Chernobyl is possibly one of the most devastating environmental disasters that has happened in the past 100 years. Not only the loss of life from the original nuclear meltdown but also the long-term effects that it has on the region. In fact, the area is still uninhabitable to this day. But what if during that explosion, something supernatural had developed and begun tearing apart our idea of reality?
The new game Chernobylite from Polish developers The Farm 51 looks to add myth to reality. Chernobylite combines survival elements, base building, FPS gunplay as well as heavy RPG elements all into one game. While it may seem overwhelming to grasp at first, Chernobylite has a lot of potential when it doesn’t get in the way of itself.
A Cold War World
The Cold War era in the USSR is such an interesting setting because so much of it remains a mystery even to this day. With so much secrecy from both the United States and Russia in regards to their activities during this time period. This grey area of information allows Farm 51 to blend the reality of the region of Chernobyl. While also being able to create a thrilling supernatural story, that ultimately doesn’t feel that far-fetched.
In Chernobylite, you play a scientist named Ivan who is on the hunt for his long-lost wife. She disappeared on the night of the Chernobyl reactor meltdown 30 years ago. Both Igor and his wife were scientists working on various top-secret projects for the Russian military. Igor had never given up on finding his wife. This belief is cemented when she starts appearing to him in visions telling him to come to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Unfortunately, there are many dark forces at play when Igor arrives in the exclusion zone.
When the Chernobyl reactor went into meltdown, it created a new form of a mineral called “Chernobylite“. This mineral acts as an incredible power source that when harnessed properly can create portals into other realities. However, with this immense power, comes immense consequences. Various types of monsters begin to flood the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Not only does Igor have to deal with various horrifying monsters, but he also has to worry about the NAR. The NAR is a privately funded military group that is studying and trying to harness the power of this newly discovered mineral. They will stop at nothing to reach their goal. That goal is eliminating any living being in the exclusion zone that gets in their way to better understand the Chernobylite mineral.
The story of Chernobylite is unique, not only in its setting but also in how it’s presented. The choices you make, make a definitive impact on the world around you, and I enjoyed this aspect. Too often in RPG’s your actions supposedly have an impact but you never truly see that impact. In Chernobylite every decision immediately impacts the world, or sometimes it will come back to haunt you at a later date. The story is intriguing, and every time I thought I had it figured out, it would throw a curveball at me and take me by surprise.
World-Building and Decision Making in Chernobylite
There is a tragic beauty in the world of Chernobylite. As you begin to explore the Exclusion Zone every location feels like it tells a story. Underground bunkers filled with abandoned prepper gear, rigged with booby traps to simple homes that feel like they were abandoned at a moment’s notice. This is due to the fact that the world of Chernobylite is based on 3D scans of the actual exclusion zone in Ukraine. This adds an extra level of horror when you are attacked by Chernobylite-based creatures. In all actuality, these beasts feel like they actually are tearing down the walls of reality. The silence of the world can be deafening. It adds immense amounts of tension to the world, as you never know what you might encounter next in the exclusion zone.
Although Chernobylite‘s approach to building the world of Chernobyl is incredibly detailed, it avoids being overly expansive. There are several zones that you will explore throughout your time with the game. In which you will complete a variety of tasks. Whether it’s tracking down Igor’s wife, gaining companions, or simply trying to find food and medical supplies. You will likely be returning to the same areas several times. This could have potentially made Chernobylite feel repetitive, but it actually doesn’t. This is due to the constantly evolving world of the exclusion zone.
Decisions Matter in an Evolving World
The evolving world helps the game avoid repetition. Best of all, it evolves because of your decisions. As you progress through the game, you will constantly be faced with moral choices that will impact the world around you. An example of this is during one mission you have the option to destroy a NAR satellite network, or you can upgrade your GPS tracker. By choosing the latter, it allows NAR to mobilize more efficiently causing the Exclusion Zone to be filled with more enemies.
There are dozens of decisions that you will come across within the world that will have impacts on the world like this. These decisions constantly had me second-guessing my choices. This is because sometimes it wasn’t always clear what the possible ramifications were. Regardless, the game provides plenty of player agency, which really made my playthrough feel like it’s my own.
Fighting For Your Life
Now while the game does encourage you to take a stealthy approach, you are not limited to this playstyle. You can go in guns ablaze and just clear every NAR soldier from each location if you choose to. However, it doesn’t feel nearly as intuitive. Chernobylite‘s shooting mechanics feel heavy. In other words, your character feels slow-moving. This makes it challenging to try and take down multiple targets in a firefight. Even if you adjust your controller settings aiming still feels incredibly slow. It feels like the game was definitely made for mouse and keyboard players. This means players who choose to go into open combat constantly will most likely not find as much enjoyment in the game as someone who tries a more silent approach. When squaring off against the various monsters in Chernobyl, however, gunplay is often your only resort.
There are some very tense moments throughout the game where you will be forced into combat against these creatures. While I often don’t enjoy “forced” combat sequences in a clearly stealth-focused experience, these segments were different. That is because these combat scenes are intense and set a horrifying tone for the entire game.
