On Saturday 26th April 1986, an event happened that would change a small town in the Ukraine forever; creating the deepest of impacts on the rest of the world. That town was Pripyat and on that day reactor number 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded, releasing harmful radiation across the area and eventually the world. It’s the worst nuclear disaster in history, but it’s something that games have been fascinated by. The STALKER series is based on a fictional sci-fi version of events. Call of Duty has one of it’s finest levels ever based on the town. Now we have Chernobylite – a game where fact meets fiction as a gripping tale that will chill your bones is pushed out.
Chernobylite describes itself as a science fiction survival horror RPG, which is one of the longest descriptions possible but completely on the money. It’s a bit like STALKER and a bit like Metal Gear 5, but ultimately is its own original thing. You play the role of Igor, a physicist who was working at Chernobyl in 1986. Some thirty years later he is haunted by weird dreams, where he’s lost his wife Titania who still speaks to him through visions.
He returns to the exclusion zone with a small military team on a mission. The grounds of the power plant are now patrolled by a private group called NAR. It’s here where the focus is placed on a special new greenish mineral found at the site – Chernobylite – and it’s this which does some very strange things. Igor himself has crafted a device using this mineral that opens up a portal between worlds so you can travel very quickly.
After the first main mission, the game puts you in a sort of open-world environment where you have a base of operations and you are left to take on daily missions, building resources and unlocking more of the main story. The writing and world-building is something to love; it’s atmospheric, haunting, and delivers up some very good sci-fi moments. In the first few hours it’s quite emotive as well, with flashbacks recounting the disaster of 1986. It’s sure to strike with anyone who has recently watched the HBO series, recalling the horrific events. It’s a slow building narrative though, mostly due to the nature of the gameplay, but when the story beats arrive they are very good and keep you hooked in for the long term.
Gameplay-wise and Chernobylite works as a first person affair, and at times it feels like you are playing through a Far Cry or Metro. But there is so much more to it than that. You can run, crouch, shine a torch, and fire a gun of course, and as you progress through levels the combat starts hard and gets ever more tricky; even on the easiest of levels the guns feel heavy, leaving you to fire a bunch of bullets to get the enemies down. I think Chernobylite wants you to play stealthily, and personally I’ve found this to be the route to take; crouching in the shadows, taking down foes one by one and soaking up the environments.
You see Chernobylite isn’t an FPS at all and instead it feels more like an RPG. When you get to the base after the first mission you are presented with a warehouse space with loads of junk in it, and a room with a panoramic of the whole area. Here your gameplay is separated into days and nights. There is a heist board that shows you parts of missions required to build the story forward but you’ll need resources to complete or personnel to gather.
You have a choice of several missions per day, letting you assign colleagues to go out on these missions, or you can take them in yourself. The daily structure will normally consist of some story-based exercise or task, or it could be just a gathering of resources like food, first aid, or ammo. You can craft as well when you’re out there, making traps or tools to help you in the field. When out in the field you’ll find all the main tasks which need to be completed, but also question marks that indicate things of interest, extra items or tasks to complete. Sometimes the missions can feel very similar, but the areas you explore are so intriguing and the amount of tactical stuff to take in is high enough to ensure that the work is rewarding. It helps that the story missions are brilliant, with some interesting characters to meet and jump scares that are effective. It doesn’t take long for you to develop the lust to explore every nook and cranny, because the world is so intriguing.
After each day you get to go back to your base and build it up with a sort of resource management side of things. Think Fallout 4 in these regards and you won’t be far off. You need to build the base up in terms of items, worktables, and beds, along with managing the team’s morale, food requirements, and ammo. You also can upgrade weapons, tech, and your abilities. It’s a system that becomes more addictive than the main game, and you could easily spend hours creating the perfect little base.
Visually Chernobylite uses the fiction of thinking you are in this huge open world, but in reality, you are traversing a group of small maps at a time. The developers have used 3D scans of the area to create a living breathing world that is both beautiful and terrifying; there are some of the best trees I’ve seen in a game and the lighting is fantastic, especially on Xbox Series X. The power station itself is brilliantly realised too, looming ever-present in the now and the past. Yes there are a few odd glitches and strange bugs, but never anything to ruin the feel of the game.
The characters are fully voiced in both Russian and in English, and the counterparts do an excellent job of bringing the characters alive and delivering great performances. The soundtrack is also superb and becomes an important part of the whole experience.
Chernobylite mixes a whole load of gaming styles but still manages to come up with something very unique and challenging. It’s a game in which you can invest a bunch of hours, especially in the resource management stuff, but is neatly complemented by a cracking story and some great visuals.
If you want to try something different and have the stomach and time for some serious gaming, then Chernobylite could be for you.
Pick up Chernobylite from the Xbox Store right now