After the unsuccessful release of Clear Sky, which received mixed reviews from players and critics and is still considered the weakest part of Stalker, the developers decided to do a lot of work on bugs in the next part, called Call of Pripyat. The game was planned to be made with an emphasis on exploring the game world, as opposed to the excessive amount of shooting and action in the previous installment.
One of the biggest difficulties during development was the name of the game, because at that time the famous Call of Duty series of games was gaining popularity and the developers of the Stalker were afraid of copyright problems, because in English their game was called Call of Pripyat. But later it turned out that the English phrase Call of could be used safely, and the iconic name was left.
On April 30, 2009, the project was announced, and the official website of GSC Game World had a brief description of the plot, innovations, and several screenshots of the game. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat was released on October 2, 2009 and, unlike its predecessors, received quite good optimization. There were bugs, crashes, and game scripts did not always work, but in a month, the developers fixed most of the problems. There’s a legend that players who bought the game on release couldn’t get to the final location of Pripyat because a technical error caused the game to end at that point. In fact, it was a pirated version of the game that was leaked a week before the release of The Call of Prypiat on September 25. Therefore, I do not consider it necessary to take into account the experience of these people.
I have encountered a minimum of bugs in my playthrough of Call of Pripyat and this is really the most stable Stalker I have ever played. I completed the game in 20.6 hours, including almost all the additional tasks, of which there are 62 in the game, and I’m ready to share my impressions! Today we will find out if Call of Pripyat is still worth playing 15 years after its release!
The zone is calling again, stalkers!
From the very beginning, the game shows how different it is from its predecessors. Instead of the introductory CGI video, we see a set of static images and a lot of spoken text. At first, you might think that the developers were too lazy to create a good video or that The Call of Pripyat had a lack of budget, but in fact, it was done on purpose. Because this is the only game in the series that immediately explains the background and plot to the player.
You will immediately find out when the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant occurred, how the Zone was formed, who the Sagittarius is and what he did, who you will play as, and what your mission is. In the previous installments, the player only began to understand how the world around them functioned after some time, and there were a lot of questions at the beginning.
In The Call of Pripyat, even without having played the previous games, you’ll be aware of everything at once. There are people who don’t like this approach, but I think it’s definitely a plus, because the game feels more original. The previous part called “Clear Sky” was very difficult to understand in some places without knowledge of the plot of “Shadow of Chernobyl”, especially the ending. But in The Call of Pripyat, everything is explained to you at once, and you can now proceed to fulfill your game mission.
The beginning of the game can be described as follows: “Five military helicopters mysteriously crashed in the Zone. The SBU sent Major Degtyarev undercover to investigate the situation.” The player is marked on the map with five helicopter crash points, and then you have complete freedom of action. You can go around them as you wish, in any order. In addition to the five key plot points, points of interest are marked with rings all over the map. There may be an anomaly, an enemy base, a rare mutant, or an encounter with an interesting character.
Unlike the previous installments, where you immediately started the game from the stalker village or the Clear Sky base, here you are completely alone.
I think that the approach of giving you a goal and the freedom to fulfill it is much better suited to this series of games than a regular linear plot. If in the previous installments there was really nothing to do outside of the story because there was no incentive to explore the area you were moving around, then The Call of Pripyat makes you forget that helicopters even exist until you have fully explored the location.
There are three of them in the game: Zaton, the vicinity of the Jupiter plant, and Pripyat. This time, the developers from GSC chose to focus on the quality of the locations rather than the quantity of interesting places, as the first two locations have so many quests and secrets that you can spend dozens of hours completing them. Or you can just go through the story part of the game, “The Call of Pripyat” does not oblige you to anything, but it rewards you very well if you go a little off track and decide to find the legendary artifact “Oasis” instead of another helicopter.
Skadovsk is like a small ship, but there are so many cool characters and incredible stories here that you will remember your time here for the rest of your life!
