For those playing the home game, I’m trying to add something of a regular post to each of these entries in the top ten list. I don’t know if that’s useful or not, but it does seem a little more interesting that just a number, a game, and some yammering.
As for today’s number seven game, it’s one of those that took years for us to finally play. Recently 3D Realms released some new footage from their long in development Duke Nukem Forever. It’s been something like eight years since that game was announced and here we are in 2007 still waiting to play it. Does that really matter as much as the Internet would have you believe? The new trailer, by their own admission, was low on content and long on teasing. Yet that never stops people from saying how they won’t bother with the game because it’s taken too long to come out. What difference does that make? If it’s great when it ships, why do we care how long it’s been?
I guess there’s some kind of feeling of entitlement there. They made a great first-person shooter before, so they owe us another one! I don’t really agree with that. Publishers and developers can make what they want when they want. We decide if we want to play them when they’re available and that’s about where it should end. If it’s crap, I’ll skip it. So while Duke Nukem Forever isn’t out yet, I’m sure it’ll be here eventually. When it is, I’ll play it or I won’t, but I won’t be avoiding it just because it took many years to arrive.
That brings us to my number seven game for 2007. I’m glad I didn’t hold this one’s long development against it, because it’s a place we rarely get to go in shooters these days…
7. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. – Shadow of Chernobyl
We need more games like this one.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a brilliant mix of shooting, exploration, story and horror. Its world is completely familiar and yet entirely alien. Set in and around the infamous city of Chernobyl, further irradiated by events some ten years after the initial meltdown of history, the game’s backdrop is like nothing you’ll find in other games. You become one of the game’s title characters and are left to your own devices. Follow the story religiously or go far off the beaten path–it’s up to you.
That’s one of the key bits of brilliance in the design. You take on a mission and are on your own to find a solution. An early confrontation gives you the option to Rambo your way through a group of mercenaries or accept the help of some other men. No matter which path you choose, the battle will play out in entirely different ways because of the openness of the environment. The AI soldiers aren’t stupid either. They flank, they sneak, and they shoot accurately, provided you turn up the difficulty. The wildlife is often against you too, providing a different sort of challenge, while later fights against mutated freaks amp everything up to Resident Evil-like horror.
It all comes together because of the graphics engine. The lighting is done in such a way that everything has a uniquely “real” quality to it. It’s kind of hard to describe to someone that hasn’t played the game. When the wind blows, you can almost feel it even though you can only see it and hear it. You always feel isolated and alone. Everything around you looks weathered and beaten by the elements, including the people you meet. The world of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a bleak place, but it’s really not so far removed from what you see outside the window on a cloudy autumn day, as fall turns to winter and the wind blows while the sun only occasionally peeps through the clouds.
Few games go as far as this one does to give you a sense of place. It sets the scene so brilliantly that the gunplay is almost overshadowed by the sheer thrill of exploration. When all hell breaks loose and you’re in a massive firefight, that sense of place translates into some terrifying moments. It seems more like a simulation than a game, and how many shooters can you really say that about? The biggest shame was that when it shipped it wasn’t entirely stable. That all seems to have been fixed now, though multiplayer still gave me an issue now and then. Multiplayer is uniquely S.T.A.L.K.E.R. too. It’s like playing soldiers with your buddies around some neighborhood industrial building or something as a young boy. There’s an uncanny sense of realism you won’t find anywhere else, and that’s probably the best reason everyone should play this game one time, because while so many console titles for 360 and PS3 claim to be shooting for realism in their graphics, their physics and their gameplay, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is already there in an amazingly convincing way.