Review: Stalk Through the Exclusion Zone in Chernobylite

Screenshot: Chernobylite Ever since I was a kid I’ve had a bit of an obsession with nuclear apocalypse and catastrophe. It’s no wonder, then, that I was a bit of a nerd about the Chernobyl disaster decades before the HBO series. Imagine my surprise, then, that Chernobylite  takes its subject matter so seriously as to include some pretty impressive recreations of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and its interiors. But those are just flavor and atmosphere to a game that’s about surviving in Chernobyl’s exclusion zone as you look for clues, avoid mercenaries, and brave radiation and the creatures that come from it. Chernobylite is a first person survival game that is semi-open world. In it you play as Igor, a man who is determined to discover the truth about the fate of his wife who disappeared on the night of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The past and present intertwine in interesting ways as you scour the exclusion zone for documents to put together the truth. Aiding in your journey is the mineral Chernobylite. Named after the real life substance, the in-game Chernobylite is a crystalline mineral with magical properties that allow all manner of sci-fi-type happenings. For instance, your character builds a portal gun out of a DeWalt drill—made possible by Chernobylite. But you’re not the only person who learned how to use this substance, as a mysterious masked soldier ambushes you and your mercenary companions, killing one and forcing you into hiding. In hiding, you have to build a base of operations from which you can go out into the exclusion zone to run missions. Screenshot: Chernobylite The ultimate goal of Chernobylite is to run a “heist” in the hopes of saving your wife—or discovering the truth. To do this you’ll need to do lots of preparation. That includes recruiting a group of fighters to help with the operation, and building a base of operations to house them in a comfortable way. At your base you have the option to build various work stations and upgrade benches to build and upgrade weapons, as well as various supplies like health kits and anti-radiation medicine. Base building in Chernobylite feels more like a management game, and unlike in other games where base building feels more like a tacked-on hobby, in Chernobylite it’s required—and important to do well. Not only do you have to worry about the health of your people, but also their comfort—that includes places to sleep, air quality, and radiation mitigation. Chernobylite isn’t really an open world game--instead, there are several zones you can visit. Each day you take binoculars, look upon the exclusion zone, and plan that day’s activities. You can only complete one mission a day, so sending out other members of your team to perform some tasks can be helpful. As you’re out in the exclusion zone performing missions, you have to not only look out for NAR mercenaries, but also radiation and sometimes even strange creatures. The longer you play, the more dangerous the exclusion zone gets. That means more radiation, increased NAR presence and more. Screenshot: Chernobylite Stealth is of huge importance in Chernobylite. While stealth works like it does in most other games, you don’t have as many skills to deal with wandering enemies—especially early on.  You can’t even perform a stealth takedown without killing soldiers until you learn specific skills by spending skill points. Acquiring skills in Chernobylite is handled a bit unconventionally. Most games just require you to put a point into a skill, often requiring some sort of prerequisite on a branching skill tree. In Chernobylite the skills you have available to you are based on the people you have in your employ. Each person can potentially teach you something new—and it’s still not as simple as spending skill points. You’ll have to “practice” the skill in a short tutorial-like mission. As much as I appreciated this change of pace, I was actually a little annoyed at having to go through that rigmarole for every skill learned. Screenshot: Chernobylite Chernobylite is a really great looking game. I mean, it’s absolutely one of the best looking games I’ve played in a while. It has absolutely gorgeous environments that are both moody and immersive. Sometimes it borders on photorealism, and I’m actually surprised my (super beefy) computer is even possible of such fidelity. Unfortunately, production values aren’t as consistent throughout. The English voice acting is a little hit or miss—with some line deliveries feeling completely off. For instance, your wife’s voice is constantly telling your character to perform certain actions or warning him of danger—these line deliveries are often awkward, or just strange. Further, some of your companions say some phrases with inappropriate inflection. There’s a line where a companion, “What’s wrong with you Igor?” and while the context is meant to be empathetic, the line is delivered like you’re being scolded. That’s just one example of many. I really enjoyed my time with Chernobylite—it was actually a bit of a surprise. While I expected something a little like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl , I didn’t expect Chernobylite’s focus on the real history of Chernobyl, and how it weaves it into its story. I mean, I wouldn’t show it to a history class, but running down the halls of the Chernobyl plant, and being told to hit the AZ-5 button in the control room is an amusing moment from the intro—even if it was sometimes a little too on-the-nose—especially with the 3.6 roentgens, “not great, not terrible” comment. Visually, the exclusion zone has never looked better in a video game. If you’re hankering for a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. –lite experience with gorgeous graphics, Chernobylite might be the game for you. Screenshot: Chernobylite Chernobylite is available now for PC via Steam.       If you like the video game, tabletop, or other technology content that Third Coast Review has to offer, consider donating to our Patreon. We are the only publication in Chicago that regularly reviews video games, and we cover lots of local Chicago-based events and more. If you want to contribute to our coverage of Chicago’s video game scene (and more) please consider becoming a patron. 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Antal Bokor

Antal is video game advocate, retro game collector, and video game historian. He is also a small streamer, occasional podcast guest, and writer.