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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl

Impressions: S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl cries out for extra time

Honestly, they might need to extend development to 2025, considering the playtest I experienced at Gamescom.

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No hot air here: right now S.T.A.L.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl needs more years of development. And I say years in the plural because the recent new window of 2024 still seems too close to me, and I'd put my money on fiscal year 2025, provided GSC still has the same Xbox support they've been touting at Gamescom 2023. I was able to try out an early demo of the game with the developers, and despite its current problems, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Though, I insist, it's a distant horizon.

Certainly, the first encounter with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl has not been what I imagined. Employing the Unreal Engine 5 and the new A-Life 2.0 world simulation system, before going into the test with members of the development team I was expecting a good feeling here, but again the slap in the face of reality and the tricky development conditions are evident: Much of the scenery (from the demo) lacks shading or detail in many textures, plus the behaviour of the NPCs reminded me of Fallout 3 or Skyrim. Walking on the spot or not turning to talk to us when we approach to see them are just a couple of examples.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl

I can't speak highly of the combat and gunplay either, although in this aspect I did see some more solid work added to this early build. While ammunition is generally not a very common element in the S.T.A.L.L.K.E.R. series, the modelling of the weapons and the feel of the gunplay is well done, though not so much the impact on the enemies (again, with serious AI issues) and their hits on us.

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There is a certain type of cloaked enemy that I couldn't seem to hit with my shotgun blasts from less than two metres away, and although I asked if maybe I wasn't using the right weapon for it, the GSC developer next to me insisted that I could kill it. The reality was that the enemy shot me down and the game crashed, putting the character in an infinite loop of death animation from which the game didn't come out of until someone rebooted the powerful PC I was playing on. There was no option to recover the game, so I had to start the demo again. But the PC crashing and restarting bug happened to me on three occasions for various reasons in the 30 minutes of testing, and I can assure you that the look of circumstance on the devs' faces clearly indicated that this game was something they still wanted to show off.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl

At least in that last attempt I was able to try a bit of exploration, although the area you could move around was relatively small. Even with its current limitations, there's no doubt that this title gives off the same good feeling that made Stalker one of the best shooters of its time. Encounters with mutated beings, looters and even the Stalkers managed to put a smile on my face at the end.

I obviously couldn't complete the demo (I think few media in that room could, really) but it did raise several questions for me: Why did they decide to show the game like this? Why not take advantage of Microsoft's enormous resources and increase the development teams on all fronts? I don't want to be insensitive, and the long history of tremendous difficulties this title is going through (the war, the cyber-attacks, the recent fire at the new offices) keeps telling me over and over again that this doesn't resemble the final product we (hopefully) will see. But at the same time I must be responsible to you, the reader, and ask you to take this first taste of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl as a reflection so that you know to expect a great game that they currently want to release in 2024, but which I believe will be somewhat later.

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S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl

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