STALKER: From Russia, with Bugs

By Shamus
on Dec 31, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Several people have posed a perfectly reasonable question:

If you hate STALKER so much, why do you keep playing it?

My last two posts have indeed been pretty harsh, but I’ve been focusing on the shortcomings. There are things to like about this game. It has fun elements to it and some parts are done well. Some parts are admirable for their attempt to try something new, even if they didn’t work out. This game is not your standard march through rooms of bad guys, gunning them down on your way to the Big Bad Boss. This game defies conventional genre definitions, it tries new things, and it obviously aspired to be something great. That it fell short is regrettable, but I think there are still interesting ideas in here. I’m willing to slog my way through the frustration to see the whole thing.

Another good reason to keep playing is because of the fans of the game. There are some people who really love this thing, warts and all. I’ll probably never enjoy it the way they do, but it’s interesting to see what parts of it worked for them. Just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean it’s a failure or wrong. The wannabe game designer inside of me loves to study how people play games and what makes them fun. So, STALKER had elements that worked for Bob but not for me. Why is that? What core philosophy or goal differences do Bob and I have that gave us such different results? Are our goals at odds with each other? Could the game be designed in such a way as to work for both of us?

Someone else mentioned that I shouldn’t complain too much, since I only paid three dollars and seventy-four cents for the game. True, but most people paid about ten times that. The fact that I got lucky doesn’t change the fact that this game, bugs and all, is still sitting at retail for $30. I’ve been keeping that $30 in mind as I play the game. GSC (the developer, I think, although I can’t read Russian) and THQ (the publisher, I’m pretty sure) both deserve a good solid smack for putting this game out with so many bugs, but they also deserve some credit for breaking out of the FPS rut.

A final interesting note is that the game is from Russia Ukraine, and as such comes at storytelling with a very unexpected flavor. Every culture has their own way of storytelling. If you watch a lot of Hong Kong martial arts movies, you’ll see stuff that western writers would never do. Movies with serious grim torture and goofball slapstick characters and a sappy love story, all mixed together like ketchup, fruit loops, and mint ice cream. These movies feel strange when you’re used to Hollywood. Hey! What genre of movie is this supposed to be, anyway? Likewise, the Japanese have their own conventions and attitudes which seem odd to me, but the differences are also refreshing. So, I was curious how a Russian Ukrainian sci-fi story would play out.

UPDATE: RPharazon points out below that the game is from Ukraine, not Russia, thus spoiling my trying-too-hard-too-be-clever title to this post.

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12There are a dozen comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Ozy says:

    I think I may have found one of the great principles of game design you enjoy looking for, and it relates to STALKER. I’ve been playing a lot of Raiden III for PC lately, and if you’ve played any Raiden game you know this means getting killed a lot in Raiden III. But the deaths aren’t so frustrating, and compared to STALKER, I think I see why: in Raiden III, failure always seems to be entirely the player’s fault. Almost every time one dies in Raiden, it can easily be seen in retrospect that if only you hadn’t (insert “obviously” dumbass move here), your ship would still be in one piece and you’d still have all your power-ups!

    If one compared deaths per unit time of Raiden III and STALKER, though, they’d probably be comparable. This might lead one to suspect that they are equally difficult, and this may indeed be the case, but STALKER is difficult in all the wrong ways, which are the ways that make you want to stop playing because the game is stupid, instead of difficult in all the right ways, like Raiden III arguably is, which are the ways that make you want to play again because surely you can’t be that stupid two times in a row, dozens of times in a row.

  2. Ozy says:

    (Opps, dropped the last paragraph there.)

    Does this seem to be the case with you? If STALKER made you feel as though there was an obvious way you could have avoided death, if only you had been more focused, every time it killed you, even if you died just as frequently, what would you think about its difficulty?

  3. RPharazon says:

    Isn’t STALKER from Ukraine?
    I’m pretty sure I read that on Wikipedia as I was browsing through 2 hours’ worth of tabs about the Chernobyl incident and its effects on Europe, etc.

