Like the first two games, STALKER: Call of Pripyat is a game of contradictions. At times it’s glorious and exciting, a further refinement of the now age-old STALKER template. Yet, as ever, most of the idiosyncrasies that define the series are still present and correct, making this pretty much the same game you’ve played twice before.
It’s certainly better, and something that we don’t hesitate to recommend to those partial to a bit of radiation-soaked action, but it’s still the same. Before its release, noises have been made about COP being a substantial step forward, but it isn’t. It leaves you thinking, “It’s great, but it should have been better.”
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. A little house-keeping needs to be done first. For those that are unfamiliar with all things STALKER, it’s basically a game where you wander around the irradiated wilds of the Chernobyl area, killing mutants, scavenging for weapons and hunting down twisted bits of radioactive junk that bestow mystical powers on the user. These artifacts have always been the reason you’ve been in the Zone, as the area is known to the locals. Naturally, you get dragged into an overriding plot that gives you something else to focus on, but basically artifacts are why you’re there.
Except now in COP, you’re not. You’ve just got to behave as if you are. You see, while in the first two games you played a Stalker, this time you’re a Major in the armed forces. You’ve been sent in to discover why an important mission involving helicopters and scores of army personnel has gone kaputski. The only way to do this is to pretend to be a Stalker and generally get up to the same old tricks as before.
COP is definitely more story-focused than the previous games, as well as having far more streamlined, set-piece missions. So more thought has been put into what you get to do in the Zone beyond the basic fetch quest paradigm.
For example, you might have to infiltrate some huge anomalies and place scanners or perhaps do a bit of detective work to uncover why certain Stalkers are missing. Also, these quests will be long-lasting in their implications. Take the scanner mission: in previous Stalker games, finishing it would have meant a reward and that’s it, over with. This time, completing it means your map is updated every time an artifact is detected. As for the detective quest, Stalkers in the area will be generally better disposed towards you and free medical supplies will be placed in a stash box for you periodically. Vendors will drop their prices and so on.