, weird events and bizarre artifacts that defy our understanding begin to haunt everyone’s imagination. And, of course, the promise of treasure beyond your wildest dreams. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is like the discovery of a new world. Everyone wants to go out into the great unknown and give smallpox to the Aztecs and maybe even leave behind several dozen Illegitimate mutant children, which now lack a father. This is Sseth, reminding you that being a deadbeat dad isn’t cool, even if your son is a malformed, hideous abomination and an insult to God’s earth. Take responsibility and kill him yourself. As for the gameplay itself, it’s a sandbox survival shooter, and it plays very tightly for a shooter. Most of the guns feel really good. When you’re not shooting, you’ll be exploring and investigating the world, avoiding anomalies and trying to get those sweet, sweet artifacts that justify the health risk. The Zone has its own black market economy of selling artifacts back to governments, research groups, and private collectors. Sadly, you’re at the bottom end of this lucrative pipeline. You’re like a cocaine farmer in Colombia. Your life is short, miserable, and underpaid. And you’re easily replaceable. The average artifact typically goes for about $20 on the black market, barely enough to restock your ammunition and buy some typical Slavic cuisine: canned tuna, kielbasa and stale bread and of course, Monster Energy Zero Ultra, the USSR drink of choice. For added immersion, I recommend eating stalker cuisine in real life. Luckily, my house has all of the aforementioned dishes. My bread is just a little bit more fragrant than the Zone’s. For even more immersion, you can try going outside. Who knows what sort of artifact look-alikes you’ll find? Oh, look. A Gravi and here’s a Stone Blood and here’s a used hypodermic needle. These only appear in the extremely rare junkie crack den anomaly. How curious. For westerners, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a game about surviving a harsh unforgiving place, where there’s no one to help or rescue you, human contact is limited and you’re left isolated from the outside world. For Slavs, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a simulation of everyday life, surviving a harsh unforgiving place, where there’s no one to help or rescue you, human contact is limited and you’re left isolated from the outside world. How accurate you want the simulation to be is based on the difficulty you pick. Ah, yes. The four genders. Rookie, Stalker, Veteran and Master. Lowering the difficulty results in more mutations in the people, as they develop genetic adaptations to bullet fire and employment. For this reason, it’s completely fine to learn the game on Stalker difficulty. But if you find that firefights take too long, I recommend bumping it up to Master. It’s a strange way to do difficulty, but it makes sense once you’re comfortable with the mechanics. If you’re interested in playing all the games, the natural order would be Shadow of Chernobyl, Call of Pripyat, and then Clear Sky. If you only have time for one of them, play Pripyat. If you want even more, install Call of Chernobyl. It links every game map and you can play as any faction. Including bandits. It also removes almost all English voice acting from the game, which is far more fitting to the atmosphere, as there’s many words to describe the average Russian and bilingual is not one of them. Despite how hostile the Zone is, it can also be quite comfy. Sitting around the campfire with other stalkers and listening to them play guitar and tell jokes in Russian is a very pleasant and homey experience, and gives you temporary relief from the choking isolation and dread you’ll feel everywhere else. Admittedly, though, Bandit camps have some of the best music. Unsurprisingly, this game is pretty fuckin’ spooky at times. The mutants of the Zone grunt, squeal and lunge at you with a moment’s notice and they have a habit of doing it whenever your guard is down. Luckily, some of the most dangerous mutants are extremely rare. [Justin Kuritzkes] “In a perfect world, men like me would not exist. But this is not a perfect world.” But surviving an encounter with one of them will leave you shaken and traumatized. Call of Pripyat is the most developed of the three titles. Hunting for artifacts becomes more than just platforming and throwing screws at vibrating pockets of air. You now have different devices to help you spot and locate artifacts invisible to the human eye, which now also appear inside and around the formation of different anomalies. One wrong move and you’ll be torn apart, shocked, or incinerated. Luckily, some of the anomalies are much more benign and harmless than others. In Call of Pripyat, they also added emissions. Emissions exist to make you shit your pants and disrupt whatever plans you had. These are incredibly violent energy storms originating from the Chernobyl national power plant. And if you receive a warning that a blowout is about to happen, you better get the fuck inside unless you want to die a horrible, horrible death. Anything and anyone who can’t get to cover on time will be fried to a crisp. And that’s if you’re lucky. For those who weren’t so lucky, they’ll get back up and continue their routine as a hollow, unresponsive husk. The anomalies described in the book are much less forgiving. Accidentally rub against a transparent strand of web? You’ll die from a heart attack. Hours later. Were you near the Zone when the visitors came? You’re forbidden from ever leaving. And you’ll