Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

What light from yonder Ukraine breaks?

A surprise Christmas present from GSC, at which there appears to remain some life despite the awful news that they (and with them Stalker 2) had apparently been shut down earlier this month:

“Dear Stalkers: We will not be releasing any official news until around mid January. However there is cause for hope! Good hunting!”>

That is all. But that is something. And it’s the second claim that all might not yet be lost in as many weeks, meaning the rescue operation is hopefully bearing fruit. Good luck, brave Ukrainians.

Eurogamer


For an area that's been blasted by radiation for the past twenty years, the sloping hills of the countryside around Chernobyl are impressively virile. The grasses have shifted from soft greens to muted browns, admittedly, but there's still a lot of vegetation, and, more worryingly, a lot of wildlife.


The first thing you kill in S.T.A.L.K.E.R (and that's the last time I type it out like that), is likely going to be something that mostly resembles a dog. It'll be hairless, with a few open sores covering a big chunk of its body, and, by and far the most noticeable thing about it, it'll be trying to eat your face.


But the dogs of Stalker travel in packs, and they'll only attack in packs. Thin them out a little with a quick bark of your gun and the rest will scatter and whine, with the stumps of what were once tails held firmly between their legs.


Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl was an incredible game, in the most literal sense. It inspired incredulity, forcing you, again and again, to question whether something was happening because it was scripted to happen like that, or just because you happened to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen. More often than not, it was the latter.


GSC were absentee developers. In this sense, that's a good thing. Throughout playing any of the three Stalker games, it's difficult to feel like their attention is ever really on you. Instead it's on organising a hillside scuffle between the dog-things and those boar-things. Or orchestrating some skirmish between two gangs of Stalkers, or maybe some bandits. Or swirling up some horrendous, travelling anomaly, that will pull you into a whirlwind of radiation and wind, before flaying you alive. But it wasn't created for you - you just happened to be the dummy that walked into it. Idiot.


It's a world that exists despite you, rather than because of you. In an industry where a game like Skyrim has enough stuff for you to stumble across and trigger to distract you into thinking this is a living, breathing world, GSC actually managed to do it, for the most part. There are still scripted sequences, but those became less and less prevalent across the development of the three games, until Call of Prypiat just dropped you into the Zone with a vague mission to investigate some downed choppers and left you to it.


It's a world that has a palpable sense of history, which makes sense, given that the game world genuinely does have history. It's modelled exquisitely on photographs taken of the real Chernobyl, only slightly altered to allow for a better game environment. So you have locations like Prypiat and the reactor, places that truly exist. But there's a disconnect from reality at the point of that reactor explosion, where the Zone starts to be filled with the weird and not-so-wonderful. Mutants and anomalies, artifacts and radiation.


And so the game makes its own history, filled with enterprising Stalkers and militant (and military) factions vying for control of this potential gold mine, despite the beyond hostile conditions and cutthroat bandits. Each game builds on this, filling in more blanks while creating larger mysteries. It's only natural that somewhere like the Zone is going to raise more questions than answers, what with its anomalies and wide swathes of highly radioactive swamplands.


You came thirty years too late, all the answers have been and gone. Everywhere is a ruin, an architectural memory that could have been caused by the original reactor explosion, or anything since. And you don't really want to investigate too much, because the game instills a clear sense of fear within the first hour. Curiosity will very much get you killed, because there are mutants and anomalies and artifacts and bandits and everything you can't see.


All of this would be moot if Stalker was just a shooter. If everything was something to kill, and everything was killed beneath the horrendous onslaught of your assault rifle and grenades. Fortunately, Stalker isn't just a shooter. It's got shooting, but it's sneakily disguised itself as an RPG. In fact, it's more of an RPG than a lot of RPGs are RPGs. Beyond the slot based inventories, the gun degradation, the crafting, the side quests, RPGs are fundamentally about choice, and that's what separates them from other games. The choice on whether or not to do something, or which of two somethings you want to do.


