Even details on the game’s setting and history are hazy unless you flick through text that sits somewhere between Proust and a DVD player manual in terms of readability. You can’t help but wonder how fraught the game’s translation processes were, because from this it’s hard to understand exactly why each faction is so murderously angry with each other, or what the hell is going on in the various gloomy facilities you find yourself poking around in. Thankfully, the brute force and exciting design of the story arc makes up for this to some extent - but you can’t help but wish it was helped rather than hindered by the sullen, unlovable game characters.
This lack of clarity and personality extends even into the game’s many sub-quests - whether randomly created or not. They’re all simply “kill him,” “fetch this,” “kill these” or “find that.” They’re essentially World of Warcraft quests, but whereas Blizzard gives you nothing but flowery text, grind and eventual character benefits, there seems little point in completing them here since the main story arc is so much more fun and the progress so much more tangible.
As for earning cash, well, you rarely have too many money problems during your time in Chernobyl anyway. The meat of STALKER is in killing and collecting and, without the RPG dynamics of Fallout or the undisputed writing talents of a WoW quest writer, there’s just no impetus to carry out such tasks.
If you doubt us, just wait till you see the haphazard way these tasks are given and completed. Sure, you can wander everywhere, nosing around in every nook and cranny, and complete various missions that randomly crop up. But when the thinking behind their design is so resolutely linear, any benefit gained from their zany A-Life representation is quickly drowned. We’re sad to say it, but the way you’ll find yourself playing STALKER is nowhere near the open-ended paradise first touted all those years ago.