I had another post cooking on the story and other gameplay elements in STALKER, but the discussion generated by the last post and the various strategies offered by other players prompted me to revisit the difficulty issue.
One thing that’s clear is that some of us are playing different versions of the game. There have been five major patches to this thing as they took it from “unplayable” at launch to “buggy but tolerable”. Some people described stealth tactics that I don’t think are even possible in my build of the game. In my game, once foes are alerted to me, they tend to zero in on me regardless of noise / cover.
* I’ve played enough tactical shooters to know you don’t rush in and circle-strafe during combat. What I hated was that this never applied to the bad guys. I’d be lying prone, the enemy would be standing and moving, and yet as we traded fire with identical weapons (or worse, his would be the same weapon in worse condition) he’d hit me at least as often as I hit him.
* Someone mentioned the bad guys who respawn right behind you. This happened to me three times. It’s 100% fatal, since he’ll kill you before you can even get turned around, but in the long run that was a small portion of the unfair deaths I endured.
* The biggest thing that was killing me was the lack of good armor. I guess you’re supposed to gather up all of the hardware after a battle and stagger all the way back to the previous shop to sell it. That’s a very long boring hike, so I wasn’t doing this. Which means that I had far less cash than the game intended. I just carried around the most expensive stuff and sold it whenever the plot required me to go back to town. It wasn’t until near the end of the game when I saw armor on sale for $200k, when all I had was $60k, that I realized I was supposed to be scavenging the dead to make ends meet. The result was that my armor was always a couple of tiers below where the designers intended, and it was always badly degraded. This was the #1 reason bad guys were one-shotting me at every turn.
The slow crawl back to town is indeed tedious, but it’s a lot more fun than staring at the loading screen.
* Armor degrades too quickly in my opinion. On some of the longer missions in the game, my brand-new armor would be all but ruined halfway through. I’d been in the bowels of some crazy lab with armor below 30%. I couldn’t go back and get more, and proceeding with armor in that condition means lots of save & reload funtime, because any half-decent hit is a fatal one.
* I mentioned getting shot through walls, and after testing this a little I’m guessing it happens only at low framerates. The problem arose when I’d be up against a thin wall I was using for cover. (The inside of the trailers is a good example of where this would happen.) It seems like bullets reach through the wall a few inches, and if you’re against the wall you get hit. That wasn’t too bad, since you can excuse it by saying that the walls were just too thin to stop bullets. (Although mine never went through.) But the problem arose when I was inside and trying to evade enemy fire. They always knew where I was in the trailer and fired right at me, even if they couldn’t see me. Even the snipers. Boo.
* If you get too close to an enemy, your shots don’t seem to register right. Again, this might be a low framerate issue. I ran up to a guy early in the game and gave him both barrels of the shotgun, right in the face. That should have been massive overkill, but it didn’t seem to do any damage at all. Without hesitating, he dropped me with a single burst from the Viper. This sort of thing happened often enough that I gave up on the shotgun. I thought the weapon was useless, but the real problem was that I needed to stand back a little.
* Some people mentioned stealth tactics. I’m playing version 1.0005, and I can’t imagine how stealth tactics could work. Because of the bullet spread, you can’t reliably drop anyone in a single shot unless you get in very close. Once they yell out, their friends turn and start firing on your position. Even if they have never seen you, they seem to know right where you are. I’d be in a building and I’d see the muzzle of some bandit’s gun (and maybe like, his knee or elbow) sticking through the wall, pointed right at me. As I moved around, he’d track me even though there was a wall between us. Boo.
* Other things got me killed as well, mostly due to unclear objectives. Near the beginning of the game I had to pass the railroad bridge. I knew I was supposed to get to the other side, but due to the badly-mangled English in the game I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to go. I took a shot at the guys standing guard right under the bridge, and they whipped me before I could kill one of them. I concluded this was the wrong way, and tried that side tunnel full of lightning anomalies. (Why else would it be there, right?)
About fifteen deaths later I realized this tunnel was impassible.
The fence at the top of the hill is one of those “videogame” fences. You know, three feet high, shoddily made, and utterly impassible. I did manage to alert the guys below and got picked off a couple of times looking for a way through.
After half an hour I was frustrated and baffled. Exactly what am I supposed to be doing here?
I gave up and fought the guys guarding the bridge. I had a pistol and the starting “armor”. They had machine guns and good armor. I was able to overcome them with vigorous abuse of the quicksave key, but it didn’t feel rewarding to do so. The immersion of the game was utterly broken for me. I was bored and frustrated and sick of it and I’d only been playing an hour.
It would be a long haul after that before I got to the “good” parts of the game.
Again, all of this applies to playing on “easy”. Unclear gameplay mechanics, buggy hit detection, cheating enemies, vague goals. Once you’re aware of these issues you can work around them, but this game is a jerk to new players, and teaches you to play by murdering you. On easy.
It’s bad design, and marred what could have been a much more enjoyable experience. This game could have been a classic. I haven’t talked about the parts that worked yet, but they exist and I’ll get to them eventually. I’m reviewing the game they way I experienced it: With all of the annoying crap, bugs, and frustration, right up front.
So what happens when a SOFTWARE engineer tries to review hardware? This. This happens.
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