What is it? A non-linear shooter with a focus on survival and player choice.
Expect to pay £24/$30
Developer The Farm 51
Publisher All in! Games SA
Reviewed on Ryzen 7 5800H, Nvidia GeForce 3070 (mobile), 16GB RAM
Link: Official site (opens in new tab)
Chernobylite is a curious mash-up of ideas orbiting a pretty stiff first-person shooter, not unlike The Farm 51’s previous game Get Even. But where Get Even felt like a game that couldn’t get its ideas in order, coming across as aloof in its attempt to tell a poignant story, Chernobylite does a much better job of welcoming us into its world.
Its melancholy atmosphere permeates you like plutonium, confronts you with big decisions at every turn, and surrounds you with a well-written (though sometimes terribly voiced) core of grizzled stalkers who you’ll need to befriend as you chase spectral visions of your long-lost wife around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. As physicist and former Chernobyl Power Plant employee Igor, this is why you’ve returned to the haunted area.
It’s part first-person shooter, though it’s quite possible to sneak through much of the game without firing a single bullet. It’s part base-building survival game, as you gather resources to improve your base with crafting stations, bedding, and even mushroom gardens (mushrooms, it turns out, are integral to crafting everything from wooden walls to handheld nuclear weapons). It has some throwaway horror elements too, because apparently that’s mandatory in any Chernobyl-based media.
(Image credit: The Farm 51)
You’ll need to keep up your crew’s morale by keeping them well fed, sufficiently bedded, as well as managing their disagreements when they chime in on key story decisions. Do you shoot down a helicopter without knowing who’s in it? Is a friendly stalker fair collateral when taking out an enemy encampment? To whom do you hand the gun to finish off a key villain (if indeed you choose to execute them at all)? All genuine quandaries, where sometimes you’ll be swayed by having to keep one character or another onside so that they’re still with you come the final mission.
There are a few quirks in Chernobylite that seem to exist to tick certain boxes. It’s been termed ‘survival horror’, but monster encounters are scarce, and beyond that the occasional jump-scare, creepy doll and hallucination of a jittery man in a gas mask don’t really justify the label—if anything, they cheapen the experience. Similarly, the Black Stalker who beams himself into maps on a timer in later missions is more a nuisance than a threat when you realise he’s rooted to the spot and can be blasted away. Mr. X he most definitely is not.
Maybe Chernobylite latches onto these recognisable tropes because its greatest strengths aren’t easily conveyed through trailers or genre tags. Its cast of characters and its choice system are genuinely gripping, while its depiction of the zone is at times breathtaking (if a little postcardy and non-interactive). Like its motley crew of eccentric companions, Chernobylite is a flawed misfit that I can’t help but like. With its sometimes scatty systems, ambition and silly sci-fi story, it could even join the pantheon of Eurojank classics—unless there’s a rule against Eurojank games looking this good.
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