STALKER Call Of Pripyat
(2016 Note: In February 2010 I wrote this piece about the third Stalker game intending to post it somewhere but never got around to it. Here it is!)
Call of Pripyat shares none of the frustrations of Clear Sky, it brings back the FUN of the original game, and improves upon it in a multitude of ways. Yes, this is still Stalker, and the game mechanics are similar: open world, shoot blokes, avoid mutants, hunt anomalies etc. But the faction wars are toned down, and you feel like you actually stand a chance from the off. At first you are somewhat fragile, but not stupidly vulnerable. I started venturing out to places and noticed that, like the better-tuned RPGs, there were areas that I could just about tackle, but others for which I'd have to improve myself before I could return to them. Feels just right.
Call of Pripyat is designed to be "open world" immediately. The main plot arc isn't entirely linear, the first 5 "quests" for it can be tackled in any order. The "world" comprises 3 large, distinct areas that are naturally shaped and do not feel like long corridors. Keep walking in any direction and you'll see one completely different thing after another, a wrecked ship, swamps (very scaled down compared to Clear Sky), chasms, bridges, burned farms, anomalies, plateaus, and buildings.
Day and night cycles are still there, and you have a permanent clock in the main hud. There are two weapons slots, in which you can put whatever you like. This was curiously limited in Clear Sky. CS got one thing right with artifacts: they were hard to find. This is still the case, and detectors are required, making for a tricky but compelling challenge whenever you attempt it. Earning money is tough, but a little easier than Clear Sky, and feels about right. Shotguns are no longer nearly-useless, and the new Protecta is a solid, satisfying weapon. Weapon upgrades are present again, but futher tuned, and even more essential. Some of the dread and scares of the original game are present, if not to the same extent. There are a lot of things that, if not frightening, are certainly odd and will put you on edge. There's more "weird" in this game than "scary", put simply. How many FPSs engage your imagination as much as your trigger finger?
And I found it absolutely reliable, too. No crashes here.
Realistic but frustratingly small carry limit early on.
That damned view-bob.
Vanilla game could do with more AI spawns.
Short, some are saying 20 hours.
Could do with more dungeons!
Weapons degradation is a more prominent factor than Clear Sky, and if anything happend a tad too "rapidly" for my liking.
You'll wish they mapped more of Pripyat (but what's there is fantastic).
One of the best first-person-shooters ever but certainly not perfect. A unique, compelling and satisfying experience, and recommended to absolutely everyone. Google for the "SMRTER mod" after you have played the full game, to add more goodies and replayability.