At the beginning of the game, my character enters the Zaton location and begins to meet colorful secondary characters who spend all their free time on a ship called Skadovsk, among others:
A merchant named Beard, who runs this shop, sells various goods and can buy artifacts from you at a good price;
Shustry, whom we already know from previous games. The guy wasted no time and became a good arms dealer who can even get an exoskeleton for a lot of money;
It’s nice to see the career growth of secondary characters between games!
Mechanic Kardan, a man with golden hands who will put any upgrade on your weapon for a vodka.
The bandit Sultan, who wants to dislodge the Beard and make Zaton a gangster’s territory;
Tremor, a medic from whom you can buy first aid kits;
And many more interesting personalities.
I collected quests from the stalkers of Skadovsk and found out that a local hermit named Noah could help me get to the SKAT-3 helicopter. He symbolically lives in an old barge, shoots all uninvited guests and keeps a mutant dog as a pet.
He’s not a bad guy, but he can kill an inexperienced player by accident.
He helped me find the helicopter, I examined it and decided to fulfill the additional tasks I had undertaken in Skadovsk.
Previous games immediately discouraged me from taking on additional tasks from different characters, because they were usually the same type of boring missions like “go, kill 10 dogs, come back and do it again”. But this time, the developers really tried and made really interesting secondary tasks.
The Call of Pripyat not only has high-quality quests that are also endowed with plot and gameplay variability, but also offers the player a completely new set of tasks. Previously, the game literally led you by the hand, like a small child, everything was marked on the map, and non-standard situations arose only because of bugs. This time, everything has changed. I’ll give you a few examples of quests to make you feel how much more interesting the game has become.
- One of the first quests the player can complete. Beard says that the stalkers saw a strange glow on one of the ships, and they need to check it out. You go to this ship and find the artifact that caused the glow, but at the exit, another stalker meets you and asks you to give it back because he really needs it. And you have a choice: give it back, keep it, or shoot this character right away. Such choices will now appear all the time and even affect the fate of secondary characters in their personal quests. For example, if you find out what happened to Cardan’s friends, the hero will have a completely different ending to his own story.
- Search for a stalker named Magpie. At one point, a stalker named Gonta says that his former comrade named Magpie betrayed their group and ran away. Gonta is looking for him and asks for help. The game does not put a point on the map, but simply records this story in a journal. You have to ask different people about this stalker and pay attention to the behavior of strangers. If you pay attention and complete other additional quests, you will definitely find the traitor. The previous installments would have simply indicated Magpie’s location and you would have just had to get to him and kill him. But here, there’s a whole investigation that you periodically return to because you get new evidence and clues after completing other additional tasks. Even after finding Magpie, there will still be several completely different options for what to do with him.
- Similarly, the game doesn’t give you any clues about the quest chain with the bloodsuckers. You start finding the bloodied corpses of stalkers and the first suspicion falls on these cult monsters. But even after neutralizing their den, stalkers continue to die under strange circumstances. The mission itself is very atmospheric and eerie, as you will visit their lair, where there are several dozen of them, and then there is a detective story with an interesting conclusion. No wonder this mission is fondly remembered by most players and is considered one of the best in the game!
One wrong move and you’re dead!
- There are quests such as “rescue stalker Mitya from the captivity of bandits”. It would seem like a banal task to go and shoot everyone. But the game really surprised me. I went to negotiate with the bandits and they said they could release Mitya for money or an artifact. I wanted to kill them right away, but my equipment was not ready to fight so many bandits. So I decided to come back later. And then the ejection started! The Call of Pripyat has finalized this mechanic, and now ejections happen every day at any time. During this process, not only the player, but absolutely all NPCs try to hide somewhere, because if they don’t, they will really die and then you can pick up something valuable from them.
This is how the ejection looks like, accompanied by flashing and giving a clear signal to the player to hide. Mitya owes his life to this ejection!
