Beasts with brains...

Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl's promise of gloomy survival among the ruins of the world's most infamous nuclear plant has always been an enthralling idea. Finally, after taking you on a tour of the Zone and revealing our early playtests, we've had the chance to cosy up with Stalker and really work our way into the game's chilling heart. And here's five reasons why that journey has been an apocalyptic joy.

Above: It's really, really bleak

Visual flair is important, obviously, but more vital is a strong atmosphere. Stalker's wind-swept, barren landscape is immediately effective, and your first steps are accompanied by gales that shake trees and ripple through long grass, as dozens and dozens of crows circle overhead. The wasteland expands in all four points of the compass, and everywhere looks even colder and more inhospitable than where you stand.

Stalker's age (more than five years in the making) may be clear in the puppet-like animation of the human characters. But your overwhelmingly bleak surroundings skew that stiffness into a bone-weariness in everyone you meet.

Meanwhile, trudging alone for even a few minutes is enough for your own nerves to waver, especially as the light dims and fails in the impressive sky. At that point, you'll gratefully race up to any human face you see. Even if they are pointing a shotgun at you.