I came out of retirement for this one, kids, so find something to hold onto, because this one merits a review.
A second nuclear accident in Chernobyl irradiates the land irreparably, but in the ashes of "The Zone", artifacts of great power (and more notably, monetary value) have begun appearing. You, as a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with amnesia, have the world as your oyster.
The game (henceforth referred to as Stalker) prides itself on the depth of gameplay of which it represents. It runs an entire ecosystem. All of the bandits, other stalkers, military, as well as the mutant creatures all eat, sleep, hunt and gather in real time. As a result, strategy is key, as well as negotiation. You'll get nowhere killing everyone for their stuff.
In a tradition of "Doom" like proportions, you must forge your worth, starting with a lousy pistol.
There are quests, of sorts, and missions that you can do for personal profit, in addition to just free-adventuring, but be advised that you can really get lost in the scenery if you choose to just wander aimlessly.
Having mentioned the scope that Stalker tries for, I must now mention how it fails. The game requires a pretty uber system to run, and an even more badass system to run well. Fortunately for Stalker, the graphics on the next to lowest setting only look a few years old. Screen shots promise Doom 3 or better graphics, but those are on gaming rigs, where the weight of AN ENTIRE COUNTRY isn't nearly as big of a problem as my off the shelf Vaio.
Unfortunately, I still have some critical things to say of Stalker. The game's navigation often lacks direction, and the AI seems terribly simple. The military can often kick your tail by weight of sheer numbers, while your sparse allies, including ones that you probably have to protect, run headlong into the shooting.
Constant respawns of creatures, bandits, and anomalies may seem to keep the game fast paced, but it seems often enough that there is never a time to stop, take a break, or even go back to complete your missions.
I will give the game props that it manages to pull out a few scares with some of the little mutants they manage to place in some of the darker corners of "The Zone".
It's worth mentioning that this game had been MANY years in the making. It was supposed to be contemporary with Half-Life 2 and Doom 3, but as we can see, that did not happen. Perhaps my anticipation affects my judgment, but I had high hopes for this game. Unfortunately, it seems like it will become another very forgettable shooter with an extraordinarily large draw on PC power.
Final Verdict: 7.2/10
Official website at www.stalker-game.com/en/.