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|Genres||First-person shooter, survival horror|
|Developers||GSC Game World|
|Publishers||GSC World Publishing
|First release||S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
20 March 2007
|Latest release||S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
2 October 2009
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a series of first-person shooter survival horror video games developed by Ukrainian video game developer GSC Game World for Microsoft Windows. Based very loosely on the novel Roadside Picnic and the 1979 film adaptation Stalker, the games are set in the area surrounding the Chernobyl accident site, called "The Zone", in an alternative reality where a second explosion occurs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant some time after the first and causes strange changes in the area around it.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games take place within "The Zone" - which is an alternate history version of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. According to the games, experimental labs were made in the Exclusion Zone. This allowed scientists the ability to unethically experiment with Psychic capabilities. Their experimentation resulted in a second disaster, causing physical and meteorological phenomena to manifest throughout the "Zone"; in addition, to the mutation of fauna and some humans. As a repercussion to the Scientists' experiments (which had damaged a sort of Psychic Atmosphere), the Zone became semi-conscious. These events are the basis for the alternate history and story the games present.
The Zone is littered with "Anomalies" - hazardous entities which seemingly defy physics, having various effects on any object entering them. For example, the "Vortex" anomaly will pull anything entering its vicinity to its centre, crushing and constricting it, then exploding outwards.
Anomalies often produce items known as "Artifacts", objects with special physical properties such as anti-gravity, or absorbing radiation. As such, they are highly sought after by the research community, corporations and the military due to their potential for advancements in those fields. For this reason, people enter The Zone in hopes of finding such items for personal financial gain. They are known as "Stalkers".
While a great number of Stalkers are considered "Loners", various factions populate The Zone, each with their own philosophies and goals therein. For example, the Duty faction believe that The Zone is the greatest threat to humanity on the planet and are intent on destroying it by any means possible. In contrast, the Freedom faction believe The Zone should be accessible to all. The Armed Forces of Ukraine maintain a cordon around The Zone, attempting to prevent any unauthorised personnel from entering. Additionally, Ukrainian Spetsnaz units conduct special operations within The Zone such as surgical strikes on Stalkers or to secure specific targets.
Anomalous activity within The Zone has resulted in the appearance of various mutated animals and humans. Generally speaking, Mutants are more aggressive and less intelligent than in their original forms. However, most mutated humans possess psionic abilities, making them a great threat to Stalkers.
"Emissions" will occur periodically - a massive release of energy from the centre of The Zone which will kill almost anyone not sheltered at that time.
The protagonists of each game have their own goals separate to those of the various factions, however they are presented opportunities to aid in the plans of others. Generally, the ultimate objective of each game involves reaching the centre of The Zone, a task complicated by the various threats and hazards present therein.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
In the first game of the series, the player takes on the role of an amnesiac S.T.A.L.K.E.R. who is referred to as the "Marked One" tasked with killing another stalker named Strelok. During the course of the game, the protagonist uncovers clues to his past and true identity while helping other stalkers and fighting the mutated creatures that inhabit The Zone.
Eventually, he reaches the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and confronts the C-Consciousness that explains that the Marked One is actually Strelok himself - a stalker who managed to reach their headquarters prior but brainwashed and turned into a sleeper agent - configured to kill himself by mistake.
Shadow of Chernobyl features multiple endings, all of which are dependent on multiple controllable factors, such as money earned during the game, or how much of the protagonist's memory was pieced together.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky
Clear Sky - the second game released of the series - is a prequel to Shadow of Chernobyl. The player assumes the role of Scar, a veteran stalker. Upon being injured by an energy emission while guiding a group of scientists through The Zone, he - the lone survivor of the incident - is rescued by an organization going by the name "Clear Sky"; a faction dedicated to researching and understanding the nature of The Zone for the sake of humanity.
When Scar encounters and survives a second energy emission, Clear Sky theorizes that the emissions are The Zone's way of reacting to human activity, and that with time they will become highly unstable and spiral out of control.
Throughout the game, the player can choose to have Scar side with or against certain factions in the area to help achieve Clear Sky's goal. Ultimately, their plan to stabilize the energy emissions fails, and an enormous energy emission from the Chernobyl plant itself sets the scene for the events of Shadow of Chernobyl to unfold.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
The third game in the series - Call of Pripyat - takes place shortly after the events in Shadow of Chernobyl. Having discovered the open path to the center of The Zone, the government decides to take control of it via "Operation Fairway", in which they plan to thoroughly investigate the territory before dispatching the main military force.
Despite these preparations, the military operation fails, with all five helicopters crashing. In order to determine the cause of the crashes, the Ukraine Security Service sends an ex-S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Major Degtyarev, into The Zone. This is the character that the player assumes control of.
After discovering that the crashes were caused by strong electrical currents, Degtyarev makes his way to an evacuation point located in Pripyat. Along the way, depending on the choices the player makes, he may meet a number of different characters that can become his allies. Eventually, after arriving in Pripyat, Degtyarev's party finds themselves surrounded by the military survivors, who take them to their base. Once there, they work together with the military commander of the helicopter group in surviving and escaping The Zone. Eventually, they are met by Strelok, the protagonist of the first game, who offers his full cooperation including the reasons why the operation failed in the first place.
He explains that the helicopters were taken down by moving electric anomalies. The government had investigated and determined these areas previously, however they were not aware that the locations of the anomalies change with every energy emission in The Zone, so by the time the military forces were sent in, the "safe" corridors utilized by the pilots were no longer so.
Degtyarev then helps to re-establish contact with headquarters and, together with Strelok, organize a desperate evacuation out of The Zone. There are multiple different endings available depending on the player's success; whether or not some of the characters survive the evacuation and how the lives of other stalkers Degtyarev met throughout the game turn out. In the ideal scenario, Degtyarev becomes head of the Security Service in The Zone, and Strelok gives all the materials he found in The Zone to the government, prompting the creation of the "Scientific Institute for the Research of the Chernobyl Anomalous Area", with Strelok taking up the position of chief scientific consultant.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was in development as the new chapter of the series, development of which was announced in August 2010, and the release was scheduled for 2012. Sergiy Grygorovych, CEO of GSC Game World, specified that the video game featured a completely new multi-platform engine, written by GSC itself.
On 23 December 2011, GSC Game World announced they would be continuing development of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, despite an earlier announcement pointing to its cancellation. However, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was cancelled yet again by GSC Game World through a Twitter post on 25 April 2012.
The former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 team has reported that they are opening a new studio, Vostok Games, to create a free-to-play MMOFPS, called Survarium, in the spirit of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise, using ideas they created for the cancelled sequel.
In June 2014, West-Games, which falsely claimed to be composed of former S.T.A.L.K.E.R. developers, launched a Kickstarter campaign for a spiritual successor to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. called Areal. While it managed to reach its goal of $50k, multiple concerns were raised throughout the campaign about the project being a possible scam, and Kickstarter eventually suspended the campaign two days before its deadline, for undisclosed reasons.
The S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series has received very positive reviews from popular gaming websites.
IGN gave Shadow of Chernobyl a rating of 8.2 out of 10, commending it for its audio and lasting appeal, but criticizing its story. GameSpot gave it a rating of 8.5 out of 10, praising the survival gameplay but once again criticizing the story. Metacritic gave a rating of 82 out of 100, commending the game’s visuals but criticizing it for technical glitches. GamesRadar gave it 4.5 stars, once again praising the setting and gameplay but criticizing the amount of time it took to be produced relative to the quality of the game.
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