What the hell is a Chernobylite? It sounds like a light radioactive beer. It refers to a new radioactive compound born from the infamous nuclear plant meltdown.
Chernobylite is a survival horror RPG set in the exclusion zone of Chernobyl 30 years after the event of the devastating historical meltdown. Developed by The Farm 51, a Polish-based development team that traveled to Ukraine to scan the real-world site.
*THERE MAY BE SPOILERS*
Chernobylite was released on PC in July 2021, later coming to consoles in September. Now there is a free Next-Gen upgrade for consoles and PC, and I was asked to check the game out and share what dark secrets I found buried deep in the ruins of Chernobyl. I was interested in this game then, as it looked similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Metro. I am also always on board for a good horror experience. As some may know, I am a horror game enthusiast and try to play most of them (Fight me, Maria, for top horror game connoisseur, check out her article on The Nightmare Inside).
When I first read the description for Chernobylite, I scoffed at the “horror” part and thought, “Yeah, let’s see.” To Chernobylite's credit, it actually has some very tense moments and amazing sound design that will leave many stopping dead and spinning around to find what nightmare just made such a horrible noise, but not me, at least not after the first few times. I have also been pleasantly spooked by a few good jump scares and have gotten severe goosebumps from some of the truly eerie visions you see. There is a point where you come across a room with a single TV on with a gaggle of dolls all watching the TV. When you turn the TV off, everything goes black, and you hear giggling, and the dolls have vanished *shudder*.
A Brief Lesson in History
Here is some background, you play as Igor Khymynyuk, a physicist that had previously worked at the Chernobyl plant and is now in search of his fiancée Tatyana, who went missing in the disaster. Straight away, something feels… wrong! You start on a train and Igor is looking for Tatyana, who has disappeared. You follow her image, which turns to ash as you approach, and monsters appear. After learning how to move and shoot, you wake up to learn that it was all a dream. Igor is on a mission to infiltrate the old Chernobyl plant with some companions, and of course, things go very wrong. The plant is now guarded by a military sect called the NAR. You barely manage to escape to a refuge in an old warehouse with Olivier, a STALKER ("STALKER" is a backronym for Scavengers, Trespassers, Adventurers, Loners, Killers, Explorers, and Robbers) you hardly know or trust. It is here that Chernobylite starts to define itself.
To survive in the exclusion zone and find out what happened to Tatyana, you need to face each day tactically, preparing yourself, your allies, and your base for what is to come. Similar to Fallout 4’s building, you are tasked with clearing out your base and building a hospitable living environment. If you like crafting, you are in for a treat as just about everything in the game can be crafted, provided you have the materials and lots and lots of mushrooms! (I don’t know why, but many of the recipes require mushrooms, bleh). In order to get the materials you need for all the furnishings of your beautiful hillside apocalypse camp, you need to forage, salvage, and pick clean bodies you come across or make. I can’t remember another game that made me feel like collecting resources was so critically vital to success except maybe The Last of Us, but even that doesn’t feel as crucial in comparison. Thankfully, each mission gives you a preview of the kind of resources you are likely to find.
Let's Mix It Up
Missions and character progression are refreshingly different. While not as open-ended as S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Chernobylite is a more confined experience. You are tasked with various missions, but you can only do one mission per day per character. Not something you typically see in games like this. You can assign missions to your companions to complete while taking on a mission of your choice. After completing your objective, you return to base to see how your companions fared and give out rations. Rations and base upkeep are crucial to keeping yourself and your companions healthy and “happy.” In true RPG fashion, you earn XP for just about everything you do, and when you level up, you earn a skill point. Unlike most RPGs, the way you use the skill point is very clever. Instead of opening a menu screen and looking at a list of skills to unlock, you have to talk to your allies and ask them to train you in areas that they are experts in. Olivier, for example, trains in the use of pistols and stealth. When you ask to receive training, you ACTUALLY do the training! Not just bing! Now you know how to do this. I found this to be a very cool mechanic, which added a lot of realism to an otherwise fantastical supernatural setting.
