Entering the Hot Zone

Twenty years ago, Chernobyl was the site of the worst man-made disaster to ever hit the face of the planet. Equally representative of man's brilliance and arrogance, the early morning explosion that ripped apart Reactor #4 changed the face of nuclear power across the world. The incident not only irradiated a large swath of Eastern Europe, it turned a thriving city of more than 50,000 into a ghost town overnight.

Due to both its history and the rumors surrounding the disaster, Chernobyl seemed to be a prime setting for a video game, but it wasn't until THQ's upcoming S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was announced that anyone dared take up the task. Developed in the Ukraine, not far from Chernobyl itself, the game attempts to capture the eerie atmosphere of the real life environment. While the in-game visuals are impressive, wewere lucky enoughto take a quick trip out to the hot zone to see for ourselves just how realistic the digital world had become.

Above: To the right, the real thing; on the left, the in-game version. We've mentioned this before, but the realism is downright creepy.

Walking up to the entombed reactor at the center of the disaster, the first feeling to wash over you is a sense of humility. Though we were in a group of twenty or so, no one was laughing. An odd sense of quiet hung in the air. Even though there are workers at the site on a daily basis and the natural vegetation has restored a normal look to the surrounding area, the reactor towers above it all, a constant reminder of the horror it caused.

Seeing the same scene within the game engine is like looking at a photo. Every last detail has been rendered, right down to the rings at the top of the exhaust tower. Though the virtual representation is accompanied by gunfire and chaos, it still holds the same imposing presence.