Despite my lack of indulgence in media related to it, the Chernobyl disaster is actually one of my favorite parts of recent historical events to research. How so many intricate factors and human decisions could lead to such a massive catastrophe is equal parts confusing and exciting. While I haven’t experienced the Chernobyl show myself, let alone played the titles from the STALKER series, something about Chernobylite drew me to it and hungered for my review of it. Whether it was my enjoyment of The Farm 51’s previous single-player venture Get Even, or my desire to experience the Exclusion Zone in a modern form, one thing was for certain; I had to try it. But what did I think of it? Find out in my review of Chernobylite!
The Long, Thorough Search for a Lost Love
Chernobylite offers up a fairly simple premise. Ukrainian scientist Igor Khymynuk, a man known for his scientific discoveries, and knowledge on chernobylite, ventures into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in hopes of finding his precious wife Tatyana. When his original mission goes awry though, thanks to a particularly mysterious figure known as the Black Stalker, Igor must muster up the strength and firepower to strike back and save his wife, who he believes is trapped in the power plant that birthed the existence of this precious resource.
What follows is something much more elaborate though, as Chernobylite brings about an adventure much deeper than its surface level. Sure, your end goal remains much the same, but the title looks to ask a particular question; “How far are you willing to go to save those you care most about?”. Along Igor’s adventure, much of the secrets he uncovers, companions he comes across, and choices he’s met with, all affect his end goal in one way or another. Consistently, the choices you make not only affect yourself and your goal but the remainder of the Exclusion Zone as well.
I was a bit surprised throughout my review just how much Chernobylite presented this question, as your end goal conflicted much with the will of your colleagues. If you focused too much on your quest to save Tatyana, your companions will quickly lose faith in you. And if you inversely care about your ragtag band of companions too much, the goal of Tatyana’s safety will become much, much harder. While you have the opportunity to change some of your previous decisions, the limited chances to do so mean every decision requires plenty of forethinking. One wrong move and your companion’s lives and feelings can be adversely affected.
And Chernobylite gives you plenty of reasons to care about the feelings of your companions. Not only because their feelings affect the means towards your end goal, but they have meaningful story arcs as well. I’d love to speak on the specifics here, but due to spoilers, I’d rather you experience these stories for yourself. Taking the time to speak with them following your daily adventures is compelling, opening up another side of them you wouldn’t otherwise see. Of course, if you couldn’t care less about the story, this is entirely avoidable, but its inclusion serves the story incredibly well.
With all of this wrapped in some excellent story beats and well-earned twists, Chernobylite’s story serves as the shining star of the experience. Emotionally heartfelt, thought-provoking, and intense, you’re bound to be left with many great memories.
Diving Headfirst Into the Exclusion Zone
Funny enough, I went into my Chernobylite review expecting very little out of the gameplay. I was mainly here for the story’s premise, as traditional survival games don’t captivate me much. To my surprise though, it was more compelling than I expected.
One of the more innovative aspects for me was its attempt at survival while remaining a linear experience. Every in-game day, you’ll choose which mission to go on and which of your companions will complete a task for you. From there, you’re dropped into a large map, left to both complete your assigned goal and accomplish whatever side objectives you create for yourself. While these locations are rather small, this opens The Farm 51 to make each of the locations densely packed and full of life. Whether you choose to explore them is up to you in the end (outside of necessity, that is), but the exploration is more than worth your time.
But where there are resources to loot and secrets to find, hostiles are sure to be close by. Whether you wish to sneak past your foes, take them down silently one by one, or head in guns blazing, Chernobylite leaves you the opportunity to handle things how you see fit. Each opportunity comes with its advantages and disadvantages, but each can feel just as satisfying and rewarding. Me personally? I tried stealth until I inevitably failed, then took a few well-timed shots to ensure half an enemy’s head no longer existed. But having tried all options, you can surely do things how you please.
Though be mindful of the fact that your actions in the zone do have consequences. Some choices will increase NAR presence (your run-of-the-mill, bad guy military contractors), while others will let enemies affected by chernobylite leak into the world and wreak havoc. And worst of all, various environmental hazards can cause all sorts of havoc. From impaired vision to increased radiation levels, you’ll have to be on your toes if you wish to make it back home alive. The more you’re willing to risk braving the zone’s dangers, the more you can bring with you on the return trip.
Then, once you return home, you distribute food rations and make changes to your gear and skills. As you venture the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, discover secrets, take down hostiles, and explore, you accrue skill points that can be used on various skills provided by your companions. There are much fewer skills than your traditional RPG fare, but as the old saying goes, less is more. Each of these skills holds a serious weight to it, one I felt throughout my review of Chernobylite. And of course, upgrading your gear based on your playstyle is always a nice touch. I wasn’t expecting companion well-being to affect gameplay as much as it did though. You have to seriously consider what you place down in your base, as it affects the success rate of your companion’s ventures. The better you treat them, the more of a resource stockpile you can create.
Above all else, my gripes mainly lie in one thing. And while it doesn’t affect much, it’s an issue that did prevent me from spending more time in the title than I did. This is the side missions which, as a consequence of them being infinitely repeatable, all feel fairly bland. It’s as simple as go from Point A to Point B, press the interact key, and you’re done. And no matter what type of side mission you do, they all have the same loop. It’s a shame because, with a game harboring as replayable of a story as it does, its side missions are bound to make a second playthrough a slog. I didn’t worry about that as I obviously played through my review of Chernobylite with the main story in mind (and my companions handling side missions entirely), but it’s an area I felt could’ve arguably been done better.
All in all, I’m pleased with the Chernobylite’s gameplay. It isn’t the most innovative title, but I’d be damned if I didn’t have fun with it. It’s one of the few survival games I can tolerate for more than a few hours, let alone enjoy.
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone’s Irradiated Charm
Many comments I’ve seen regarding Chernobylite so far have exclaimed that an irradiated wasteland “has never looked better” and while my undying love for Metro Exodus would say otherwise, through my review I was surprised by how nice everything looked. I was playing on some lower setting as my poor CPU had trouble running the title, but I was surprised about the beauty made of the desolation. Thanks to the smaller, focused open spaces I mentioned above, the artists were able to put plenty of time ensuring every detail of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was densely packed with things to find. Whether it be ruined shacks or abandoned apartment complexes, these remnants left behind of the disaster are deeply felt thanks to some solid design work.
And its sound design, while rough around the edges, further enforced this. With a strong symphony of ambient tracks and the accurate sounds of these deserted locations, things felt all the more serene to travel through. That serenity was at times broken as I was being fried by radiation, but my travels through the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone never felt dull. Weapon sounds did feel a bit off at times and not quite how I was expected, but they were serviceable enough that it didn’t detract from the overall experience. Overall, a solid job albeit nothing incredibly memorable.
All of this is rounded off by a fair amount of polishing. Chernobylite isn’t the most polished game I’ve ever seen, but throughout my review I didn’t encounter too many issues (let alone game-breaking ones). There were a few issues I felt could’ve been polished towards the end, but after experiencing the polish of some other titles, handling these was a walk in the park.
All in all, my review showed that Chernobylite is a game filled with passion from its developers. Its story of love and the power of love is captivating, and proves thoughtful all the way to the conclusion. The gameplay feels formidable as well, with some good tracks and solid atmosphere to boot. It has its rough edges, but what it does right is what easily stands out. For those seeking to relive the glory days STALKER brought about, or simply wish to experience a great story combined with solid combat, Chernobylite offers plenty of treasures worth scavenging its wastelands for.