Publisher: All In! Games SA | Developer: The Farm 51 | Platforms: PC (Steam, Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One | Code Provided to We Got Comms for Review Purposes
There’s a lot to like about Chernobylite. I don’t generally care for survival games, and given how this game also totes its horror chops around, you’d think I’d hate my time in this game – but no, quite the opposite. I like this game, flaws and all. It appeases the creative style of gaming I enjoy, and while there are horror elements in the game, they don’t fill me with enough dread to not try and see the game through. This isn’t a AAA style release by any means, but Chernobylite is definitely punching above its weight class. I really dug into this game’s addictive gameplay loops – the daily mission structure, building up my base, the RPG-lite elements, choosing different dialog paths, and stealth killing my way through the Ukrainian landscape was a blast. Who knew that a terrifying sci-fi atmosphere, intriguing story, entertaining characters, and spooky environments could win me over so easily? I certainly didn’t expect that. What’s here is an interesting take on the post apocalyptic wasteland formula with its own style and unique gameplay.
8/10 – Excellent
The Value Proposition
Going into Chernobylite blind I had no idea what this game was really about. From its title and a couple of screenshots, I could expect that the game would be set in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone during the construction of the radiation shield being built over the ruins of the demolished nuclear power plant.
Chernobylite has been in early access for about two years now, and the developer (The Farm 51) has been steadily working on completing the game, adding spit polish and finishing touches to get it out for PC in late July and to consoles in September for the absolute bargain price of $30.
We Had a Falling Out…
The setting of Chernobyl has been around in gaming for more than a decade at this point. And Chernobylite doesn’t really venture too far off from what its peers have already established. Chernobyl, being one of the most famous disasters in recorded human history, is always a fascinating case study on humanity’s failings and our constant hubris. Choosing this setting for this game comes with some interesting storytelling benefits.
“Chernobylite” is a substance that was born from the explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. In Chernobylite, it’s a new element that can open wormholes for scientists who are able to harness its power. The main protagonist, Igor Khymynuk, is one of these scientists. Igor once worked for the Chernobyl Power Plant and 30 years later is trying to find his lost fiance Tatyana somewhere in the exclusion zone in any dimension she may have been sucked into.
A supernatural element is ever present once Igor starts using his ‘portal’ gun. Many oddities and ghostly images from the past haunt the area and those who are still alive are slowly being poisoned by the surrounding radiation and the chernobylite substance itself – making them hallucinate and go mad.
To aid in his quest Igor has hired a Canadian ex-soldier, Olivier, to help him explore the zone to discover more clues about Tatyana’s disappearance and ultimately set up a major heist to take down the main baddie corporation of the game: the NAR. Igor blames the NAR for the Chernobyl disaster and Tatyana’s disappearance. The setup is rife with plots of counter espionage, political intrigue, and love triangles. Admittedly, it’s a generic take on the Chernobyl events, but necessary to establish our motivations for going into such a hostile environment.
This Place is Rad…
After watching the popular HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” I was really excited to revisit this part of the globe again. Games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Chernobylite present the historic disaster through the lens of their games. The Farm 51 devs used 3D scanning tech instead of photogrammetry to recreate the Ukranian wilderness and the nearby city of Pripyat for the game.
Modeled in the game are Pripyat’s more recognizable buildings: the Duga Radar array, and the infamous Pripyat amusement park – you know, the one with the big Ferris wheel. Everything looks very convincing and grounded in real-life, and the dense overgrowth that has reclaimed the area is gorgeous to stare at while wafting through the breeze. A lot of care went into building the 6 areas that you’ll be conducting your scavenger missions repeatedly in and the weather cycles and dynamic radiation systems — yes, you read that right — all affect how you will play the game’s main missions and conduct supply runs.
Along the way Igor will befriend many of the Exclusion Zone’s inhabitants. One guy in particular, Mikhail, is a riot to interact with. Maybe his tone is different in the native tongue of Russian, but the English voice actor who portrays Mikhail had a field day acting out his lines. The dude is wacky, but characters like him bring a nice mood change and help bring some levity to a game that fully wears the survival-horror trope on its sleeve.
Some of the people you meet can actually be more than friends, but not like in a Mass Effect or a Dragon’s Age kind of way – think more XCOM or Gears Tactics. If you complete their quests and their goals align with Igor’s, you can invite them to join your underground resistance camp. The more squad-mates you have, the easier it is to tackle the main heist mission.
They’re also valuable in teaching you many different survival skills used throughout the game such as crafting, scavenging, and combat. You can also send them on supply runs in case your camp is running low on food or ammunition – or you can have them scout out an area to reduce the number of enemies the day before you arrive. In between missions you can talk to them and get their backstories or listen to their woes of living in such a desolate place.
In Their Element…
You and your merry band of miscreants live in a safehouse where you get to manage everything. During your daily missions the land will be laden with many resources such as scrap, herbs, mushrooms, gas tanks, etc. Some of these items are important in crafting med-kits and anti-radiation tablets. The larger scrap can be converted into beds, lighting, hydroponics, workbenches, TVs and many other creature comforts that a resistance band needs in order to stay mentally and physically ready to complete the missions you assign them to.
You also need to monitor your food supply. The band can’t work if famished, so you need to ration out food to the troops. Don’t fret If this all sounds complicated. It’s more like playing the Sims, if anything. I think I spent more time re-arranging bunk beds than actually foraging for food in the game. It’s kind of addicting once you get where all the benefits of this micromanagement goes.
Once you establish your base of operations, you can quickly upgrade Igor’s weapons, armor, and abilities to help you become a much more capable survivor. The game rewards consistency and the daily grind. Day-to-Day missions become easier once Igor upgrades himself and those around him, and you eventually get into a rhythm.
Of note, some of the levels are designed around the portal gun and they can affect outcomes of certain choices you make in the game. I don’t want to spoil anything big, but let’s say that it is very surprising how the developers chose to give this kind of freedom to the player narratively. I’ve never played a game framed up quite like this. It’s really refreshing, and I wish to see this concept used in future games.
You have many choices when encountering enemies in the game. You can take on armored enemies head on, or stealthily take down each one methodically to clear out an area; the choice is up to you. But if you’re really clever, you can lead them into traps you’ve built, distract them with a firecracker, or you can flee the altercation altogether if you’re a big ol’ chicken.
I do like the options the game allows, but honestly the combat in the game is probably the weakest part of my Chernobylite experience. I like customizing my weapon layout and upgrading my guns, but firing them at enemies isn’t as satisfying as other FPS games like the Metro series, for example.
The A.I. itself isn’t as clever as the game’s other contemporaries either. However, given the context of the game, it’s more about surviving the nuclear holocaust. You are a scientist. You aren’t a super soldier going guns akimbo out there. So keep that in mind when encountering enemies in the game. Shooting isn’t your only option.
Also, there are these shadow enemies in the game that really need some more work to be done. They patrol certain areas of the map and can wormhole themselves behind you if you’re not paying attention. They are laughably low poly, and their animations are very stilted and robotic. They stand out mainly because they look silly compared to how detailed everything else is in the game.
Fighting them in intense combat sequences in high foliage areas made the game severely stutter under load. Fighting in the rain further exacerbated this issue. It wasn’t to the point of game breaking, but it is noticeable. And it does take you out of the experience.