In fact, people are perhaps too friendly, certainly in comparison to the previous STALKER games. This is perhaps the first thing to worry about if you’re a STALKER veteran – it’s actually pretty easy on the standard difficulty. Play your cards right and you won’t actually ever really be doing much fighting, other than with packs of dogs or boars and perhaps the occasional easy-to-kill zombies. The Zone is a less-than-intimidating place to be, more often than not, and this is quite a sad thing to have to report. For long periods we forgot the quick load key was even necessary, so long was it between challenging sections. This is ideal for new players, but experienced Stalkers will want to avoid the default difficulty and ramp things up right from the get-go.
It’s still idiosyncratically STALKER though. Lots of the little quirks reappear to remind us of where this newer, sleeker version comes from. On one of the machines we tested the game on, performance levels were wildly varied, seemingly dependant on whether you’d loaded up a saved game while playing or not. Characters greet you (and you reply back) in a bizarre mash-up of various American styles. In the same conversation, for example, you might be greeted by a “Wassup bro?” and end it with a “Fuhgeddaboudit”. All of this takes place within the same ghastly text-based conversation mechanic as before, which yet again fails to captivate the reader in any way whatsoever.
As we say, COP is all about the contradictions: the improvements mixed in with the oddities. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the visuals. Once, grim was the oft-used adjective when it came to STALKER. Now, it should be beautifully grim. At times, the visuals are stunning, even on the medium settings, especially when it gets dark and the lightning starts to strike. When it turns on the style, COP is a superbly realized and atmospheric game. Yet it can look equally ugly, especially indoors. Again with the duality.
Perhaps the main question is whether things have really moved on enough from Clear Sky or even the original. It’s easy to forget what the original game actually looks and feels like after so many different mod packs and overhauls, as Oblivion Lost, Stalker Complete and so on have all distorted our view.
So it seems that all the developers have done is implement a lot of the ideas introduced by modders, then slapped a price tag on it. In fact, that’s rather unfair. It’s surely better for a developer to appropriate good ideas and work them into their next game, making the experience better for everyone. This is pretty much what they’ve done here, with some touches of their own for good measure. So let’s talk tweaking.
If we’re accepting that COP is basically just a fancier suit on the same old bones, it’s important to realize that a lot of the embellishments do make the experience a more pleasant one, on the whole. Although, naturally, one man’s pleasant experience could be boring for another (like with the difficulty). So, just going by our own personal preferences here, we liked that it was easier to make money in COP than in the others. It seems to be more straightforward to find artifacts, with good scanners becoming available relatively quickly.
Perhaps it is a bit silly that we were able to blow 60,000 on an exoskeleton after a relatively low number of hours invested in the game, but still, it was nice to be able to feel we could earn that money back quickly, rather than grind out the pennies doing busy work for days. Don’t get too cocky though. If you do go for this sort of massive upgrade early on, you have to remember that repairing said suit will cost you a vast amount, should it get damaged.
Weapons and armor can be upgraded quickly too, making it easier to work your belongings around your preferred playing style. A shotgun and a scoped assault rifle were our two main weapons of choice, with a sniper and pistol in reserve. There’s still the issue of overloading yourself with ammo and weapons, but it seems to be more manageable than before.