Now, there seems to be quite a few FPS games set in almost post-apocalyptic areas of Russia. Mainly in Chernobyl, enough that there could easily be a sub-genre of FPS games. With the likes of STALKER 2 drawing in soon enough, another smaller, more intimate indie title has risen from Early Access and is soon to be released on consoles. But we now have the delight of exploring and embarking on a mind-bending journal in Chernobylite.
Does Chernobylite top the STALKER-ish genre and could even beat the upcoming STALKER 2 at its own game?
What is Chernobylite?
Chernobylite is a ruthless science-fiction survival horror RPG set in the wasteland of Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone. You play as Igor Khymynyuk, a former physicist who worked at Chernobyl but is now searching the largely abandoned city of Pripyat to find his long-lost fiancée Tatyana who disappeared 30 years ago.
Igor has teamed up with a lonesome mercenary to search and find his beloved but after an encounter with a powerful foe, the pair decide they need more cunning and a better game plan to pull off the ultimate heist. To pull this heist off, they’ll need to assemble a team of the best, but also manage their own Homebase, food supplies, and resources to make it to the big day.
Igor must also gather an incredible resource known as Chernobylite, which allows him to travel through space and time to reach places he normally wouldn’t. During the coming days, things will only get worse as portals open with strange creatures venturing into the world, known as shadows, and the local militia known as the NRA will stop any trespassers with deadly force.
Chernobylite is a game that combines exploration, compelling survival mechanics, and RPG elements with non-linear storytelling. With gameplay elements such as base building, companion management, crafting, stealth, and shooting, players must venture into the city to search for resources, food, and weapons while finding people of interest to add to the team.
Now what may seem on the surface a rather simple tale and one we’ve seen before plenty of times, has an immense amount of depth. But this depth really comes from the factor of decisions in the story made up by the players. Igor is clearly a tortured soul with the weight of the world on his shoulders, as the world around him breaks apart due to his actions. Exploring the world, Igor will often see visions of the past, as the crisis at Chernobyl occurred, along with visions of Tatyana haunting him. His accomplices will all differ in their goals and it’s up to players to ensure all relationships are stable. Again, weighing heavily into the player's actions and reactions.
There are plenty of meaningful choices to make and these could be somewhat devastating later in the game. Those he fines along the path have great chemistry and purpose, whether they’re good, bad, or somewhere in between.
The Chernobylite conspiracy is one that will compel players until the end, to discover what happened to Tatyana, and to live through the horrors of the Exclusion Zone. Something that reminds me greatly of games from the late 00s and early 2010’s, when there were such a creative force driving games such as Singularity.
While the plot is nothing special, I admire the level of choice occurring throughout the story, and there were enough interesting beats and events with Igor that I was thoroughly invested till the end. There are some neat twists and turns and for an environment which was been explored so heavily in games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R, the developers have added new and interesting layers for players to explore.
For an indie game, this is a damn good-looking one. I did have some odd feelings with the photorealistic graphics (and these are photorealistic, as the game is made up of scanned environments of Chernobyl) looking a little from another era of gaming. It looks like a nice high-end PC game from 2007, like a much more advanced STALKER if you will. That’s a compliment if you need to ask. It looks indie yet looks indie near the line of AAA!
And the music is extremely atmospheric, more about building tension, relaying the situation, and featuring creepy tones that make it feel more like an 80’s zombie movie. And a good one, like Day of the Dead (best of the trilogy in my opinion).
Freedom of choice is implemented very well into the narrative of Chernobylite, but it also works it way into the gameplay too. The real meat and bones of gameplay is broken up into exploration, base building, resource management, team management, and even environmental management.
The main story is quite linear, starting off with a job going wrong and plans to go awry. Igor and the last surviving mercenary he hired regroup and head back to base. A dirty and rotten bunker that’s seen better days. From here, it’s about replanning, restocking, and building a better team to pull off the ultimate heist. And that’s the main gameplay loop, going out into the city, grabbing what you can, restocking, surviving, building the base, and preparing for the ultimate heist.
From day one, you’ll be doing all the things mentioned above as Igor must look after his base of operations, his team and venture out for supplies. The base building gives a lot of options for customisation and each and every item has some significance to either your inventory, wellbeing, or the wellbeing of your team. The more people you find, the more you need to accommodate them by building sleeping areas, items of comfort and stock enough food and medicine. But you’ll also need to build things useful to your progression, such as workbenches and generators. But these items can have a negative effect on air quality and thus put a strain on your team. So it’s a careful balancing act of making sure you can progress, build the tools and gear you need for jobs, and making sure your team is happy. Everything is quite clear on what items affect areas such as confirm, power consumption, and so forth.
Igor will be able to venture out day by day into the city to gather resources or complete story missions. He will be able to venture out to pick up items such as chemicals, fuel, food, and scrap to build new items back at base or go out to find clues on Tatyana’s location or recruit new members for the heist. Players will be able to send out members of the team as well, covering more ground and potentially gathering more resources.
