Sunday, July 11, 2004


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl is starting to interest me, even though the odds of it being a great game, in spite of the hype, are very low. It’s an open-ended FPS set in the Exclusion Zone of Chernobyl, with about 60% of the 18 kilometer game area modeled on actual terrain in that zone. I really like the post-apocalyptic overtones, almost like a real-world Fallout.

There’s a very good preview at Gamespot: If you’re lazy, here are a few highlights: “…a futuristic sci-fi premise that includes a society of competing scavengers who scour their surroundings for remnants of highly classified research…The game paints a grim picture of a bombed-out, irradiated area bereft of normal life after a second reactor meltdown at Chernobyl in the near future…While the government has declared the Zone off-limits, scavengers have begun to quietly invade the site in search of these artifacts, since these rare items command an extremely high price on the black market. You play as one of these scavengers, known as stalkers…”

Stop. You had me at 'grim.'

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also has some gee-whiz graphics, seemingly on par with Half-Life 2 and Doom 3 (seemingly). No complaints there.

Here’s what I think will be the problem. Great ideas usually don’t make great games—a great idea is just the first step. I can’t even begin to count how many great ideas turned out to be totally crappy games because development was rushed or the team just wasn’t capable of living up to the idea. The developers are GSC Game World in Ukraine. According to Moby Games, here are the games actually developed by GSC in the last few years:
--Cossacks: European Wars 2000)
--Cossacks: The Art of War 2001)
--Codename: Outbreak 2001)
--Cossacks: Back to War 2002)
--American Conquest 2002)

I’m certainly not dancing in the streets over any of those titles, although I’m glad they got off the colon coaster with American Conquest. The only title with an FPS element was Codename: Outbreak, which was a budget game that got lukewarm reviews at best. There’s absolutely nothing in their pedigree that suggests they can pull this off.

Of course, you could have said the same of Remedy Entertainment. In 1996, they released Death Rally, a top-down racer/shooter that was a minor cult classic. In 2000, I saw them at E3 in a mobile home on the Gathering of Developers lot. A Finnish kid who looked like he was sixteen and had never shaved in his life was showing Max Payne, and while the footage was terrific I never thought they could actually finish it. I was sorry, too, because the guys we met on the development team all seemed so sincere and genuinely nice. They did finish it, though, and while Max Payne was a very good game, Max Payne 2 was a great game (my choice as the second best game of last year behind KOTOR). So it’s not impossible—just unlikely.

As to release dates, it’s still officially Q4. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.

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