Stalking outside, inside, and in a frighteningly worldly world

| Thursday, March 3, 2011
I have a minor habit of buying games during Steam sales in anticipation of when I get a new computer that can run them. Then I noticed that surprisingly, Stalker (I am not going to bother with all caps and periods, they irritate me), runs on my computer. And pretty well. Settings are turned down of course, but it still looks good.

I only started recently, but already I am very jumpy and frightened. I learned to get inside by 1800 and not come out until at least 4, when the sun starts coming up. After a brief foray into a giant hole in the group to get a box, I actually had to load a save from before I jumped in, because I was too damn jumpy to keep going further through the narrow, narrow caves filled with the not-especially-deadly but startling snorks. What is a snork? It's a Russian soldier in a gas mask who was driven insane by a massive dose of radiation and who now enjoys hiding in holes and jumping out at me. At least they're not invisible and able to sneak up literally unseen and grab my head and drain all my blood, killing me while I struggle helplessly like the aptly-named bloodsucker can.


Earlier I talked about how Oblivion handles location, using teleports to discovered map areas, but within dungeons being essentially trapped, with limited bag space, consumables, and even item durability. Stalker follows this in a similar fashion, with the closest thing to teleports being the ability to hire a fellow Stalker to guide you to a location, without needing discovery, and getting you there with no running needed, though I haven't checked on whether time passes.

The world itself is 'bigger' than Oblivion, not due to land area (I think they're on the same scale of magnitude, but Oblivion is slighter larger), but because of non-instant travel and non-trivial travel. You can't sprint the whole way, needing rest, especially with over-full bags, and there are scattered packs of mutated dogs, pigs, and fully human but still not very nice hostile bandits. This leads to a strange behavior: planning. I fix up my bags as best I can, I check the clock, and then I pick a route, making my way along and watching carefully for enemies. Even at the lowest difficulty running into a few bad guys with guns will lead to a quick death.

To add to it, there is a tactical level to exploration: nearly invisible 'anomalies' which in short form: are small spots which can kill or injure you if you get too close. These are a minefield to navigate even once you reach a general location. They are usually fixed/move in a set pattern, but emissions can change their location, so good luck looking up a map online! Oh emissions? Those are the infrequent events which very quickly kill you if you are outside, with some warning, but not enough that you can loiter. This makes location pretty important, with some profitable areas being far away from decent shelter, you're going to have to keep your bags light to be able to run fast enough.

As with some many other things I like, I'm not sure this would work well in WoW. With the high value placed on goals, whether xp, loot, or reputation, anything which gets in the way, however interesting it is, will inevitably be perceived as irritation rather than challenge or immersion. I like a bit of "oh shit oh shit oh shit run run run shit shit shit run" when the world is meant to be explored rather than looted, but I don't think I'd like my random heroics or dailies being interrupted by the equivalent of random Sapphiron ice block-style mechanics. After all, those aren't meant to be fun an exciting; they're meant to give sweet epics. Alas, I am again left to sadly suggest that a loot-oriented game must sacrifice fun and immersion if they conflict, or even appear to conflict, with the acquisition of more loot.

P.S. The misuse of worldly is intentional.


Duht said...

Stalker is brutal, if I wasn't busy being uber powerful in Rift in my free time, I would be all over stalker again. I suck extra hard at that game.

Nils said...

You know I agree. But I decided to tell you, anyway.

Tesh said...

How does the tension and "gotcha" stuff compare to a much more constrained game like a Silent Hill? Does the open spaces to explore make the scary stuff *stronger* because it's not as pervasive?

Klepsacovic said...

@Duht: I can only play it thanks to the difficulty slider. A glorious invention!

@Nils: Is there a context for your comment that I am missing?

@Tesh: I've not played Silent Hill. I would say it helps add contrast. The open spaces aren't perfectly safe, so you still need to be alert (read: tense), so then when you go into some dark cramped hole, you're all ready to be jumpy.

Nils said...

You should know that I agree, due to my post about MMORPGs without character power progression.

I agree that too much a focus on personal achievements is what makes some content annoying that would otherwise have been interesting.

Tesh said...

I haven't played Silent Hill either, but reading about it at Twenty Sided has given me some sense of the games. I believe that tension works best when it's variable, otherwise the player gets used to it and starts ignoring it. It seems like the SH games do some of that, but I suspect that the open world of Stalker changes that somewhat.

Other questions, then: Is stealth an option, and do baddies follow you forever or lose interest at some point?

Naithin said...

They will stop following after a time, but depending on the environment you're in it's not always possible to make use of that fact.

However, in other situations it creates a hilarious throwback to MMO monster 'banding, before the days of 'Evade' were thought up.

There is a part relatively near to the beginning of the game where you can pull some army guys a few at a time toward a spot you can get cover which also happens to be at the range of their 'I'll this far, and no more!' distance.

If you do it right, you can pluck a few from the main group, dash to cover, then juuuust before they're about to turn tail, shoot one, have him carry on and have the others return.

Not quite what they had in mind by 'emergent gameplay' methinks. ;)

Still, it's a great game and reading this has made me want to go through and install it again.

Klepsacovic said...

@Nils: Oh right, duh. Yes. I wish I had played more MMOs other than WoW so that I could better back up this claim: single-player games are inevitably better at mixing goal-oriented play (a perfect sandbox can be disorienting) with interesting elements.

@Tesh: Enemies are not omniscient. They're also not stupid and will use stealth to their advantage as well. I don't know how far humans will chase (never gave them a chance), but I know some of the mutated animals are territorial and won't chase forever.

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