The choices Stalker provides you with are minute to minute, and mostly small. The most common, by far, is merely one of action or inaction. The levels are large enough to afford you with quite the view; almost everyone you come across will start off as a few pixels in the distance before you get closer. The problem being, a few pixels isn't the best indicator of whether that's the kind of guy you could sit down and trade stories about the crazy s**t you've seen, or the kind of guy who will shoot you in the head and steal all the crazy s**t you've stolen.


It necessitates anxiety. It forces a kill-or-be-killed mentality on you, because it's either that or you're on the be-killed end of that see-saw. You very, very rarely feel safe in a Stalker game, which is a sharp u-turn from the vast majority of shooters, where expressing your dominance through the form of ranged death-dispensing is the main point.


You'll die in Stalker. You'll die by the hands of the bandits who ambush you when you slip through a tunnel. You'll die by the claws of the mutated wildlife, because you were too busy looking at your map to notice the howls getting closer. You'll die by the superior weaponry of the Duty, who killed you because you walked into the wrong corner of the zone. You'll die by the terrifying face-fronds of the invisible bloodsuckers, because you're somewhere you really shouldn't be.


It's a game that makes fear palpable again, and manages it in a way that most games don't quite manage. It comes back to that randomness, the procedural nature of the AI and the unpredictable nature of you, the player. This is a world where there are things, and you have the option of stumbling across them and being killed by those things.


Which probably isn't the best way to recommend or laud a game. Who wants to die over and over? But that's part of the point; the Stalker games create an environment that is apathetic of you at the best. It doesn't make allowances, or pay any undue attention to what it is that you're doing, and that's liberating. It means the game has stepped back and allowed you the space to enjoy your own story, rather than the one that has been prepared for you. Even if that story is some minor, insignificant tragedy that is followed by a quickload and a second attempt, it's yours.


The first time I played Call of Prypiat, it took me about an hour to establish myself, get a better gun, make a few friends. In the middle of some marshland, I start to hear this wooshing whip sound, like a tornado flying right by my ear before coming back and doing another flyby. It was one of the few warnings you get in Stalker, and this was a warning of a blowout, a heavy, deadly radiation storm that will flay you alive if you don't find cover. Helpfully, the game provided a marker towards a nearby cave, and I legged it.


Despite the darkness, the way the stone walls muted the outside winds was reassuring. Besides, I had a flashlight, and a sleeping bag, so I should be fine. A moment later, I had light. A moment after that I was back out in the storm again.


I'd rather be flayed alive than share a cave with a dozen sleeping blood suckers, all of them standing straight upright, arms planked to their sides, and head slightly hung, face fronds quivering with each breath. Screw that.


Last weekend, GSC closed its doors, and with it, there's a good chance that Stalker 2 will never see the hazy, slightly irradiated light of day.


It's impossible for a studio closure to be anything but a bad thing. People's jobs are lost, projects are abandoned, and legacies are ended. But such is the homogenisation of games that it's difficult not to expect some of these closures. The people who play games have only so much money to spend on them, and so when a genre gets crowded, it's inevitable that some games won't do so well, and the developers who make those games fall by the wayside.


When the developer that closes isn't crowding a genre, when they're actually forging their own way and creating something grand and unique, something that should be a trailblazer rather than a sideshow, it's difficult not to feel like this is a greater tragedy, like we're not just losing a competent studio but instead an entire future, a way that games could have gone but didn't. It's happened too many times, and that it's still happening, when it's so much easier to reach your audience, to create an audience thanks to the internet, is heartbreaking.

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Rumour suggests STALKER devs GSC have shut down">Stalker Call of Pripyat



A Ukranian news site is reporting that the developers of Stalker and Stalker 2, GSC have shut down their studio. An "informed source" told them that founder and CEO, Sergei Grigorovich made the announcement at a staff meeting, saying that the company was closing because of unspecified "personal reasons." RPS spotted a tweet from the company denying that GSC has been closed, but that has since been deleted. If true, it would be a sudden and very sad turn of events. We'll know what's happening for certain when GSC make official comment.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to What games will you play this weekend?">



Every weekend begins with a dream: to sit at home, in front of our PCs, and play games until we fall asleep. The problem? There are too many games to choose from. As a result, we spend most of Friday thinking about what we're going to play and planning in advance. Maybe you have this problem too, maybe you're looking for suggestions for what you could try, and maybe you have suggestions for us. Read on for the PC Gamer team's ideas for what to play this weekend.





Stalker: Call of Pripyat - Craig

Call of Pripyat Complete was just released, so now's the perfect time to return to the irradiated hell hole surrounding Chernobyl. The mod alters the weather, graphics and sound, AI and fixes a few missing elements, but the quests and characters remain unchanged. It's a prettier apocalypse.







The Dreamcast Collection, Dragon Age 2 - Tim

I’m laptop bound, so I’ve got to play stuff that won’t break its horrendous on-board graphics. I’ve started playing the Dreamcast Collection on Steam. The Dreamcast is the first console I owned, and the only reason I bought it was because Crazy Taxi hypnotised my in an arcade during a weekend break in Blackpool. The conversions are pretty ropey, and they’re massively dated, but that’s just fine. Because Space Channel 5 Part 2 has Michael Jackson as an end boss. Which is cool. When I get back on Sunday, though, I’m slumping into a chair and mainlining Dragon Age 2 until I fall asleep in a pool of dribble. Read our review if you're thinking of doing the same.







Bulletstorm - Tom

If anyone was put off this game at first, like me, I really recommend soldiering on at least until you get the cannonball thingy. It's not a great weapon, but that's the point at which all the other weapons, upgrades and environmental hazards really started to click for me. You have enough options that the fights have a rhythm to them, where you're doing a different combination of violent crimes to each guy.



I'm going back to it this weekend to finish it off - I'm fighting a big thing, so presumably I'm near the end. I've become a lot more tolerant of the dismal plot since I confirmed my suspicion that Trishka is played by Jennifer Hale, the female Shepard voice from Mass Effect. Now, if I pointedly look in the other direction, I can imagine a very Renegade Shepard is one of the main characters.









Princess Maker 2 - Graham

I'll probably spend some time playing Crazy Taxi, and if a copy of Dragon Age 2 should materialise, I'll try that. But most of my weekend will be spent raising my daughter, Mount-Everest Acebomb, and endeavouring to steer her towards a path of virtue and adventure. It's a stat-heavy game almost entirely governed by menus, but there's so many options available that you can have personal, fascinating experiences as a freakishly controlling and overbearing father. Apparently there's 76 endings. So far my own daughter is mostly showing an aptitude for cooking and cleaning, and destined to become a housewife, but I'll try to change that this weekend before her 18th birthday.



What are you all planning on playing this weekend? Let us know in the comments.
Shacknews - Jeff Mattas
PC Gamer reports that an incredibly ambitious Russian mod team called World of Stalker has embarked on the monumental task of recreating GSC's survival-horror shooter series, .S.T.A.L.K.E.R., as a Crysis mod.

The team has dubbed the project 'Cryzone - Sector 23," and has released some early video footage (with Russian voice-over) that we've embedded after the break. Cryengine 2's brand new physics engine seems to improve things quite a bit over the original game, and you can already see the original game shining through, despite the early stages of the makeover.

World of Stalker also plans to tweak a few of the gameplay systems, such as including an enhanced healing system (similar to Far Cry 2) that enables players to inject themselves with healing drugs, or remove bullets from themselves, after having been shot. The Sector 23 section of the Ap-Pro forums has some more information about the project, provided your Russian (or browser-based language translator) is up to the task.

As far as we can tell, Cryzone - Sector 23 isn't a sanctioned effort, so there's no telling how long the project will survive, or if it'll be allowed to see a release

Read More

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Modders recreating STALKER in Cryengine 2">



A brave Russian mod team has challenged themselves to port the whole of GSC's survival horror, STALKER, into Crysis' more advanced engine. The project's called Cryzone - Sector 23, and is far along enough for the team to have released a video of the mod in action. You'll find the video embedded below.



The mod is the work of a team called World of Stalker. It's still a work in progress, but famous elements from the STALKER series are already in there, including the bleak landscapes, anomalies, and groups of terse Russian men sitting around campfires.



The video shows off some of the destructability and improved physics that comes with the upgrade to Cryengine 2. The mod plans to add some new features to the game, including a Far Cry 2 style healing system, in which your character must fix wounds by injecting themselves, or removing bullets from wounds. For more information on the mod, check out the Sector 23 page on the AP forums. It's a staggering undertaking, but judging from the video below, the results could be pretty spectacular.



PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to STALKER: Call of Pripyat mod tools released">



As a special New Year's Eve present, STALKER developers CDC have decided to release the full Software Development Kit for the X-ray 1.6 engine, the force behind the most recent STALKER game, Call of Pripyat. This is the first time fans have had access to fully featured mod tools for the latest STALKER game, and the new tools will give players the power to create whole single player and multiplayer missions. Check out the official STALKER site to get your hands on the new tools.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Atari games and STALKER going cheap this week">



This week in the US Direct2Drive is offering sales on some of Atari's best games, including 75% off Kings Bounty and the superb Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. Meanwhile today's Games for Windows Marketplace deal is selling STALKER for 99 cents. Read on for details.



Here's a round up of the Atari deals that will be happening on Direct to Drive in the US this week.





Now - Star Trek Online, 50% off, $9.95

Later today - Test Drive Unlimited, 50% off, $9.95

Wednesday - Haunted House, 75% off, $4.95

Thursday - King's Bounty, 75% off, $7.50

Friday - The Chronicles of Riddick Assault on Dark Athena, 75% off, $9,95



 

Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena comes bundled with the superior Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Both offer plenty of well crafted action for budget price. The magical turn based kingdom builder, King's Bounty, is both a remake of the ancient predecessor to the classic Heroes of Might and Magic games, and a spiritual successor at the same time, spicing up the well worn old formula with a crazy sense of humour and a proper story.



On Games for Windows Marketplace the original STALKER: Shadow of Chenobryl is on sale for today only at the ridiculous price of 99 cents / 75p. Moody survival horror doesn't get much better than STALKER's post apocalyptic landscapes, and where the game once had a reputation for being one of the buggiest games around, a wealth of patches and an incredible modding scene have transformed it into a classic. At 99 cents, it's probably worth a look.



Shacknews - Xav de Matos
One of my favorite PC games could make its way to your gaming collection, if you're willing to part with a crisp George Washington. As today's Games for Windows "Daily Deal," the GSC Game World-developed shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl is available for 99 cents (or 80MS Points).

If you're planning on picking the game up--or own it and haven't fired it up in a while--make sure to download the "Complete" mod, which adds a slew of enhancements to the game. The latest S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Complete 2009 mod kit is available right now, for free, on FileShack.

The Games for Windows marketplace is offering a new title for 99 cents each day until December 8. Previously the sale featured Viva Pinata and Deus Ex, among others.

More post-nuclear fallout action is planned for the far-flung future, with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 planned for release in 2012. The series' most recent entry, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, launched earlier this year.

Read More

PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Create a quest for STALKER 2">



GSC have launched a competition asking entrants to design their own mission for STALKER 2. The best entries will be forwarded to the game's lead developers, and might even make it into the full game as a playable mission.



The competition is being run from the STALKER Facebook page, and asks participants to send in a description of the mission in a standard font, in less than half a page of A4. Here's what they're after, and what you stand to win:



Each entry must contain:



Quest name and description;

Mission details (what happened, what needs to be done);



"Contest benefits: The names of the contest winners will be included in the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.-2 credits. The best ideas from the contest may be implemented in the new S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game. This said, the developers retain the right to change the quest looks or implementation, while preserving the key author's idea."



There's a short list of rules on the Facebook page, asking players not to submit entries that "have nothing to do with the subject matter" and are "obviously impossible to implement", which quickly put pay to my "radioactive power plant that hides secret T-Rex" idea. In bonus bizzaro news, it looks as though GSC want to expand beyond their recently teased TV show, and break into fashion, with this clothing line. Is post apocalyptic chic the next big thing?



...

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