In my situation, it turned out that the bandits from the entire base, which was quite large, went into hiding, where I was negotiating. And then I had an idea. As soon as the explosion was over, I took a few grenades, ran out and threw them into that room, killing half of the enemies. Then I calmly shot the remaining ones and received a lot of money from Dolg for saving their comrade. I remember this moment for a long time, because I realize that the ejection happened completely by accident and hundreds of other players went through this mission differently. It wasn’t a script or a prepared scene, it just happened to be the game’s mechanics. This is the power of really big projects, because they give everyone an individual experience, which is then very interesting to share with others.
As you can imagine, the additional tasks have reached an incredibly high level for the series. Of course, compared to other games of the same genre at the time, such as Fallout 3, they don’t look as impressive, but the developers really tried to entertain the players as much as possible. Who knows, maybe the Heart of Chernobyl will have the same qualitative leap in quests as between The Witcher 1 and The Witcher 3. After all, the difference between “bring 10 dog tails” and a quest about stalker killers is somewhat noticeable.
The Call of Pripyat also made many innovations that significantly improved the game experience:
First of all, you can now sleep in the game and use it to promote game hours. Now if you want to go on a trip in the morning, you don’t have to stand still by the fire and wait 15-20 minutes for the game to go through the night and it to become light. Just go to bed in the appropriate place and sleep as long as you want. I still wonder why the developers didn’t implement this mechanic in Shadow of Chornobyl.
Secondly, the balance of the game has changed in the direction of destroying mutants. Firefights between you and large groups of people are now quite rare, most often you will fight small gangs of 5-7 people. Instead, there are more mutants, you have to face them regularly, and it’s harder to kill them. In my opinion, this change in the main enemy is much more logical for the S.T.AL.K.E.R. series of games, because before it looked even comical when ordinary human-based bandits had as many members as Freedom or Duty. Mutants are the hallmark of the game, and some encounters with them are frightening, just remember how in one of the caves the Controller telepathically transmits a message to the player in a creepy voice: “Get out of here, man”.
The snorks are as jumpy as ever.
In this part, the developers introduced two new mutants:
Burer is a hooded mutant that controls gravity and throws heavy objects at the player, including knocking weapons out of his hands with a pulse. It’s a cool creature, but it’s easy to kill with a knife because Bührer can’t knock it out of your hands with an attack.
The Chimera is a real challenge for a stalker. A big and scary monster that is not easy to kill even in an exoskeleton. Every encounter with this creature will be remembered for a long time.
The only monster in the entire game that doesn’t care about your exoskeleton and upgraded machine gun.
Third, the A-life system, which simulates life inside the Zone, has been significantly improved. Now stalkers act as close to real life as possible: not only do they walk in groups, set up camps, repel attacks from mutants and bandits, but they also finish off lying enemies and even collect valuable items from their corpses, while mutants devour the dead bodies of NPCs. You can approach a group of stalkers, ask where they are going, and go with them. This is how we implemented the system of fast movement in the game.
Each mutant has its own peculiarities of behavior, for example, dogs move mostly in packs and run away if you start shooting, while bloodsuckers will fight you to the end. Any living creature during the emissions tries to hide in a shelter, otherwise it will die. Never before has the Zone felt so alive and unpredictable!
As for the small but quite significant fixes, compared to “Clear Sky”, the shooting has been updated, now each gun feels different as in “Shadow of Chornobyl”, plus the weapon improvements have been made more interesting. Finally, caches can be opened as soon as you find them, no need to get information about them first! Thanks to this improvement, players have an incentive to go around every meter in search of equipment or food and medicine. The search for artifacts has become more thoughtful, now they are located in separate points of interest, which are strange anomalies. In one place there will be deadly gas, in another there will be pillars of fire coming out of the ground, so you need to be very careful when searching for valuable stones.
The artifacts reappear after the ejections and this forces the player to return to abnormal places, because this treasure can be sold for very good money.
The legendary Oasis is the rarest and most valuable artifact of all!
