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Review: Creepy 'S.T.A.L.K.E.R.' returns to Chernobyl

Story Highlights

• "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." is rated "Mature" for violence and language
• Thriller won't disappoint fans of first-person action games
• Single-player game boasts more than 60 hours of game play
By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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While it didn't make the papers, the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986 spawned an army of zombies bent on destroying humanity.

Well, this appears to be the case in THQ's latest computer game, "S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl."

This is a creepy thriller for the PC that has you return to the radioactive spot in northern Ukraine many years later to face bizarre mutants and other nasty threats.

Played from a first-person perspective, game play takes place in the near future and exclusively inside this quarantined zone.

You're a "Stalker," a freelance mercenary who also is trying to regain his memory after a bout of amnesia, and your goal is to stay alive long enough to recover rare artifacts with magical properties to sell to the scientific community, military agencies and anonymous collectors with deep pockets.

With the money procured, you can buy better weapons, ammunition, equipment and protective suits to be worn in areas with extremely high radiation levels. You can also trade items -- including the valuable artifacts -- with other characters in the game.

You can consume artifacts, too, but each comes at a price: The gelatinous Slug artifact, for example, can drive out radiation and nourish you, but it also makes you extremely susceptible to thermal, electric or chemical injury.

Because of its creepy atmosphere and disturbing creatures, "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." is billed as a "survival shooter" game, combining elements from the "survival horror" genre (popularized by games such as "Resident Evil") and 3-D shooter games (including the "Half-Life," "Unreal" and "Doom" series).

While at Chernobyl, you will also experience other game types, such as stealth, RPGs (role-playing games) and tactical action games. With the latter, you can either go at it alone or work with computer-controller allies to solve the nonlinear mission objectives.

In fact, the game's artificial intelligence is quite good -- if you take down a guard, for example, his colleagues will probably run for cover and radio for help.

And be prepared to play for a long while as the single-player game boasts more than 60 hours of game play to accomplish everything, not to mention multiplayer modes for up to 32 simultaneous players online.

Along with familiar game-play modes, such as "Death Match" (every player for himself; whoever gets the most "frags," or kills, before the time limit, wins), "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." also offers fun team-based games, including "Artifact Hunt," where players are split into "Stalkers" and "Mercenaries," and each must deliver an artifact to the opposing team's base; doing so successfully gives the team one point. Players, presumably on a winning team, can also "activate" a stray artifact, turning it into a deadly anomaly that can't be picked up.

Because of its many missions and modes, chilling atmosphere and interwoven role-playing elements, "S.T.A.L.K.E.R." won't disappoint fans of first-person action games.

Just be sure to take notice of the game's "Mature" rating (for players age 17 and older) because of its intense violence and gore, and strong language.

In the game, a mercenary fights zombies spawned after the Chernobyl disaster.


'S.T.A.L.K.E.R.' Score: 8 stars (out of 10)

Rating: Mature (17+)

Platform: PC

Publisher: THQ

Price: $39.99
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