Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Chernobylite is an engaging sci-fi title set in the Chernobyl exclusion zone that dips into half a dozen genres while keeping that realistic grounding. Inspired by the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games, Chernobylite maintains its own identity and story. You play as Professor Igor Khymynuk, a former Soviet scientist working on a project at the Chernobyl power plant when the disaster struck. Thirty years later, a substance created by the disaster called Chernobylite is being studied by a private organization known as the NAR. Using technology associated with the substance, Igor returns to the Zone seeking answers about the disappearance of his partner, Tatyana, after receiving a pre-disaster picture of her.
The game opens with Igor having a disorganized nightmare that serves as a super brief tutorial before dumping you into the action, being woken up by the two mercenaries, Olivier and Anton, whom you’ve hired to help you get you through The Zone. Once awake, a more practical tutorial happens here mostly involving navigation and stealth and you have a moment where Igor volunteers without player input to take down one of the soldiers blocking the path forward. The stealth takedown prompt causes Igor to choke the man out from behind here and Olivier reprimands you for hesitating and not using the knife.
Following this moment, your future stealth takedowns will involve multiple graphic stabs to the chest from behind. On that note, it is a graphic game. Many game ratings mention graphic violence and gore, but most of them don’t reach the head-bursting level of this title. Heads up for anyone not wanting to see a pretty messy bullet wound in their foes. The prologue continues, you get some Chernobylite, and then a big nasty guy in all black shows up, teleports, kills Anton, and then hesitates when they see your picture of Tatyana you dropped, giving you just enough time to escape.
Chernobylite has an interesting story, and your comrades all have their own motivations and end goals, so the non-linear approach makes getting your team together and picking work for the day feel engaging rather than repetitive. Each day you organize your inventory for the day, outfit your allies, and either pick a section of the Zone to send them to, carrying out an objective like securing a food drop or simply clearing the way to make your own story mission easier to accomplish, especially if it takes some skills you personally don’t have. No matter the goal, there’s almost always more than one way to solve a problem. Stealth is helpful, but slow, and the longer you spend in the zone, the worse the storms that manifest become, and the more Chernohosts you have to deal with right up until the Black Stalker appears again.
The game reacts to your play too. The more you kill, the more allies and enemies acknowledge it. On day eleven, I started noticing helmets in places I’d previously made one-shot messes in. The Zone gains radiation, Chernobylite crystals take over more and more, you begin finding it consuming soldiers, and the Stalker comes sooner, all based on whether you craft and maintain environmental modifiers or simply make different choices. Crafting isn’t such a prevalent part of the game as far as “build a shelter and survive” as it is “organize and allocate resources across your team.”
You maintain a base, but it’s premade. Health and Psyche are stats you all deal with, and the crafting is centered on those and field-utility. Maintaining your base involves air quality, radiation maintenance, comfort level, and making sure everyone has a good enough place to sleep. At the end of every mission, you give out food. From no food to a double portion, you decide how much each person gets each day. I didn’t usually find a benefit in shorting people, but when we found enough I made sure those who did well, or who simply needed it, gained a double portion. Food affects psyche and health as well, which also affects performance on the next mission.
Every day is about choices. From who will go where, to how much everyone will eat, to what resources get used, Igor makes choices. Story missions though, these come with a choice of a different kind. Your comrades usually have an opinion too. Do you blow up Duga RADAR or use it to enhance your scanner. Do you leave a kid in a secret NAR prison where at least he’s guarded or do you set him out to run through the Red Forest and hope the locals in a village there take him in, that he survives the trip? These choices are a bit less final though, because Chernobylite dips into roguelite territory, making death an integral part of the game. Upon death, you can spend Chernobylite to change certain choices. Some situations have multiple choices you can change that all affect the world and game when you return.
The game is scored beautifully too, from soft strings sneaking through the underbrush to heart-pumping crescendos as combat progresses. More than just the score though, the sound design is fantastic. Every crunch of grass makes me feel immersed, the lighting combined with these crank that spooky factor way up as soon as the sun goes down. When you’ve rounded a corner in a brutalist apartment building in Pripyat, relying on your flashlight or a thermal scope, holding your own breath so you can tell what’s Igor and what’s a lurker gasping it’s way toward you in the dark.
The gunplay is pretty comfortable, and while I wouldn’t call ammo scarce, I also wouldn’t advise mag-dumping your AK. Back at your base, you can craft weapons you need, if you need to, and each weapon has a range of customizations available to assist in your play style. My AK is a full-on sniper with the way it’s customized, with a drum mag to make that semi-auto last longer, and my shotgun has the Thermal on it for when my light is less than helpful. My go-to though is my Big Iron. The first gun Igor gets is a revolver. I’ve got a double-cylinder mod for extra ammo, a “sniper” barrel that suppresses and extends the functional range, and just a closed red-dot to aim before I paint. Works though, at least until the helmets started appearing and making me adjust my aim.
Chernobylite is a captivating first person shooter adventure that blends survival and roguelite elements into a thoroughly engaging, conspiratorial sci-fi/horror mystery to unravel.Score: 9 / 10