There is a particular mission that involves you heading into an apartment filled with hallucinogenic gas. Within this hallucination you are plagued with visions of your wife, fighting nightmarish mutated creatures, all the while watching your gas mask slowly deteriorate. It is possibly one of the most intense moments I have experienced in a game this year, and it’s brilliant. The fear and horror of the scene culminated into a big jump scare, that doesn’t feel cheap like most jump scares do. I legitimately had to take a minute to breathe after completing this section because it was one of the first truly horrifying moments in the game.
Staying Alive in Chernobylite
Chernobylite blends a lot of different genres in its core gameplay loop. But its most interesting addition is the game’s survival elements. You have two main bars that you have to maintain while exploring the world of Chernobyl. One is your main health bar, which can deteriorate due to damage from creatures and of course the NAR. This bar also can get slower if you become over-exposed to radiation, similar to Fallout. The more radiation you take the less health you can heal back to, this means finding radiation cures is an essential part of survival. One of the more unique stat bars is your psyche bar, which is basically Igor’s mental state and wellbeing.
As you fight against the horrors of Chernobyl your mental state will slowly degrade. On top of this, normal combat will also degrade your psyche. Whether it’s from a gunfight or stealth killing enemies, your violent actions will negatively affect Igor’s psyche. Again, this means, that you will second guess yourself. Especially on higher difficulties. You’ll constantly ask yourself whether engaging in combat is worth the damage to his psyche. However, you can remedy damage to Igor’s psyche.
You can regain your psyche by consuming a variety of different items. But, it can be difficult at times to maintain a steady supply. The more time you spend exploring levels the more supplies you will be able to loot and scavenge. Early on in the game, it was easy to find supplies and what I needed for my base. As the game progressed and I had to deal with more and more enemies which made the risk-reward of spending more time in each level a harder decision to make. This balancing act ‘adds a unique layer to Chernobylite and will keep players on their toes.
Base Building Mechanics
Chernobylite also incorporates base building mechanics as well. This allows you to customize your own base of operations for you and your team that you slowly assemble through the game. Here is where you can craft your supplies, as well as plot your next moves.
The base building is completely freeform. Meaning everyone’s hideout will look different and you can customize it to be completely your own. From crafting supplies, upgrading weapons, and making custom items, the potential for your base is completely based on how many supplies you bring back. This is also where managing your team will come into play in a big way.
Being Part of a Team
As you progress through Chernobylite you will gain followers who bring a variety of talents to your team. Eventually, this leads to the game’s pulse-pounding ending. Keeping these followers happy and comfortable is incredibly important. After every day, you have to ration food. This can be done in a tiered system where you can choose how much your companions get as they share.
If supplies are low, you can half the rations or even avoid providing any food at all. But this will negatively affect their psyche. Which in turn will make them less competent at completing the missions you assign them every day. While giving them full rations or even double rations will have a positive effect on mood, and their ability to complete missions. The comfort of your base will also come into play with your team’s morale. So you can’t just build a practical military hold. You have to build a base of operations that has a blend of practicality and comfort. This means spending scavenged supplies on these upgrades. Chernobylite is all about balancing what you find most important. But ultimately things will fall apart quickly if you do not take care of your team.
Chernobylite will sometimes put you into a situation where you have to make tough choices in regards to your team, in terms of rationing supplies and food. There were several times where I had to make decisions on whether to negatively ration food for myself or my team. This would mean they would be less likely to complete their missions to search for key resources like food and medicine. I often prioritize my team ahead of my own well-being in order to keep their morale up. Later in the game, maintaining high team morale was essential. Their supply runs were critical to helping manage the base. Overall, a lot of Chernobylite revolves around making tough decisions and dealing with the consequences. Although this was very challenging, I absolutely loved the balancing act.
Unfortunate Bugs and Odd Design
While I did enjoy my time with Chernobylite, unfortunately, it did suffer from a host of different bugs and glitches. Of course, these issues quickly became very frustrating. Overall, the game performed admirably on my Xbox Series X. There were no major framerate drops, or noticeable texture pops worth mentioning. However, there was a variety of consistent glitches that plagued my playthrough.
These glitches really frustrated my experience with the game. Many times, I would have to reload my save because of an impasse. While other moments would just crash the game entirely sending me back to the dashboard. One of my most commonly occurring glitches would be starting my next mission and not being able to use my items or even access my inventory. Now to fix this issue all I did was close out of the game and reload my save and I wouldn’t encounter that issue again for a couple of hours.
Another common issue I had that I would not necessarily classify as a bug was when starting the game up after taking a break. Sometimes when I pressed continue instead of selecting my most recent save, the game would load up a save up to even an hour before my latest save file. In the beginning, this was incredibly confusing, as I initially worried that my save file was corrupted. I also thought to myself that maybe my save files weren’t saving properly. But I learned very quickly to simply access my save file from the main menu’s load game section when loading up my game. This helped avoid this nuisance entirely. But again, I am not sure if this is a bug. Perhaps the game only continues off of manual save points versus autosave points. But regardless this can be incredibly frustrating, especially for new players.
Final Thoughts on Chernobylite
Chernobylite is a unique survival RPG, that players of such games as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., and Metro would love. The game has unique storytelling and decision elements, as well as a stunningly detailed world. The combat feels incredibly stiff outside of stealth, and the game has a wide variety of bugs and technical issues. This might turn away some players. However, if you are looking for something that is completely different then many of the games on the AAA market right now, then Chernobylite might be the right pick for you.