| Tuesday, March 15, 2011
So funny story, I misread and started off playing the third Stalker game, not the first. Apparently Call of Pripyat (the one I've been playing) is last, with Shadow of Chernobyl and Clear Sky being the first and second, respectively. That story wasn't very funny.

Anyway, I downloaded the first one and started it. So far my impression is that the UI is pretty bad*. Also the combat system is just plain stupid. If you aren't aiming at the target, you will, of course, miss. If you are aiming at the target, you might also miss. You know attack rolls? Yea, it does those. So not only do you need aim, you also need RNG blessing. It's like the worst possible mix of FPS and RPG. Normally iron sights are more accurate than shooting from the hip with a crosshair, unless the iron sights aren't giving you the pixel-precision you need to even have a chance of hitting the target.

[edit] Upon further research, this appear to be an issue in the prequel (Clear Sky), not SoC. It turns out my aiming problem in SoC was due to having really awful weapons, not a game mechanics problem.

Back on the subject of the UI: at vendors the items you have equipped are not separated out, so there's a chance that you'll literally sell the shirt off your back. The same when looting corpses. The world is dynamic, with an active AI, which sounds great, until this happens: You are sent to save a camp from bandits, which you do, killing all bandits in sight and getting the completion message, but on the way back to get your reward, a new pack of bandits show up and kill the camp. FAILED! Oh sure, it makes sense in a way, that you didn't quite save the camp, but you did what you were hired to do, save the camp, an action which I think we can separate from eternally guarding the camp.

But my real point was this: I started over again. After beating it. Yes, started playing a new game in Call of Pripyat after having beaten it maybe a day or two before. I missed a few things, such as the previously posted failed gassing of the bloodsuckers, but I missed something else: the gameplay. It was just plain fun. Going through the tunnel to Pripyat (strangely I never got a call, perhaps they're not being literal), even when I knew when I would be attacked, it still made me jump.

It wasn't all trivialized. Bullets were still bullets. Oh but yes, my gear was better. I mean, I had a better idea of where to get some decent weapons, so I wasn't trying to use an AK variant as a sniper rifle and I didn't waste all my weight carrying around sausages (noobs are pretty funny in their stupidity). Maybe that's part of what I liked: doing it better. I knew where I had set up barriers to my progress and I more quickly removed them.

That's a process that I enjoy: learning and putting it to use to do things better. Not memorization (though I'd be lying if I said I didn't learn some scripted events), but learning methods to make my virtual life easier and less fear-inducing. Things like knowing that I don't actually need that stupid box at the bottom of a giant hole filled with snorks, so I can wait until I have a badass exoskeleton and a slightly less awesome shotgun with a nice 10 shot magazine. Or simpler things like not carrying heavily damaged weapons because no one wants to buy them and repair can cost more than the value of the weapon.

Then there was that good old exploration thing. I missed a few holes. Turns out one of them had zombies, zombie rats, and the legendary Oasis which can cure all my ills! Also, a psychic dog that induces nightmares and hallucinations.

I cannot imagine ever leveling through a starter zone in WoW and immediately thinking, "hey, I should delete this guy and do that again!" Yet it another game that's pretty much what I did. It's strange. Can a MMO never match the gameplay of a single-player game? Certainly lag will cause some limits, but even beyond that, there seems to be something lacking. Story-telling? Certainly not graphics, which aren't bad, but when they're turned down for older hardware, lots of the spectacular lighting and weather effects are lost, so it's not blowing away WoW, which beside that has good bad graphics anyway. Maybe it's just the satisfying element of guns, and no corpse runs.

P.S. Buy Call of Pripyat, it's an awesome game. Buy Shadow of Chernobyl if for some reason you like horribly unpolished games. Oh, on that subject, I forgot to mention that sometimes the translation (it's originally Russian) is bad, as in, opposite, as in, it says the stuff is in the basement when there is no basement and it is in fact in the attic.


Bobila said...

The UI in SoC is a pain, as when I first played I accidentally sold the guns I had equipped thinking they were extras...

With the better weapons that come later, the bullets disperse less as they travel and the guns are more accurate and stick closer to the center. In CoP, at least, body shots against humans do more noticeable damage than SoC. In SoC it's more headshot or go home. The issue with the iron sight is that it blocks a lot of your view. The bullets spread out a lot less, but once you factor in bullets falling in height as they travel and the view blocking and it makes hard to know what you're 'accurately' shooting at. Took awhile for me to get a handle on where they were landing.

If you go back to SoC I recommend grabbing the community ZRP mod/patch. While the official version is a lot less buggy than the initial release (e.g. quests could complete by just reloading), the community patch addresses a slew of others with gameplay tweaks. Nothing serious, but it adds things like hotkey for antirads. The Complete 2009 mod has the ZRP fixes but overhauls the graphics by A LOT, but seems to cause stability issues with a number of people.

The quest system can produce odd things with enemy NPCs. I completed a mission and returned to an outpost only to find that bandits managed to kill the NPCs there before I returned. I found this humorous, but annoying since it's faction related. Thankfully the main quest line is idiot proof. Slightly related, my favourite part of CoP is the artificial life system they have in place. The amount of life it breathes into a world is impressive.

I found the mystery in SoC's plot, and the lower emphasis on mutants, gave SoC a better theme and atmosphere than CoP, and a more enjoyable experience overall for me personally. The favourite of the series discussions generally end up dividing people mostly between SoC and CoP, with a smaller portion in the Clear Skies camp.

Klepsacovic said...

I'll try out that mod. Thanks a lot for the tip. I don't like to throw out a game that has potential, which is definitely does.

Zoso said...

Equally funny story: I played SoC when it was released, then bought the Complete THQ Pack a few years later on Steam. It included a Stalker game that I thought was the second one, so I downloaded and installed it, found out it was actually SoC and I'd already played it.

I really liked CoP, it managed to knock off a lot of the rough edges, though I thought the end segment once you hit Pripyat was slightly weaker. SoC is a weird mess in places ("Don't just stand there, come in! Don't just stand there, come in! Don't just stand there, come in! Don't just stand there, come in! Don't just stand there, come in!"), but for overall plot and atmosphere I think it just edges it.

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