It can either go well, or missions can go wrong and, in some cases, end up in death. Players will need to decide and factor in risks, such as sending out their team for food and medicine, but deal with anything that could go wrong. Or keep them at the base and save on some resources but miss out on possible important gear such as weapons. Again, it’s a difficult task but one that’s engaging, rewarding, and as time goes on, be a rather interesting challenge to pull off.
The only thing really that puts these mechanics down is the difficulty spikes and by failing a couple of missions and letting things begin to slide, it can be rather difficult to get things back on track, especially in the late game. I ended by playing to different ways, being more aggressive and more silent. Being silent is definitely the way forward as it really makes life much easier later in the game.
Chernobylite does suffer the same problem as games such as Dishonoured, where the best option is just to be quiet and while it’s not as exciting, it really does stop the game from being overbearing later on.
As I briefly mentioned, there is environmental management. What I mean by this is that players will have an impact on missions depending on what they do. If you kill too many NRA, then more will appear over time and be much more deadly. Interact with certain elements in the environment such as harvesting Chernobylite, then more shadows will appear and eventually cause enough of a disruption in the late game, and the might Black Stalker will appear. This is a Nemesis-like character who will appear and royal ruin your day. But you can spend resources and build defences in each area of the city to reduce the appearance of shadows, the Black Stalker, and clear our areas of radiation. But these are very pricy to build and there are multiple areas to explore.
Again, I really like the delicate balance of exploring, engaging with enemies when you really need to, plan and bring the right gear – such as lockpicks and explosives, but also to make sure you don’t leave a negative impact in the area as you’ll be going back there often.
There is quite a lot of repetition as you’ll be going back and forth to the same dozen areas over the course of the game, but the dynamic weather and events really do help stop this from being tedious.
There is combat and stealth mechanics but these as you might expect aren’t as nearly refined as we wished. Shooting is fine, and overall, there is a solid roster of weapons to fight with. There is definitely a lack of gadgets which would’ve been nice to include whether for combat or to help make the bare-bones stealth mechanics a little more interesting.
What Chernobylite does well?
The world-building is terrific, and I generally felt uneasy throughout most locations in the game. There’s an unnerving sense of tension that looms over you and venturing into abandoned buildings for loot can be rather triggering. The dynamic changes to the world are extremely nice and just being bad and causing as much chaos as possible is well worth seeing more elements introduced to the point where shadows, NRA, and the Black Stalker just decide to turn the area into a warzone. But of course, it’s not practical for your survival.
The freedom of choice in the narrative and missions was great and even though some choices are pretty much black and white, there were plenty more which nearly broke me. Whatever you do, there will always be someone who’s going to be upset with you and it’s really about preference and who you side with more in the game. This can be tough as there are so many likable characters and harming one of them to benefit another or the group can be agonising. The developers have done a really great job at getting the team to feel important and your choices to have an impact.
It was great to be given such immense freedom to handle my team, decide their fates, build the base as I wanted to and have such responsibility that every choice, I made felt important. Plus, one of the most important mechanics is something you can easily miss - upon death, you have a chance to change certain events in the story you’ve already made and it really does feel like you have complete control to right wrong, but also consider you making more wrongs. This was truly amazing and feel more games could do something similar like this.
What Chernobylite could have done better
Chernobylite is a little clunky and rough around the edges. While I was impressed with the level of freedom, I did see multiple paths which could’ve been taken were blocked off by invisible walls. There were quite a few bugs that popped up now and then, thankfully nothing game-breaking.
The dialogue for soldiers was rather bad, with the same lines such as “Ah I hate mosquitoes, they bite you in the d***” being said repeatedly. AI being a little unrefined as they would either react strongly to downed enemies or just carry on walking and humming a random melody.
The stealth could’ve been much better, with more feedback when you’re concealed, items and gadgets to help would’ve been great too. There are traps but these play only a small inconvenience to your enemies at times. Elements such as Radiation and Psyche are much more easily handled compared to NPC relationships. Killing too many NPCs will have a mental toll on Igor – although it’s very easy to recover this by drinking some vodka or just being sneaky. And you’ll always have the right stuff to rid yourself of radiation. So for those looking for more of a challenge then hit the higher difficulty.
And lastly, I think there was a missed opportunity here for a day/night cycle. Games like Dying Light have great use of day and night cycles, where the day is safer to venture out in and night-time is more dangerous. But certain things differ like enemy types and more rewards gained at night. I feel Chernobylite could have implemented this as well but understand if time and money were a factor.
I really dig Chernobylite and was thoroughly impressed with this immense indie shooter. The world is beautifully crafted, the relationships and factors between characters and story is great and the freedom to make important choices was utterly gripping. There were a few slipups and those who might like repetition and management gameplay mechanics could be easily put off. But to counter these problems are more interesting dynamics which really make this an impressive indie RPG and one STALKER 2 could learn a few tricks from.
I highly recommend Chernobylite to any fans of the Metro series and those looking for a compelling, narrative-driven RPG who want to live out the life of living in one of the most dangerous places in the world.
++ Compelling mechanics and choices which affect the narrative
+ Looks and sounds beautiful
+ Great sense of exploration and team/base management
- A little buggy and in places
- Lacking in certain areas such as stealth
- Some players may not get the full survival experience unless on the very hard difficulties
A Steam review key of Chernobylite was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.