S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat Review
Unquestionably the best game in the series with large open levels and plenty of exploration rewards. More user friendly without sacrificing the core elements of the series.
Call of Pripyat is much more like the game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl should have been. It brings together the improvements from Clear Sky, the new feel of the original and focuses on the core experiences of the series. The series prides itself on thick atmosphere, broad exploration, high difficulty and a changing population. This time Call of Pripyat includes three new areas located in the Zone, and none of them actually feature the iconic Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant from the previous titles. These new areas make it feel like you are new to the Zone again where everything is a potential risk. Every step you take or direction you travel holds new landmarks or buildings to explore. It is actually a great strength for the game because it does genuinely feel like a unique experience once again. The incredible atmosphere of the original returns along with some more underground locations largely absent from Clear Sky. The biggest changes to the Zone are actually the new locations themselves.
The new levels in Call of Pripyat are much bigger and more open than either of the previous games. Rather than including bottlenecked areas that facilitate travel between smaller levels they have three large open levels. You must use a guide, another Stalker, to take you to each area for a modest fee. In this way you are even more in control of your destiny and how you complete quests. Each major Guide destination is at the middle of the levels so there is also less foot travel involved. Thankfully an improved PDA also marks interesting locations on your map should you fail to stumble across them. These locations might be large anomalous areas or just places of importance home to Stalkers or mutants. The first level feels quite similar to the opening swamp level in Clear Sky, but it’s also much larger and more interesting. Also gone are the annoying “defend” quests from Clear Sky that simulated the constant battle of supremacy. Anomalies have also been given an overhaul damaging the landscape impressively.
The Anomalous areas have been changed to be dominating visual landmarks, not just dangerous places in the open landscape. They are also the only place to find the valuable artifacts that you can use or sell. I highly recommend increasing the view distance in game so you can spot points of interest from a larger distance but the location names may entice you towards them. Coming across each anomaly is exciting as you prepare to search for artifacts or investigate other dangers surrounding them. Your return journey will likely take you to new places of interest, another stash or even another side mission. The great thing about the side quests is that virtually none of them have a time limit forcing quick completion. You can accept a few of them and then finish them at your own pace, or just when you happen to be in the area. Some areas are more dangerous because of enemies or the anomalies but they may very well be the shortest route. It’s definitely worth checking out these anomalous areas if only for the valuable artifacts.
Artifacts hold much the same significance as the preceding games, giving protective effects with a radiation penalty. They are mostly useful for exploring anomalies but later can be used more passively. Getting an anti-radiation artifact still brings much joy as you can take advantage of helpful effects while roaming about the Zone. Artifacts will return to the anomalous areas after deadly emissions and scanners can be set up in these locations to inform you of their existence. This combined with the A-Life system means you can continue to play indefinitely. Artifacts are still one of the better ways to generate funds now that damaged weapons can’t be sold. Scavenging from dead bodies will net you some income too, or at least reduce how much ammo and food you need to purchase.
The basic shooting and scavenging Gameplay hasn’t changed much so those put off by the combat and difficulty won’t see marked changes. Thankfully the enemy Stalker grenades don’t land at your feet anymore so it makes the game a bit fairer. If you do not notice enemies and you are in their direct line of fire in the open you will die very quickly. Your death also depends on your armour protection, artifact bonuses and the type of enemy attacking. I found shotguns quite useful and often carried an assault rifle and shotgun in my primary weapon slots. When against Stalkers range and line of sight is important, with mutants the action is often up close with you backing away from melee attacks. Zombies return but their accuracy is poor so they are only threats in larger numbers. Thankfully enemy Stalkers will die quickly if you aim well just like the previous games. If you aren’t crazy about Stalker combat you can take up a neutral position and focus more on the exploration of new areas and occasional mutant battles.
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