The story is nothing that excites me. You shoulder the role of Igor, a nuclear physicist formerly employed at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant who now, 30 years after the incident that devastated the entire area and is known as the single largest nuclear disaster of all time, returns to try to find out what happened to his wife who disappeared without a trace in connection with the disaster.
Chernobylite is called a "sci-fi role-playing game" by the developers themselves but is probably more of a survival simulator with strong Metro / Stalker vibes and a number of more or less well-implemented role-playing elements in it, if you ask me. It's about exploring, collecting clues, surviving. And in the end, get answers to questions about the disappearance that has eluded poor old Igor for many years.
The characters feel a bit like stereotypes and sometimes even caricatures, when the story tries to be surreal, or philosophical, it is noticeable that The Farm 51 does not possess dramaturgical knowledge enough to helm those moments and I quickly get bored of what is told here. Chernobylite is supposed to be an icy cold, exciting thriller drenched in darkness and uncertainty. Like Metro 2033, tonally and thematically. But no, it does not succeed with that part of the game, unfortunately.
What works very well, however, is how the game systems that surely and heavily rests on foundations where your choices create consequences that echo throughout the adventure, and here Chernobylite clearly convinces me, more than many other games of this type. It always feels as if my choices are mine and as if they affect my life in the soot-black forests just outside Prypjat.
This, together with how fundamentally brutal the game mechanics and the tempo are, makes Chernobylite a lot like Stalker. What is a pity here is that many of the assignments that I embarked on were monotonous. I understand that as a game developer you intend to extend the playing time when you repeat the same type of missions with the same structure over and over again. But would it not be much more ingenious to cut off 90% of all repetition and instead create a tighter, better, more varied adventure that the player will remember in the "right" way rather than repetition?
One of the main mechanics in Stalker that the developers behind Chernobylite tried to copy is how to collect artifacts to be able to sell, or trade with other survivors. Farm 51 has built a system that requires you to build a base, recruits helpers who help Igor look for his missing wife, and on paper this feels like a completely normal game idea that we have seen 1000 times before and thus should work. But it does not. In detail, this works a bit like it does in Fallout 4 with the artifact pieces from Stalker as part of it, but already early in the game it is noticeable that this was something that was added late in the development and thus as it were glued on everything else, because the story in itself most likely failed to keep the interest of those who tested the earliest versions of this game. It is probably also the script work that makes the personalities that you "decide on" never feel particularly believable or alive.
That being said, there is an atmosphere in this game that I love. In fact, The Farm 51 has managed to build the same kind of sense of fateful loneliness and darkness that Stalker offered, and there are moments of horror that really scared the shit out of me during my hours with the game. The actual shooting or sneaking, for that matter, is also quite good. There is a lack of fingertip-feel and detail regarding certain aspects such as recoil physics or animations, absolutely, but it also makes the game mechanics appear "raw", which fits the art direction and concept really well. The environments are relatively well made, too.
Chernobylite is not bad. It is good. But it's a bit fragmented, to say the least. It is scary, raw, dark, brutal and frantic at the same time as I experience it as claustrophobic, mercilessly difficult, unnecessarily complicated and monotonous. The melee battles are hopelessly clumsy and the missions lack variety but despite all this I have to recommend this to anyone who likes Fallout 4, Stalker or Metro 2033. If you can accept the pretty obvious weaknesses of Chernobylite you will be able to have a lot of fun.