Into: Gaming (duh), cinema, history, anime, ponies, kendo, gliding, good beers, good food, writing, drawing, wargaming. Some favourite games/series: Project Reality, Total War, S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Half Life. Close follow ups: Timesplitters, Halo, Team Fortress, Mass Effect, Fallout.

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1 comment by Renegatz on Jan 21st, 2011

Before I condemn myself in the eyes of every decent stalker fan out there, I'd like to specify that Stalker, along with Total War and Project Reality, is part of my top 3 video-game series. The atmosphere, universe, everything...I have a great deal of respect for those who have contributed to its creation and continuation. Its one of those series I would really like to never see finished (although perhaps Stalker 17 would be milking it a little).

However, the more I became absorbed with it, the more I imagined my own version of it, something that would perfectly embody my image of the Zone, and of every day life there, as realistically as possible in a game. If you're not interested in the nitpicking ravings of this gentleman, then skip this rant, but if you also have become in love with the Zone but have a slightly different version of it in mind, then please read on and hopefully you will also share your own thoughts and visions too.

Firstly, I would like to clarify that I am well aware of the excellent mod(s) on the way to being completed that will make great steps in that direction, and I respect the developers greatly for their work. I really hope they achieve all their objectives in this great enterprise. But I realised that my wishes are quite over the top, that indeed they would require a different game to be realised. If I were to envision the Zone in a game, I would start with a movie in mind, a film about the Stalker universe, then go from there. How would everyday life be for stalkers, and how would I transplant this into a game without it being tedious and overly complicated?

One thing would be certain: Authenticity would be key. The game would be far-less of a shooter, and more of a survivor/rpg style game. In fact, getting into firefights would be something 'bad', exhilirating by the risks it poses but something a stalker would prefer to avoid. You wouldnt just walk into a group of Bandits and gun them all down with full automatic fire.

Take this fine gent as an example. He takes over half-a-dozen bullet wounds in the fight, happliy sprinting around, healing himself with one click, and popping more rounds into Bandit skulls. This was the first video I found upong typing 'Stalker gameplay' into the Youtube searchbar. I find it kind of 'sickening' when I look at my PDA and see 149 kills, many of these supposedly elite Spetsnaz and Mercs, and I'm only half way through the game. It also disgusts me when I read a comment on a stalker vid saying 'yeh, its a shame there arnt mor respanws cos I killd everyting in Rostok and they dont com back :(' I mean what is the point of playing this game if youre just looking for another shooter? I love playing Call of Duty but I dont expect to get more out of it then the satisfaction of blasting people with all types of shooters and feeling like a demigod. Similarly, HL2 is without doubt one of the greatest fps' ever made, but the firefights are obviously not at all focused on realism, which is not what I'm looking for when I play that game.

When I play Stalker, however, I'm not looking to empty the Zone of all things living, Im looking for immersion, to actually feel like I'm a Stalker prowling the Zone, desparate for survival. I dont want to be Strelok the super-ninja terminator badass (his simian shadow in SoC didnt help at all by the way). I think its possible and even easier to recreate that awesome relief point when you exit an X-lab, with only a few rounds left after having braved a completely terrifying hellhole, if the game is not focused on blasting people.

I enjoy a mod like Project Reality(for bf2) because it provides a multiplayer experience which is both realistic and cinematic/immersive. I want to play Stalker feeling - throughout the game - like I did at the beginning of SoC: Poor, desparate, filthy and alone, in a completely different world. Needless to say, replay value is both the great strength and the great weakness of the Stalker series, for one can play the game again and again (as I have) but I get the feeling that replaying the game isnt as gratifying as it could be. GSC made a noble attempt in CS with the faction wars, but alas! Stalker wasnt ready for it, so they seem to have put that one back in the 'future projects' box.

Just imagine this: You gear up, with perfectly customised armor (yuck, Im constantly trying to forget the cloned, green-garbed, gasmasked legions of 'free stalkers' in CS) that has a kind of ragtag feel to it, because you had to assemble it by buying your own boots, PDA, radio, backpack, balaclava and so on... as well as the only gun you possess. You make your way out of your 'home base' and make a raid into the Zone, having to be constantly on your guard because of invisible anomalies, traps, ambushes etc. You also have to be careful not to run too much for fear of becoming exhausted. You have to use a great deal of ruse and stealth to avoid hostiles or unfamiliar stalkers (the distinction between friend and foe often being muddled by a great disparity of gear) but damn! You have been spotted! Alone, you dont have much of a chance, but Bandits are poor marksmen, and mainly blindifre from behind cover. As the shots spray around you, their 'pinning effect' make it difficult to see, so you return fire sporadically, conserving ammunition, and slowly create distance between them and you. The Bandits harass you for what seems to be ages, darting from cover to cover while you steadily fall back. You then fall into a group of veterans (lets say Bes' men) who drive off the Bandits and help patch you up.

The fight lasted 10 minutes, and perhaps one or two Bandits were its only casualties and yet it was fun and scary, not just the same routine of 'pop out of cover and G36 headshot those exoskeletons'. You wont see five stalkers get slaughtered by hamsters and dogs (stragglers, however, will be easy meat) nor will you see a ridiculous lack or morale, with legions of automaton Bandits hurling themselves at the Garbage Hangar and being slaughtered to the last man. You also will see a much more cautious respawn rate: New Stalkers will arrive in the Zone, coming from a pool of a few hundred, and steadily gain experience, six or seven arriving each day, and this is also the average of deaths per day in the Zone. This is not a battleground or a charnel-pit, its a way of life. You can team up with other groups of Stalkers and do raids with them, however if you are hit during an operation, you're practically out. You will have to heal/bandage yourself, then limp out of there, back to some kind of safety (or maybe using artifacts). There is no special storyline, but only other Stalkers' actions, with some famous Stalkers living their lives, albeit reclusive ones for people like Doctor. You are just another Stalker, and it is up to you what you have come to the Zone for, with the most obvious objective being to reach the center. You can enable or disable third person view, although you can always look down when in 1st person and view your own armor. Like in OL, wearing different headgear will affect your vision. You choose your name, and every other Stalker has an appropriate nickname (seeing as there are around 500 total, that cant be so difficult) so that you wont see those awful generated names all the time. If someone insults or attacks you, you can find him and kill him (a great element would be having a camera to take pictures of Stalkers, so that you can ask around to find out who they are). There would always be tasks, things to do (fun repeatable quests like in SoC, great multi-ending ones like in CoP and a limited version of CS' faction wars, with manpower actually being an important element.)

I have noticed that I am not at all alone in this geeky rpg based subgroup of Stalker fans, and also that GSC is going more and more in the 'right' direction: Artifact hunting, the healing system, more complex and realistic quests, the awesome, sinister and limited-in-numbers Merc faction of CoP, Sultan and Jacks separate Bandit factions, etc. and hopefully with the tech of 10 years from now they will have made something that will truly be a dream come true, instead of becoming more and more mainstream like many games series tend to. Anyhow, I feel like I have deviated from my original point, and become more unreasonable and vague than I had originally intended, so I'll conclude here. Like I said, please express your own personal feelings on ' your Zone ' and how it would be. If youre going to tell me how my version would suck, or is impossible, then fair enough, but please keep it polite.

Good hunting, Stalker!

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