    Correct me if I’m wrong!

  4. Shamus says:

    A lot of the problem seems to be that a lot of the deaths feel “unfair”. (Guys appearing behind me, getting killed by ememies through walls, getting killed by guys who should have gone down when I hit them, dying because my armor is trashed and I can’t replace it, etc etc.)

    But setting aside those deaths and looking at the general run-of-the-mill deaths: One thing I am noticing is that a lot of my these happen in close-range fights. My framerate is usually decent, but it takes a nasty hit when a bad guy gets close. Worse, it’s not just low, but very uneven. Uneven framerates can be worse than low framerates when it comes to spoiling your aim. So a lot if it is just frustration with the controls.

    I’ll be upgrading my GFX card pretty soon. I’ll take a look at STALKER again once I do, and see if the game is significantly easier.

  5. Shamus says:

    Russian vs. Ukrainian: Fixed, thanks.

  6. guy says:

    low framerates+ that no damage bug= bad

  7. yd says:

    Intentional Snatch reference?

    I enjoy reading these reviews even if I’ll never play the game.

  8. SimeSublime says:

    I liked your comment on how different cultures tell stories. I’m currently playing The Witcher, made by Polish developers CDProjectRed. Very different take on generic fantasy. I highly recommend it, if your system can handle it.

  9. Shawn says:

    In Soviet Russia, bugs crash you!

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

  10. Smileyfax says:

    I actually purchased STALKER on the day of release or thereabouts, for $50 (at least, I probably paid that much; almost all new-release PC games retail for that much). The only bugs which actually troubled me were the eternally respawning bandits (from mild forms like respawning after leaving one map and going right back to it all the way up to endless waves of four or five eternally spawning from just behind the crest of a hill) and one particular mission in which I was instructed to find a gun, but the quest compass pointed to an empty courtyard. I later found the gun in a tunnel a few regions away.

  11. Curaidh says:

    I put 70€ (roughly 100$) in Stalker for the Limited Edition with the First Book of the series inside the Box etc. etc.
    I don’t “regret” it, my biggest complaint is the damn DRM System.
    The release version was “buggy”, 1.0004 was decent. In 1.0005 they only changed some Netcode and Multiplayer issues.

    Playing 1.0005 made me lose interest in the game quickly, since I already played through it two times and there’s nothing changed compared to 1.0004. I don’t get Bandits spawning behind me, but I’m playing the Limited-Version which is patched via the ww-patches. Maybe that’s why some people still seem to have issues with that but not me.
    Anyways… Did the First Mission for the Trader and grabbed a silenced Pistol. With that I took out a Military Patrol. Grabbed the AKM/2, finished another two Patrols. Grabbed an Obokan and started removing everybody from the Military Outpost next to the starter Village. This was done on “Stalker”-Difficulty. So after about 3h of gameplay I have an Obokan with two other Obokans stashed safely away as replacements should mine be to heavy damaged, one slightly damaged MERC-suit (from the roof), one undamaged MERC-Suit as backup (bought from the Trader), about 700 Bullets for my Obokan, 63 Bandages, 6 military medkits and 17 standard Medkits along with 5 Frag Grenades.
    Turned up the difficulty, “removed” the checkpoint below the bridge and then my interest was nearly gone. The Game is to easy and predictable if you know what you are doing.
    I still remember my first tries in the bugged retail Version…. not comparable at all to the current state of the game.

    Ah well, anyways. Hope you have some fun with the game Shamus. I sure had some fun playing it and still consider it “good”. Don’t get discouraged if you think something is to hard, try to think totally “out of the box” and you might find situations that you considered “hard” or “unfair” to be a total piece of cake after all. ;)

  12. Clint Olson says:

    Just so you know, Shamus, there’s an annoying Torn City ad showing that has an eye-catching blinking red “CAUTION” in it. It’s quite distracting, and not in a good way.

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