Stalker is a game made by Ukrainian developer GSC Game World. It is a first person shooter that places you in the shoes of "The Marked One" an illegal scavenger/explorer in "The Zone", which is the irradiated area that surrounds the Chernobyl reactor. The game takes place in an alternate reality where the Chernobyl reactor has had a second meltdown and radically transformed the area around it.
As a Stalker, it is your mission to make money through missions and scavenging artifacts and other things. Artifacts are irradiated objects that grant you special abilities, sometimes in a trade-off. For example, one artifact might give you greater radiation resistance, but decrease your endurance. You can also find a large assortment of armor, weapons, ammunition, food, and medical supplies.
Along with the various random missions that you can take for money and reputation, there is also a main underlying plot that directs you to find and kill another Stalker named Strelok. You also have to perform tasks like obtaining documents from abandoned labs and infiltrating military bases. The game is largely non-linear and you can elect to ignore the main storyline and concentrate on exploring if you so choose.
Since the game takes place in an irradiated area, there are some areas that will irradiate you and decrease your health until you use medicine to counteract it. Along with radiated areas, there are also anomalies that will cause you damage, but these are generally easily spotted and avoided. Advanced armor will shield you from radiation and make exploration and combat much easier.
The main enemies that you encounter are bandits, the military, and mutants. The military is trying to keep order in The Zone and doesn't take kindly to illegal explorers and scavengers like you. Mutants range from hideously deformed dogs, pigs, and rats to grotesque humans that have taken on animal or zombie-like traits. Combat is always interesting since the AI is quite good and will try to take cover and flank you.
Weapons in the game include various pistols, sub-machine guns, shotguns, rifles, grenades, and even rocket launchers. All of them behave pretty realistically and you are allowed to crouch or use the sights for better accuracy. You can also mod your weapons by adding scopes. Armor ranges from cheap leather to advanced bulletproof and radiation proof outfits. An interesting facet of combat in this game is that it degrades your armor and weapons. The degradation of your armor results in lower resistances to damage and the degradation of your guns result in more frequent jams.
The Zone is divided up into a number of different areas and you are able to move between them by moving to certain entry points shown on the map. At the top of the zone is the famed Chernobyl plant, but below it are other areas such as the Red Forest, military warehouses, and the Garbage, which is a large landfill. Each area has its own unique traits, making the game refreshing. Unfortunately you have to walk everywhere so getting from one side of the Zone to another can take a while.
The atmosphere of this game captures the bleak post-Soviet period very well, with cold and decaying buildings and infrastructure. Many of the NPCs will speak Russian and some of them will even pull out an acoustic guitar and play while sitting around a fire. The overall atmosphere is very dark and there are excellent weather effects, including lightning during storms.
The graphics are good, but not nearly as good as some other games released in the same time frame. However, the gameplay more than makes up for this shortcoming. The game features dynamic lighting and this helps with making the dark areas that much more absorbing.
Overall I thought this game was excellent and very enjoyable. It takes a while to get used to the interface and there are some quirks, but the gameplay makes up for it. It is one of the best FPS games to come out in recent years.