Chernobylite is a game that kind of came out of nowhere, at least for me. I have seen snippets about the game while it was in development, but none of them really explained what the game was about too well. I knew that developers The Farm 51 were working on another virtual reality project where you could walk through that part of the world, but didn’t know much about the Chernobylite game itself. Had I known that it was a semi-open world exploration title with a shooter interface, I would have been a lot more interested. But I did find it on Steam, and am really happy that I did.
Chernobylite takes place in Chernobyl’s Exclusion Zone, which is the irradiated area around the Chernobyl reactor which famously melted down back in 1986. You play a scientist named Igor who is heading back to the zone after 30 years in order to, and this is kind of a strange reason, find his long lost love who disappeared shortly before the disaster. Now, you might find it surprising that Igor is starting a missing person’s case 30 years after someone disappeared, but this is a sci-fi game, and Igor is able to use a new element that formed in the wake of the disaster – named Chernobylite – to create portals for teleportation. Igor also hopes that he can visit the past using the same technology, so it’s not quite as crazy an idea as it first seems. Plus, he needs more Chernobylite, and there is only one place in the world where he can get it.
The developers at The Farm 51 mapped a lot of the real Exclusion Zone for the Chernobylite game as part of their virtual reality project. So if you ever visit Chernobyl or the surrounding villages (it’s actually open for tourists in real life now, and you can even visit the irradiated reactor control room if you only stay for five minutes) then what you see in the game probably will look pretty familiar. Personally, I don’t ever plan to go there, so I will have to take the developer’s word for the reality of it. But it certainly looks like a real place in the game, cities and villages that were hastily abandoned to nature and left to rot for 30 years. While the city centers still look mostly recognizable, other places are pretty much grown-over forests at this point.
Of course, it would not be an adventure game if there were not some enemies. The game is filled with monsters that can warp into an area very much like how Igor gets around. And there is a strange paramilitary group that controls the zone too, protecting the main reactor building and performing experiments using the Chernobylite. There is even a supernatural element, with ghosts and visions of the past haunting certain places. And Igor often hears from his missing/dead girlfriend too, at least in his mind.
Your main goal in the game is to break into the reactor building, which is very much like a heist type of mission. It will take a long time before you are ready for that. For that to happen, you will first need a lot more information, which you get by going on missions. And then you will also need to recruit a crew of oddball Exclusion Zone dwellers to help you out. They all in turn have their own objectives, and you will need to keep them happy by making decisions that align with their personal tastes once you recruit them if you want them to stay with you until the end. Of course, once you learn how to control the past, you can always go back and redo decisions, though I found little need for that in my playthrough.
Given the setting, and the fact that there are actual Stalkers in the game (what the Russians call those who explore the zone) then there are obvious comparisons to the Stalker games. However, Chernobylite is very different from them.
For the most part, the Stalker games are fully open-world adventures where you kind of go out and find things to do. Chernobylite is much more focused. Every day begins back at your base where you will choose what missions Igor and his companions will undertake. You get to attempt one mission per day, and your companions will as well, though you only “play” the missions that Igor goes on. Each of your crew has a percentage chance to accomplish their missions, so you have to carefully assign them to maximize their effort. You get a report about how their missions went at the end of the day.
Whereas almost the entire world of Stalker was open, in Chernobylite missions take place across various maps within the zone. Some of the maps are quite large, with lots of abandoned buildings, bunkers, train stations, apartments, shops, homes, schools and other ruined places to explore. But each map has a definite set of borders and you normally only visit one per day. You are also on a little bit of a clock each day, because if you tarry too long on a map then radiation storms tend to sweep in, which increases the monster count in that area and also brings about a sort of ever-present boss who you wont be able to fully destroy for most of the game. Personally, I found the more focused gameplay found in Chernobylite to be a real treat, and this is coming from someone who really enjoys open worlds.
Crafting and base building also play a role in Chernobylite, but thankfully they have been kept to a minimum. Base building consists of decorating your hideout to keep your companions happy and also adding practical things like radiation absorbing machines or power generators. All of that is done using the resources you collect on your missions, which is incentive to really explore the entire map each time if you can. Crafting mainly revolves around improving your weapons by adding scopes, bigger clips or improving performance and damage in some way. In addition to keeping good gear on Igor, you also need to equip your companions with weapons and armor to improve their effectiveness on their missions. But it’s all pretty easy to do, and it can be somewhat relaxing to fool around building out your base after a long day fighting in the zone.
Chernobylite is a breath of fresh, non-irradiated air for fans of exploration and shooter type of games. It makes its own way, offering a blend of gameplay that kind of takes the best elements from exploration, role-playing, base building, crafting and shooter games and puts them into a unique world. This means that Chernobylite will likely appeal to most players, and if there is a gameplay element that they don’t care for, like for example base building, then the easy-going nature of that mode should not cause any rage quits. In a lot of ways, Chernobylite is an appropriate name because we kind of get the “light” version of gameplay elements from lots of genres without any of the hardcore requirements. And in this case, it all works well together to provide an enjoyable overall experience.
Chernobylite earns 4.5 GiN Gems. It’s keeps things somewhat easy going while providing a satisfying game world to play in that is backed by a sufficiently interesting story to make you want to keep delving ever deeper into the mysteries of the zone. The mission structure also means it can be played episodically, with players leaving and coming back later without having to remember everything about what they did during previous runs.