S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat

This series has found a special place in my heart. The bleak envionment punctuated by a lone stalker, his sole companion the sound of guitar around a fire. The overcast sky roared as it signaled the coming storm. Just a little longer, I’d think to myself. I just want to listen for a little longer.

I don’t remember another game that has made me want to stop and listen. In fact, there are not that many games that have made me want to stop at all. Most games in recent memory are about going for the next big thing. The next plot point, the next quest, the next something. Arguably, Skyrim being one of the few exceptions… except that one is about going off the world until you find something, to not talk about the dozens of quests for those that do want the next big thing. Yet, in CoP, I find myself inhabiting the same space I’m already familiar with. There is very little need for the “next” thing, since that is the world itself. Just over that mountain, there is an artifact. And along the way, I might even encounter some bandits fighting some stalkers. A pack of blind dogs will run in the distance, barking as they hunt. And, in a seemingly never-ending cycle, an emission will always come. Just like clockwork, we’ll all leave safety in search for riches, or even just enough to survive another day.

I say we, the NPCs and me. There is something about not being “special”, you see. Just like me (or perhaps worse), they will go out to hunt for artifacts. Just like me, they’ll get in petty fights with whoever they dislike. Just like me, they seek cover from the dangers of the zone. Just like me, sometimes they stop to collect themselves after being out in the zone. Despite the rather limited interactions that the game allows with… well, anybody else, it still managed to crease this odd feeling of… a fellow who is struggling in this world just like me.

And I believe that the equality between the player and the NPCs is what stops the game from growing stale, even if the game suffers from some power-creep. Bloodsuckers will remain a dangerous animal regardless of what gear the player has. Emissions will always be lethal[1]. Essentially, life in the zone doesn’t change just because the player appears. At best, somebody becomes friendly. At worst, somebody hates you. And you will share a drink with them inside an old barge as you until it is safe to go out and do it all again.

[1] In Call of Pripyat it is possible to obtain the ability to survive emissions. It is relatively expensive in-game and forces the player to low-health, essentially making them vulnerable unless they have a way to heal themselves.

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