be shot on sight if you dare try, because whatever city you’ll go to will be devastated by natural disasters until you die. The games and the book also diverge heavily in plot, since in Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, the title of the book says it all. Visitors stopped by our world and left as quickly as they arrived, leaving behind their trash and waste, the remains of a messy picnic. But their trash is our treasure. Everything in the Zone is fantastical and beyond our comprehension. Room temperature superconductors, invasive species of cotton which exclusively grow on metal surfaces, and infinite batteries which asexually reproduce are just some of the wonders left by the visitors, who are so impossibly more advanced than us, that we couldn’t even catch a glimpse of what they are. In S.T.A.L.K.E.R., the Zone is a man-made disaster through some psychic pseudoscience bullshit, which I honestly suspect is just an excuse to make you go through the worst linear sections of the game, because Ivan spent a lot of time making those 3D models, and by God, you’re gonna appreciate it. To summarize briefly, a bunch of scientists merged their brains together to form the C-Consciousness, a superior consciousness capable of changing the planet’s novosphere, an informational field surrounding earth, in order to remove negative emotions like anger, greed, and being a foot fetishist. Their interference spawned the Zone, which has been expanding ever since. To make matters worse, their efforts backfired. Foot fetishes were instead replaced by scat and that extremely specific category of porn where the camera keeps zooming into the guy’s taint. Realizing what evil they’ve unleashed on the world, the scientists are now actively trying to contain the Zone. In Shadow of Chernobyl, you can either help or kill them. In Clear Sky, you get brainwashed by them. In Call of Pripyat, you meet Strelok from the first game. And after he tells you that, canonically, he kind of killed the scientists and there’s nothing to contain the Zone anymore, everyone realizes it’s time to get the fuck out of here. The ending section of each S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game universally sucks dick. Holy shit. Let me go through narrow corridors where everyone is armed with futuristic hitscan energy weapons that kill you if they hug your little toe. Hey, you can also keep replaying dialog from the Wish Granter, on repeat, every few seconds. What an amazing, unforgettable experience, which I wish I never had. Once you reach the Chernobyl national power plant, do yourself a favor and format your hard drive, because that’s going to be a much more fun experience than anything still in store for you. And while the rest of the game is universally enjoyable, there is one exception. Clear Sky. Most people abandon Clear Sky because it probably has the worst introduction to any game ever made. You start the game and get dumped in a shitty swamp, equipped with guns that can shoot for 3 meters, before the bullets enter another quantum reality and vanish forever. At some point, you’ll have to leave this shitty swamp. You might be tempted to fight the two/three billion bandits that procreate in the warehouses. You might even be tempted to take the exit shown on the map. Both of those will result in your death. Taking the indicated exit will put you right next to a military cordon, where a machine-gun will shred you to pieces. No, the correct thing to do is ignore the swamp, enter the cordon, see the machine-gun, fuck off back to the swamp, and take the new exit, which is safely north of your original one. If you have the 200+ IQ necessary to get past that rough beginning, Clear Sky is probably the hardest of the three. The game does not give a shit how much it throws at you. But, holy fuck, it has some of the best and most drawn-out firefights I’ve ever experienced in a singleplayer shooter. Of course, in terms of atmosphere, the first game really set the tone. It’s never too much. It’s just the right dose of Soviet-era depression bleeding into your senses. Just keep in mind that the base game took a billion patches to actually run stably half the time. Smacking mods on top of that is just asking for trouble. XR Engine is an engine that may work one day and blue screen the next. Its internal workings are a subject of speculation and mystery, even to the Ukrainian computer engineers who originally coded it, using Microsoft Paint on Windows Bandera. The engine is sensitive, fragile and fickle and if it really completely stops working, I recommend you roll back your NVIDIA drivers, which somehow magically fixes everything. I understand that this is the most poorly structured and ill-advised review I’ve ever made, but I thoroughly recommend every S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game and I especially recommend you to read Roadside Picnic. You can buy a copy of each game for about a dollar apiece and the English translation of the book is, of course, available online, for free. The games defy explanation, and capturing the feeling and tone of them is not something you can recreate by video alone. It’s a lot of fun and well worth experiencing at least once in your life. And if you’ve already experienced it… Well, there are still more mods out there than you can play in a single natural lifespan. As always, more content to come, so stay tuned. That content will be better structured. A warm thank you to the many members of The Merchant’s Guild generously funding and bankrolling these videos. You’re all wonderful. Have a good one.