The locations themselves have become more complex. While in the previous games the locations were actually quite vague and indirectly memorable, with a lot of zombies on Amber, bandits on the Dump, Sidorovich and the military on the Border, on Zaton you can immediately meet zombies, all kinds of mutants, and industrial facilities that are interesting to explore in addition to swamps and forests.
It is impossible to admire the beauty of the local world at such moments!
Finally, players got the opportunity to walk around Pripyat! In the previous parts, other areas of this location appeared mainly as a battlefield, and between the constant shooting there was no time to just look at the titanic work of the developers to recreate this city. In the third part, no one rushes you, you can visit every point of interest and explore such interesting locations as: Kindergarten, Prometheus Cinema, Yubileinyi Sports Complex, and many other places transferred from reality to the game.
In general, The Call of Pripyat is a big and powerful work on bugs, the developers have improved absolutely all the weak points of the previous parts. The only thing that has been worsened is the graphics. “Clear Sky” is still the most beautiful Stalker, in my opinion, but “Call of Pripyat” works much better and it is the most optimized game of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series.
After completing all the storyline and additional quests on Zaton and Jupiter, Degtyarev gathers his dream team and goes to the last location of Pripyat. There you will meet one very important character for this world and in the end you will have the last choice: to stay in the Zone or leave it.
As you can see, the plot of The Call of Pripyat is less complex this time around, but this is not a disadvantage of the game, because it is the details of this story that are of interest. Besides, The Call of Pripyat has a great potential for replayability. At the end of the game, you will see a video showing the fate of almost all minor characters, locations, and Major Degtyarev himself. We saw something similar in the second and third parts of The Witcher, but The Call of Pripyat is still at some absolutely unattainable level, because there are 294,912 possible endings in total.
The most impressive thing is that both your intervention and your inaction play a role. For example, if you missed one of the quests and didn’t save a character, they will die and there will be a corresponding slide. This is what makes me want to play the game again, because during my first playthrough I missed the quest about the Monolith squad that got out of its control, and for me this story ended in nothing. But you could have helped them, then recruited one of the Monolith members, made your way to Pripyat together, and there will be several completely different outcomes in the story of this character, which will also be displayed in the final video.
I can’t even imagine the conditions under which two people can have a completely identical playthrough, and this only encourages discussion and repeated attempts to complete the game. Sometimes I read about other people’s experiences with The Call of Pripyat and I’m surprised every time, because I’ve never seen anything like it in the game. This is one of those projects that will surprise you after the second and third playthroughs, because there will always be secrets or gags that you might have missed!
The fate of Major Degtyaryov is just one of 19 storylines that you can see resolved in the finale.
The Call of Pripyat is a truly incredible game, but players reacted to its release much more coolly than it deserved. In terms of ratings, this is the most highly rated part of the series, but the game’s sales were lower than its predecessors. “Clear Sky” spoiled many people’s impression of the Stalker, and the legendary Fallout 3 came out a year earlier, making “Call of Pripyat” look poorer.
The third installment of Stalker was a significant advancement for the series, but not for the gaming industry, which explains the cold reception. But over time, players appreciated the game as it deserved, as evidenced by dozens, if not hundreds of YouTube videos, different genders, and game modifications many years after its release. By the way, there are so many modifications to the game that we can devote a separate article to describe them!
The Call of Pripyat is definitely worth playing in 2024! It gave humanity “the very Stalker” that the developers promised in the first part and made us truly feel the world of the Zone: depressing, eerie, cruel, but so attractive and interesting that you want to explore it forever!
We’re saying goodbye to the Stalker universe for a short time, because on September 5 (if it’s not postponed again) a new part called S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chernobyl will be released, which will also have a review, but later this year. I guarantee that there will be traditional optimization problems and for the best gaming experience you will have to wait a few months until everything is fixed. But I’m looking forward to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: The Heart of Chornobyl and hope that GSC Game World will not let me down and present the world with a worthy successor to the iconic trilogy.
Other parts of this series of articles: