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The wind wisps by as distressed dogs moan from out of the darkness. It’s midnight and I cannot see more than a few feet in front of me. My flashlight sways back and forth as I run, paranoia setting in. I can hear guttural growls but can’t see a thing. A voice comes out of my radio notifying me, with a thick Russian accent, that an emission is coming. I need to find cover desperately. I open my PDA, which has a vague topographical map, to try and find the nearest refuge. I spot what looks like arusted barge and make for an oddly placed wooden door in the side of it. As I reach for the knob I hear a shotgun blast and the door flies open. A man screams out at me from inside. Even though I’ve visited with him before he has no idea who I am. His mutated pet dog growls at me as I shut the door. Though he seems hostile he is actually quite harmless. I pace inside for about five minutes as the screen throbs red. The point of view camera sways as though I drank too much vodka and the sound of the emission is immense. After a few moments the kindly voice comes through my radio to notify me that the emission has passes. I have survived yet another one.
Ukrainian developer GSC World Publishing brings us their third installment of the Stalker franchise and it is quite an accomplishment. This installment picks up shortly after the events of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl. You assume the role of Alexander Degtyarev, a military agent who is tasked with the investigation of a failed attempt to penetrate the center of the ‘zone’. Unlike the previous games, CoP had a very smooth launch, avoiding a lot of the bugs that hindered the previous two releases. The only thing I noticed was the occasional frame-rate drop when objects were being loaded in certain areas. After playing a while I didn’t notice it anymore. The tone of the game is truly eastern European. It’s a bleak, desperate existence where the world’s inhabitants are struggling to survive in a world where wealth is not easily attained and your diet consists of sausage, canned meat, bread, and vodka.
Like any Stalker game I started out confused and overwhelmed. I was not sure where to go or what to do exactly. After a short while I began to figure things out and was noticing nice changes from the previous games. The story this time around is much more coherent than the original. The missions are similar to the other Stalkers but they seem to guide you along better. The original game would give me missions and no map marker for them, or the marker would be wrong. That caused many frustrating hours. I played through the majority of the new missions without any problems at all. It was quite a relief.
The inventory system has been overhauled. It is a much cleaner interface and your weapons and armor are upgradeable. Also there are onscreen notifications if your weapons or armor start to wear down. Unlike the first two games you are able to repair items in CoP. The health system functions the same way, with bleeding and ruptures. You can also find and use many artifacts that give you certain bonuses as well as a nice dose of radiation. Though the artifacts were not nearly as prevalent as they were in the first two games.
A lot of the same enemies make their way back into this sequel but are deadlier. The most memorable occurrence was my first bloodsucker encounter. It actually grabbed a hold of me and began to drain my blood. A truly frightening experience when it is pitch dark and the creature moves around invisible.
The Stalker series is definitely not for every one. It is dark, gritty, and can sometimes be anxiety inducing. Yet I would still recommend it to anyone interested in shooters with some rpg elements. Once you get over the sleight learning curve it is truly a satisfying experience.