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There are just four days left before Halo Reach comes out, and the internet is ablaze with tantalizing previews and secret accounts of life in the beta test. Your XBox fanboy friends are probably spending the their time trying to unlock every achievement in Halo ODST, but those of us who prefer our shooters on a PC can amuse ourselves with some great titles which never made it to the consoles. Every day until Halo Reach launches, Player Affinity will feature a different shooter that you can only play on PC.
Yesterday I recommended Crysis, a game whose system demands made it unsuited to playing on consoles at the time. Today the product I’m recommending falls into a different category of PC Exclusive: “Oddball games made by small developers”.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl was made by Ukrainian Developer GSC Game World, and when it was released, they didn’t have the legal rights to develop for the XBox 360. This is a perfect example of a major reason to be a PC gaming snob: Weird little companies who make strange games can put them on the PC, without having to go through the approval process of the console manufacturers.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is set in a radioactive wasteland based on the real-life “Zone of Alienation” surrounding the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor. It plays as first person shooter, but the level design is more of a sandbox game. It also uses an RPG-style inventory system and has branching dialogue trees, much like a Western Action RPG. This mishmash of playstyles gives S.T.A.L.K.E.R. a unique feel, especially when combined with the use of Ukrainian folk music and general “Foreignness” present in the design.
If the description of “A free-roaming, post-apocalyptic, Shooter RPG” makes you think of Fallout 3, you’d be correct. There are a lot of similarities between the two games, but S.T.A.L.K.E.R. came out over a year ahead of Fallout 3. In fact S.T.A.L.K.E.R. even had a prequel Clear Sky that made it to shelves a month ahead of Fallout 3, so this PC exclusive franchise is the trailblazer for other Wasteland Wanderer FPS games like Fallout 3 and Metro 2033.
What makes this sort of gaming a better use of your time than Halo Reach? Two words: Free Roaming.
A widespread problem with shooters in general has been linear levels in the single-player campaign. You can get lots of replay in Halo by tackling the higher difficulty levels, and trying out different weapons, but you never get the sense that you can just run off in any direction and find something to do wherever you go. Instead, veering off the chosen path generally takes you straight to a wall.
When you venture out into S.T.A.L.K.E.R.’s “Zone” you do feel that every path leads to adventure. S.T.A.L.K.E.R uses a unique AI system that keeps track of hundreds of characters who go about their lives even when the Player doesn’t see them. When you stumble across a new place, there’s usually something fun to do and someone to kill.
Those of you who simply must play your games on a console can take heart, the developer is now cleared to make XBox games, and intends to port the series over to consoles. If you don’t feel like waiting, you can grab S.T.A.L.K.E.R. at a great price from most download services, and there are two sequels to keep you busy while waiting for the discounted Halo Reach Platinum Hits Edition.
Click HERE for the third game in our series of PC Exclusive Shooters You Should Play Instead of Halo Reach.