That training is necessary as Igor being a scientist, is not the greatest shot. In the early hours, it is better to rely on stealth and sneaky takedowns on the NAR soldiers that patrol the exclusion zone. It also affects your psyche when you kill people adding even more weight to your choices and how you deal with your foes. There are a number of factors that affect Igor’s psyche and health, including radiation poisoning. You can craft various items to address these ailments but it costs a lot of resources. I found myself hesitating to take out guards in my way as I knew it would devastate my psyche, which I had little to no treatment for. Then I found vodka!
I decided to see what happens if you drink the bottles of “alcohol” you find and to my joy, it completely refilled my psyche. Meaning I could continue on my now drunken murder spree. After getting a few lessons in shooting, I was satisfied with how much better I was performing in firefights. I went from narrowly surviving a shootout with my measly pistol to dropping multiple soldiers before reloading. Hard work does pay off!
Fellow Couch Soup writer and player of video games Andrew Lucy, had played Chernobylite when it first launched, so I asked him to share some of his thoughts on the game.
“While playing Chernobylite on the Enhanced PC Edition, I found myself comparing the incredible atmosphere and graphics to that of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with its constant supernatural elements, music style, First Person Shooter, and storytelling. This game is BEAUTIFUL, and with its intuitive game mechanics, you will not have a hard time picking it up and playing for long periods.
After spending a little time playing this game, I found out that the dev team at The Farm 51 had ventured out to the Exclusion Zone in Ukraine to map out locations in and around Pripyat to give you that haunted feeling of an abandoned place. That kind of research for a game should at least give you a little insight into how much love was put into this game!
Another thing I found out when playing was that there is no Freeplay on the console edition, which was odd to me since it is on the PC version. Freeplay is a mode where you can go to any location in Chernobylite and experiment with the weather, guns, have events happen, and perks! It's more of a sandbox feel, and the mode separates from the storyline, giving you a place to experiment with the game how you see fit.
If you love horror games with shooting mechanics, a dash of intricate game mechanics, and a story to keep you hooked, you will love Chernobylite”.
That’s a Whole Lotta Green
I am glad that Andrew touched on the work that the developer put into creating Chernobylite and that they had 3D scanned the actual environments. Fortunately, they were able to do this before the current conflict between Ukraine and Russia. It is difficult to not be aware of current world events while playing a game set in an already scarred part of human history. The environment looks incredible for a budget-priced game. The look and aesthetics are the first things I noticed about Chernobylite. Its vibrant use of greens contrasts an otherwise desolate world. The Xbox Series X version I played seemed to have a fair amount of motion blur, which can be distracting but not enough to ruin the experience. You can tell where The Farm 51 cut back on some things like facial animations, as most characters have a mask on, but this allowed them to pack so much into the game. There is such an incredible amount of detail in every piece of equipment, computer monitor, and random tools. It is hard to believe this is not a typical $60 or $70 game. Enough to make you wonder why the big publishers and studios are not putting out better quality sometimes.
Geiger Counter Results
Chernobylite is an enjoyable horror shooter RPG mystery packed with science and sci-fi-y to make any nerd, nerd more. The solid gameplay could be akin to a Metal Gear Solid spinoff as you desperately sneak around and evade your foes. Your choices feel impactful and allow for variations in individual playthroughs with some genuinely memorable story beats and hilarious dialogue with some of the not-so-sane characters. A few bugs tend to cause it to crash, and frame rate drops can lead to some jarring moments. If The Farm 51 had a bigger budget and more time, this game would really shine. An otherwise beautiful presentation, fascinating story, and genuine good time make Chernobylite a great game, 8 out of 10 Soups.
When asked for a score Andrew agreed that although not perfect, Chernobylite is a fun game worth your attention. Andrew’s Score: 8 out of 10 Soups
Are you a fan of the begotten wastelands riddled with nuclear waste and radioactive monsters and mutants? Have you played or want to play Chernobylite? Let us know in the comments.
Check out the gameplay trailer