Almost ten years ago, back in 2004, I was highly anticipating three games: Half-Life 2, Doom 3, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. All three games looked wholly unique and seemed to offer something original to the shooting genre. A funny thing happened, though; STALKER never released that year.
As a matter of fact, it constantly failed to make release dates. After being originally announced back in 2001, seeing the dawn of 2007 and still not having STALKER was just strange. I didn’t know whether I was ever going to play this mesmerizing title.
A demo was finally released in late January of 2007 and, low and behold, my PC couldn’t actually run the game. I wasn’t dissuaded, though, as I had to have it. I would do everything in my power with the finished product to make it run. It had to! There was no way a final product could be so bug-ridden.
Well, as most people probably know by now, STALKER was not a game that was finished in 2007. It released, alright, but it was so stricken with crashes and freezes and quest markers dropping that most people couldn’t even play the game on release. My PC lacked the power to handle it, as well.
As I was a poor college student, I had nothing to do but wait until I could afford a better PC. That wouldn’t happen for three more years. Around February of 2010, I finally got a new Alienware (which I still use to this day) and proceeded to immediately install STALKER. I wasn’t going to let this game fall through the cracks of time.
No amount of effort could make me muster up the motivation to play this game, though. Upon loading the first area and stepping out into the “Zone,” I just failed to get sucked in. I had experienced so many different genres in my time away from PC gaming that I just didn’t possess the skill to really come to grips with an FPS again. I walked away and felt awful.
The next year, I gave another shot to the game. The “STALKER Complete Mod” was released and promised to address a lot of issues and problems the game had originally. Well, it certainly looked better, but I still couldn’t find the desire to see this game through. I figured this would be the end of my journey with STALKER as two failed attempts pretty much meant game over.
The modern gaming climate, though, has bred some contempt from me. I am getting increasingly frustrated with triple-A releases and the unstable state that most games launch in is really mind-boggling in 2013. Since I started to tinker with full-scale RPGs again and had finished a few niche games, I figured making one final push for completion of STALKER would be a good idea.
I’m happy I did, too. Against all odds, I finally finished the game. A legacy that has occupied almost ten years of my life is now at rest. Not only that, though, but I was treated to one of the most distinctive and inventive shooters I’ve ever played. It still had bugs, though.
Bugs or not, a scene like this is too good to pass up.
There are so many incredible situations that STALKER throws you into, the least of which is the entire world itself. Modern shooters guide you at practically every turn where STALKER just assumes you understand how to move and allows you to discover the rest yourself.
One mission has you enter an underground laboratory and steal some documents. Easy enough, right? Well, aside from getting attacked by a near-invisible monster, once you begin your journey out of the complex, you get assaulted by a small militia of soldiers.
My favorite mission in the game deals with something called “The Brain Scorcher.” This device emits psy-waves that project poltergeists and monsters into the vision of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in its vicinity. You are tasked with shutting it down.
The slow trek through a burnt and dilapidated forest is made all the more treacherous when you’re not sure if the monster in front of you is even real. When you round a corner, a military blockade greets you. After passing that, your screen starts to turn yellow and rip at the edges, creating an even further sense of dread.
Like I said, is he really there?
To say the game oozes atmosphere is not doing it justice. I haven’t witnessed as many games so realized in their disfigured beauty. Even if the game crashes, your motivation to explore every nook and cranny gets to a fever pitch as you progress through the story.
STALKER is definitely worth a play. I can’t say that everyone will enjoy the game like I did, but I do believe it is worth the effort. It may have taken me six years to actually finish, but I am overwhelmed with joy that I did.
Having the lingering thought of a game unfinished just drives me mad. There is nothing worse, to me, than failing to complete something you start. With STALKER behind me, I feel like I can tackle anything.
I have already finished some of the hardest games this generation has to offer, so maybe now I’ll look to the past for some more challenges. Regardless of what lies ahead, I have a renewed vigor for gaming thanks to STALKER. Original ideas do exist, but sometimes you just need the proper motivation to see them through.