Sunday, 2 December 2012

Now Playing: Call of Pripyat

Call of Pripyat is the third game in the S.T.A.L.K.E.R series. It’s an open world FPS combining elements of horror and survival. Set within the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Exclusion Zone (or ‘The Zone’ as it’s referred to) you are sent on a mission to investigate the failure of an operation to recon The Zone, resulting in the crash of five helicopters.

The Zone is home to an assortment of factions – bandits, stalkers, mercenary groups, military and scientists, as well as a variety of dangerous mutants. There are also deadly anomalies to contend with and Zone wide emissions. It’s a hostile, compelling setting. Although external environments are a little ugly, internal ones are well handled. The game makes good use of lighting and sound to create a tense and oppressive mood.

COP doesn’t get off to the best start, however, dumping you into an ugly brown landscape with very little direction or information. As you investigate the crash sites, the story puts you on the path to two new areas of the Zone and increasingly dangerous missions. The story, told through incredibly stiff and awkward cut-scenes, is decent enough and gives you a reason to press on even if it’s not particularly exciting.

In addition to the main story missions, there are also a number of side quests you can undertake to earn extra money or supplies. The survival element feels a little wasted in the game. You require food periodically, but you’ll always have more than you’d ever actually need. Bandages and medi-kits are also plentiful and because they can be bound to instant use hot-keys (even in the middle of the fire-fight) it takes away any kind of challenge or danger to using them. It really feels like there needed to be a bandage/heal animation or timer so you can’t just spam them when things get tough.

The shooting mechanics are solid enough, and I liked the weight system which forces you to pick and choose your gear. There are also weapon and armour upgrades you can purchase to further enhance/customise your character. There’s a stealth system, of sorts (visibility and sound bars), although rather pointless as the game doesn’t lend itself to that type of play style. Although The Zone is a fairly large place, outside of the missions it feels like there is very little reason to explore. Or rather, exploration simply isn’t very rewarding.

There are artifacts to find, but very few of these seem necessary or even useful – I didn’t bother them during my playthrough at all. Money isn’t hard to come by, and you can find nearly everything you need out in the world. At one point in the game you’ll reach a location where you can repair your gear and be given ammo and medical supplies for free which makes the earning of money and gathering supplies rather redundant.

One of the best things about the game is its AI. The mutants and humans in the game are all largely non-scripted. They hunt, scavenge, fight, trade and explore the Zone on their own terms. As a result, traversing the Zone is always a random experience. You may come across roving mutants or fights between bandits and stalkers whose paths just happened to cross, or you may encounter nothing at all. The Zone feels all the more alive due to the unpredictable nature of the people and creatures that inhabit it. You’ll never be quite sure what you’ll encounter as you travel from one location to the next.

Overall, COP is a good game, but it falls just short of being great. It has a fantastic setting and a lot of good ideas but it’s all a little rough around the edges and feels underdeveloped in a lot of areas. It’s a difficult game to love, but I can understand why it has quite a cult following. I’m looking forward to playing Shadow of Chernobyl soon. Now I’ve had a taste of the Zone, I’m eager for more.


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